Hurley is shedding athletes, and Bluestar Alliance is wielding the ax. Some of surfing’s most recognizable names, most notably, John John Florence, are being forced to find new stickers. Everyone and their mother seems surprised and outraged, but as shitty as the whole sticky corporate business is, I have no idea why this is surprising. Hurley is a business. Bluestar Alliance is in the business of making money. It is a business that, like all businesses, isn’t beholden to the surf community. It is beholden to its shareholders. I’m not saying that it’s not extraordinarily shitty for everyone canned from Hurley, but surprising? No.
Just read what it says on the website: The firm’s investment mandate is to identify and purchase consumer brand companies where it can leverage the brand equity and expand its current categories to a broader consumer base. To facilitate the overall strategy Bluestar relies on its branding/marketing knowledge, extensive relationships with retail management, strategic partnerships and brand licensing manufacturing entities. Each brand is uniquely positioned maintaining the brand heritage and equity, considering new categories and current tiers of distribution.
In short, Bluestar buys a brand, looks at where it’s screwing up, and with the cold, hard scalpel of math, chops the fat. Surf companies, as evidenced by the well-documented collapse of the industry, have a lot of fat. To the surfing community, and especially to the pro surfers, that fat is wonderful: it means we have athletes paid well for sliding around on waves, the bro culture thrives, and the parties are loud. Money is splashed around like water, and everyone celebrates. The little guy is fat and happy. But eventually, if a brand is doing well enough and making enough of those little guys happy, someone’s going to come along with a fat wallet and that cold scalpel and make an offer. And as history has shown, it’s not too often that offer is turned down. Then, of course, the person who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into a brand is called a sell-out.
But “sell-out” is a stupid term. If you have a business, chances are very good you didn’t start it purely for the love of it. Oh, yes, if you’re lucky, you started a business revolving around something you love, but the goal of a business is to make money. Otherwise, it’s a charity or simply a hobby. It could easily (and has been, in fact) posited that if you really wanted to support your local shaper, you would hope that they would become successful businesses with boards made overseas and in every surf shop on earth. You would want them to progress past the struggling, foam covered garage shaper you love so much. Bob Hurley started a business doing something he loved and sold it to Nike for an ungodly amount of money ($100 million to $140 million, according to The Portland Business Journal). Then Nike offloaded Hurley to Bluestar Alliance, and here we are.
As our very own Zach Weisberg wrote in a piece he wrote on supporting local shapers, “Every single major surfboard brand that’s tied to a shaper’s name began in a shaping bay. A shack. Each of those fellas hand-shaped countless boards for buddies in his neighborhood for beer money. Guys like Rusty Preisendorfer, Al Merrick, Matt Biolos, Darren Handley, Tomo, and maybe a handful of others. But they also did something that very few individuals on earth are capable of doing. They successfully navigated the infinitely improbable transition from pursuing their art, the craft of shaping surfboards at a discount for neighborhood friends, to delivering a high quality, desirable, and replicable product at a healthy profit to the masses. Because somewhere in that process, the shaper has to do something very difficult. They have to figure out how to build a viable business. And that is fucking hard. It’s actually a lot harder than shaping a surfboard.”
So if you’re a fan of capitalism, then you should be standing up on your table and cheering on the process.
But now there is outrage in the surfing community because, with the Bluestar Alliance acquisition, Hurley athletes are dropping like flies. While it definitely sucks for the surfers who are out a sponsor, it should not come as a surprise. Be outraged all you want, but don’t be surprised that Bluestar Alliance is pouring a bottle of bleach on the bloodstained contracts of the team riders. It’s a business, and you don’t make money by throwing money away.