Now that people, well, most people, have come to the realization that Kelly’s abrupt departure from an almost quarter-century partnership with Quiksilver is, in fact, not an April Fool’s joke, we are allowed to mull somewhat seriously over the news — however seriously one might mull over sponsorships. The first thing would be that this is indeed a big deal, one that no one aside from the select few involved in closed-door conversations can claim to have known. The next thing? Why the hell didn’t this happen a decade ago?
Kelly’s evolution as a Quiksilver product – which is what any sponsored surfer or athlete is – effectively stopped nearly a decade ago. In May of 2005, he became the first to post a perfect 20 out of 20 in the ASP two-wave scoring system at the Billabong Tahiti Pro — joining Shane Beschen in the ranks of perfect heats in competition, although Beschen’s 30 out of 30 admittedly looks a little better — and, with it, checked off the last box of an impressive bucket list. He had quite literally accomplished everything on the Tour. There was nothing more that he could possibly do as a Quiksilver product aside from tack on a couple more titles, which he did. But as brand development goes, there was nothing more he could do in the way of furthering Quiksilver. And by 2005, they were already as synonymous as sponsorships come. Even if he had left a decade ago, it would be rather difficult to argue that Quiksilver would have been any worse for wear: it’d be the equivalent of an all-star athlete racking up umpteen awards, honors, and championships for the team that drafted him, then amicably deciding he needed to go to his childhood’s hometown team for obvious personal reasons or to fulfill an adolescent dream.
The last decade has essentially been about furthering his own legend. This is not to say that’s what his motivations were, but that is the way it turned out. He has continually matured from celebrated poster boy to respected, wisened vet, from once touting trends and fashions to now articulating beliefs and lifestyles choices — ones he, not necessarily Quiksilver, hold true. Consider his foundation, or his relationships with Reef Check, Sea Shepherd, and The Chia Co. Then there is the personal evolution of Kelly as, well, Kelly, stepping on stage with Pearl Jam or hitting the links in pro-ams. While surfing, and the occasional acting gig, was his main focus through the 1990s and early 2000s, his focus has shifted away from that one-track mind. And at the end of the day — in this case, a 24-year day — Quiksilver can no longer stay with Kelly in the capacity he needs.
But, as stated above, that was the case a decade ago. Why did it take so long?
Maybe Quiksilver dragged their feet. Or Kelly dragged his. Someone did. There is no “this is the right time” in this situation. There is no “it makes sense because…” There is simply: “it happened, and happened today.”
What would be interesting to know would be whether there were ever any conversations to develop this new sustainable brand with Quiksilver as a partner or financial supporter, or if this split was as amicable as it seemed. The Kering Group is an outstanding business organization that has a pretty portfolio (including industry peer Volcom) which is leaps and bounds — again, business-wise — above the likes of Quiksilver. But why break from a proven collaboration, and one that, with new corporate Disney blood in the vein of CEO and management, is evolving as a business themselves? Perhaps the 100% contract was beginning to feel a couple dozen percentage points too high? Did it come down to money? Was John John’s rumored ascension to most paid of particularly high tension? Did Quiksilver offshoot VSTR’s fall out affect the decision? Was there a freedom component that sold Kelly?
Whatever the case, if any athlete is possibly bigger than the team or club they represent, it would be the 11-time and counting World Champion. And whoever is the one to snag any of his promotional facetime and subsequent influence will surely benefit — which the Kering Group will.