On July 23, 2009, a flurry of press releases pulsed through surf industry inboxes announcing that then-sixteen-year-old Hawaiian phenom, Carissa Moore, had officially joined forces with Target, a company that earned $65.4 billion in revenue in 2009 (that’s nearly ten times the entire surf and skate industries combined) and ranked among the top ten retailers in the United States. It was just one signature. One person. One contract. But the nervous pause and potential ramifications of that signature chattered through the doors of Quiksilver, Billabong, and other surf industry giants. It even made its way down to the sand and into a few lineups – at least in Southern California. One might describe surfers as a protective bunch, so the prospect of losing one of the sport’s brightest young stars to America’s favorite vendor of laundry detergent and dorm room décor just didn’t sit well.
Six months later, on January 20, 2010, history seemed to repeat itself when then-fifteen-year-old Kolohe Andino became the first male surfer to join forces with Target. Suddenly, Target had successfully launched a burgeoning ocean empire by aligning itself with two of the best young surfers on the planet, and Andino’s surfboard, which had long been an object of discussion since he won his first NSSA National Title at ten years old, became important for different reasons. People were accustomed to discussing its features as related to in-water performance: a little shorter, fatter, a small tweak to the rocker. These were subtle variations that made a big impact in Kolohe’s surfing career, but now his board, no longer collaged with the familiar logos that built the surf industry from the ground up, appeared alien. Andino’s surfboard, his vehicle in the ocean and in life, bore a new set of iconography. And that Target bulls-eye on the rail, as a figurative gesture, couldn’t have been more appropriate.
Between them, Andino and Moore stake claim to twenty NSSA National Titles, a World Tour berth, multiple WQS victories, and enough hype to power a Tesla for a year. So how and why did the two most widely recognized names in youth surfing abandon the surf industry clutch?
“I just wanted something different, I guess,” said Kolohe Andino over the phone while on a trip in Indonesia. “[Target] doesn’t have as many riders, and that gives them more leeway to do sort of different things like send me to waves where I need more experience and stuff like that, you know? Things that aren’t that big, but are really big in terms of helping me grow my surfing and my competitive surfing, too, things like sending me to Teahupoo and having a house in Hawaii…stuff like that.”
While Kolohe’s rationale sounds unconvincing (surf companies tour the globe multiple times each year with their premier athletes and have provided room and board on the North Shore each winter for decades), Andino also hinted at a larger ambition: one that corporations with deeper pockets and broader resources may be more qualified to realize.
“Surfing is a great sport,” said Andino. “I think it should be provided to everyone in the world. I think if non-endemic brands can spread it to most of the world, maybe more people will get in the water and then something like surfing might get in the Olympics one year, you know?”
As glorious (or unpleasant, depending on your vantage) as that future may sound, Andino’s cognizance of global issues resonates with the Moore family, who pioneered a new future not just for young surfers, but especially for female surfers.
“The industry has been primarily for generations just guys,” says Carissa’s father, Chris Moore. “Guys call the shots on things and girls are pretty much a distant number two with the way that things work in the surfing world, so there was a frustration to an extent on our part.”
“For seven years it was really good with Roxy,” says Chris Moore. “And really good. You’re not going to get complaints from me or Carissa, but it was still sort of a couple of steps back. The non-endemics seemed to have a better grasp on some of the equality issues.”
As Nike 6.0, Nike’s rapidly growing action sports division (separate from Hurley, another Nike-owned brand), has made major strides in the surf community by outfitting an impressive list of talented young surfers like Dusty Payne, Kai Barger, Coco Ho, Nat Young, Lakey Peterson, and Michel Bourez, it has also prepared to launch an all-girls surf video (something Roxy also attempted in 2006 with Shimmer). Seeing that Red Bull, another entrant throwing serious money behind its talent, has propelled Maya Gabeira to the zenith of women’s big-wave surfing, one begins to understand Moore’s case.
“I think, honestly, it was just the opportunity that we looked at,” Carissa Moore told me over the phone. “[The non-endemics] seemed like they could give me a really great support structure for the future.”
Quiksilver CEO Bob McKnight, one of the only surf industry executives who agreed to comment, quite understandably, disagrees.
“I don’t think a Target or a fill in the blank can support these athletes like we can,” says McKnight, who co-founded Quiksilver in 1976. “We meaning Quiksilver, Billabong, Hurley, Volcom, O’Neill, whoever, because there’s a lot more to it than just giving them a pay check. You have to support them through their highs and lows through their career, their health issues and injuries. You have to support them when they show up in Japan or Australia or Indo or France, if they’re sick or they run out of money or lose their bag or can’t get a plane ticket to the next place or lose their passport. We have offices everywhere and people on the ground that can help support them.”
But, ironically, the support structure McKnight mentions ultimately proved to be one of the most influential factors in directing the Moore family to the other side.
“For Carissa to jump from the endemics to the non-endemics, it wasn’t a money issue,” said Chris Moore. “Sure, the money’s good, but it seems to be with the endemic brands, either the managers are stretched too thin or they don’t have some of the skills to deal with a large team…there seems to be a bit of frustration that I’ve sensed on the parental side. And what we’ve seen with Nike, Red Bull, and Target and the more elite athletes are getting a much better service. If Carissa needs something or needs something answered or has a question, the amount of time from question to question answered is a significant change.”
Terms of the athletes’ compensation have remained strictly classified. “People blow it way out of proportion and make accusations and assumptions that are pretty outlandish,” says Kolohe’s father and former professional surfer Dino Andino. “I’m very happy with how Kolohe is supported, but it’s not all about the money. It’s about the programs they’re setting up and just a different approach.”