Hansen: Surf stores vie for the lineup

March 28, 2012|By David Hansen

Surfers are territorial, and surf shops are not much different.

So when Laguna Surf and Sport woke up one recent morning to find surf veteran Rip Curl setting up shop directly across the street, it was like the proverbial drop in.

"We were surprised," said Jason Watson, manager of Laguna Surf and Sport, which sits at the corner of South Coast Highway and Oak Street. "This town doesn't want it to be Huntington Beach."


Watson was referring to the wall-to-wall surf stores on or near Main Street in Huntington, including Rip Curl, Billabong and others.

The new Rip Curl, at 1099 S. Coast Hwy., is taking the spot vacated by the Stand Up Paddle Company, which moved next door because of a lease dispute. Based in Australia, Rip Curl is expected to open the new store next week, according to marketing director Dylan Slater.

At first blush, this might seem like a David and Goliath story, with the small Laguna store fighting against a large retail giant. But that's not exactly true.

First of all, the surf industry is very incestuous and surprisingly corporate. You need an org chart to keep track of all the players. Consider these facts:

While Laguna Surf and Sport started out as a small independent in 1982, it is now owned by Volcom, which is a subsidiary of PPR, a French multinational holding company with revenues of $16 billion. PPR also owns brands like Gucci, Puma and Cobra golf, among many others.

Rip Curl, meanwhile, is a private company that has stuck to its surfing roots. Founded in 1969, the company has not made any large acquisitions and is still known primarily for its wetsuits and surf tour sponsorships.

"We're actually the small guys," said Slater. "The two guys who started it in 1969 still own it today. Basically, our mission as a company is to be regarded as the ultimate surf company."

Make no mistake, the retail surf industry is big business, yet trying to claw its way out of a debilitating recession. According to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Assn., a few top players are fighting over a $5 billion market.

With few exceptions, nearly all of the "local" surf shops have bigger owners, creative marketing arrangements or complex organizational structures designed to eke out profit.

Billabong owns Second Reef Surf Shop, formerly Thalia Street Surf Shop, which was sold and split off in 2009. Nick Corcores still owns the surfboard side of Thalia, which co-markets a space with Vans. 

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