It’s been a little while since Roxy’s infamous Pro Biarritz 2013 teaser was released, and if you read The Inertia regularly (of course you do), you know that there are some angry people out there who feel Roxy has set the female collective back somewhere around the Stone Age. While there haven’t been many people vehemently defending Roxy’s surf-less contest promo, there have been a few alternative viewpoints popping up, many of which argue that we may be blowing things a bit out of proportion. This whole uproar got me wondering: what, if anything do so-called “surf brands” owe to surfing? After all, no matter how you feel about Roxy’s latest promo video, what is really being sold by “surf brands” is the image of the surfing lifestyle – not surfing itself.
For me, the problem seems to be rooted in the label itself: “surf brand.” What does that mean exactly? Is a corporation considered a “surf brand” when a pro slaps their logo on his or her board? If so, I guess that makes Target and Bud Light “surf brands” too. In working with some of the best female surfers in the world, is it Roxy’s goal to make the sport of surfing more appealing to women and young girls? Of course not. Their goal is to sell more beach clothes and bathing suits. That goal is the same for the other “core surf brands” as well – Quiksilver, O’Neill, Billabong, Hurley, etc. They all exist to turn a profit by packaging, marketing, and selling the “surfing lifestyle.” Do you think Jack O’Neill or Bob Hurley care if their companies inspire more people to actually surf? Well, they might, as long as those people are wearing their boardshorts.
What confuses me is, although most of the surfing community has adopted an anti-corporate sentiment towards the commercialization of surfing, they are still surprised when one of these “surf brands” tries to use the “surfing lifestyle,” rather than surfing itself, as a marketing tool. Did you really expect Roxy’s Biarritz promo video to show Steph Gilmore getting pitted or executing a textbook bottom turn? Who, exactly, would that be aimed at, and what would it do for Roxy’s brand image to the thousands of girls who buy their products and have never stepped foot in the ocean? Absolutely nothing. And while it’s true that sex doesn’t always sell, it is still extremely effective, which is why we continue to see it being used today, especially when the advertisements feature women.
At the end of the day, Roxy, Quiksilver, O’Neill, Billabong and Hurley are really just “lifestyle brands” that use surfing as their marketing platform. Surfing existed hundreds of years before these brands came to be and will continue to exist when these companies are gone. On the other hand, if surfing ceased to be, so too would these companies. Considering this, I don’t feel that “surf brands” necessarily owe anything to surfing, nor does surfing (or surfers) owe anything to “surf brands.” As surfers and consumers, we have the responsibility to view the marketing efforts of “surf brands” with a certain degree of cynicism. We should not be so naïve to think that these brands exist for any reason other than to make money. As Ted Endo stated in a past article, “If we have reached the point when the difference between what our heroes want to do and what they are paid to do in order to sell us things has become indistinguishable, then we are looking at the death of this culture and anything it might have originally championed.” Don’t let “surf brands” like Roxy be the death of true surf culture. Instead, take their (and other brands’) marketing efforts for what they are – marketing.