Surf Expo from the 10,000 Foot Level- Literally

Yesterday morning, I was in warm, humid, sea level Orlando for Surf Expo. After 14 hours of travel, I found myself at the cold, dry, and 10,000 feet high Keystone resort for the Zumiez 100K event. Whew. One beer was my limit with dinner last night, and then I went to sleep early. 

Agenda and Surf Expo are two very different shows, with Agenda more urban and apparel and Surf Expo more beach and surf. We need them both but not, if I may say it again, overlapping each other.
The thing that almost caused me to keel over at Surf Expo was the stand-up paddle section. I regret not counting the brands. There were a lot. In conversations with a couple of them, I heard that there were perhaps 200 “viable” competitors plus maybe another 100 who just have product made and printed with their label in China. The size, shape, and prices of product varied widely. Incredible number of choices. Amazingly, I was told that the SUP section is about twice this size at Surf Expo’s September show.
I know some of you have had the same thought I had- “Oh lord, it’s the SIA snowboard section in Vegas in 1996.” We know how that worked out. Honestly, I expected a consolidation sooner. It was two years ago I saw a $400 SUP board at Costco and there’s never been the manufacturing learning curve and lack of capacity issues we had with snowboarding.
The reason we haven’t had a consolidation yet, I hypothesize, is because SUP has a much larger potential market and is easier to learn than surfing or snowboarding. And it doesn’t require a mountain or a wave. There are lots of lakes.
I couldn’t help but notice how many people involved in SUP had been through the snowboard business cycle. Hopefully, they haven’t come down with a case of selective amnesia. This time will not be different. There will be a consolidation, margins will drop, there will be too much product and production capacity. I don’t know when, but I recommend that you build your balance sheets and not assume it will only impact your competitors.
But damned, it’s great to see a new category with some legs.
The skateboard section was intriguing. The skate ramp was packed (I love watching the etiquette that skaters use to keep from running over each other). Volcom was the sponsor, with its booth opening on the ramp. Every kind of skateboard was represented. Long, short, narrow, wide, various shapes, wood, plastic, metal. I particularly liked Beercan Boards, made from scrap aluminum by an auto parts manufacturer from Georgia. They readily acknowledged that they didn’t know anything about the skateboard industry, but they seemed to be having fun. It felt a little like the bike show, where anybody with a new idea is welcome and encouraged to try something different.
While one end of the show was dominated by skate, the other end was what I guess I’ll call resort focused gifts, for lack of a better term. I more or less walked the whole show, and found it interesting how the energy built from one end of the show to the other. Kind of suggested that they have it organized right. At first, I found it interesting that beach and surf were separate, but as you walked the sections it became clear why. Their products mostly wouldn’t sell in each other’s channel. Surf industry consumers want technical board shorts. Beach market customers want a bathing suit.
Oh- and I want to thank Surf Expo for giving me a badge that said “buyer.” People in booths were nice to me, and I actually had an apparent reason to stop in my tracks and check out the models because, obviously, I was a buyer with an interest in the swimsuit business. My favorite booth had to be a little one with a guy sitting at an unadorned table with some apparel hung on the back wall. The sign over the front of the booth just said “DEALS.” I thought that was refreshingly honest.
A company called New Trick Sports was featuring a 45 pound electric wench fitted with an 1,800 foot line that can be easily attached (and detached) from a pickup truck and can pull a wakeboarder. The videos on the web site make it look like it’s plenty fast. I guess one potential inconvenience might be that you have to swim the line out. They are working on a gun that can be used to shoot the line out for rescue purposes, but I doubt that will be available to consumers. Too bad.
There were some pretty large booths in the surf section. Billabong, Quiksilver and Vans come to mind. Shades of the old ASR. No second stories though. I understand The Endless Summer showing the first night of the show was a big success, though I didn’t get there to see it due to my being efficient and planning too far in advance. Do something that cool next year and I’ll be there.



4 replies
  1. george
    george says:


    Your observations intrigue me….especially the “electric wench”…. which, right after you’re confession of great interest in the swimsuit booths, made me chuckle. Enjoy the snow, ’cause we aren’t getting any her in CA.

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Oh hell, another typo. I guess I’d better fix them. There must be deep seated psychological issues that made me write “wench” instead of “winch.”

    • jeff
      jeff says:

      Hi George,
      Thanks for correcting my spelling. I think it’s the 10,000 feet elevation. No oxygen to the brain.

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