Bringing business to the US Open of Surfing
When Ron Abdel, co-owner of Jack's Surfboards, tried to put on a promotion with Quiksilver during last year's US Open of Surfing, reps from then-sponsor Nike quickly came over and shut down the operation.
"They were very strict about it," Abdel said of the free hat with purchase giveaway at the store at Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway.
Recent past sponsors of the US Open of Surfing – known as the biggest surf festival in the world – in the last few years have been tight about allowing other surf brands to advertise on the sand. The main sponsors pay big bucks to have their name slapped in front of the US Open of Surfing, and having competition squeeze in front of the hundreds of thousands of beachgoers wasn't tolerated. In years that non-surf companies held title sponsorship, select brands were allowed to do guerilla marketing on the sand with booths and giveaways.
This year is going to be different, with a heavy emphasis on inclusiveness of the surf industry. On Wednesday, it was announced that a surf tradeshow, The Boardroom, will be added to this year’s U.S. Open to showcase hundreds of booths filled with surf brands, clothing companies and surfboard makers in a 50,000-square-foot area on the sand, a new addition to the big surf event that happens in late July.
"We are really looking forward to bringing the entire surf and skate industry back to the US Open of Surfing, leading by working with all of our peers, and inspiring a whole new generation of action sports fans," said Doug Palladini, Vans vice president of marketing.
Since the Action Sports Retailer trade show was dismantled in 2010, there's been a void on the West Coast for a big surf trade show. Agenda, which happens around the same time as the U.S. Open in Long Beach, has a surf presence, but it is diluted because the show also caters to skate, art, music, snow and other lifestyle brands. The Boardroom has been held the past few years in San Diego.
This addition means the demographic of the attendees could change at the US Open, veering away from young children who show for the free swag and don't spend money, and instead drawing people genuinely interested in the business aspect of the sport of surfing, said surf industry insider Peter "PT" Townend.
Townend, who spoke with major surf companies to see if there was interest in participating, said the feedback has been positive for the surf tradeshow presence at the US Open.
"The big brands are really committed to the idea," he said. "Everyone is on board. It's a huge move."
The Boardroom will be on the sand July 23-27, with the first two days dedicated to retail buyers and media and the last two days open to the public. It will be a freestanding, carpeted and enclosed pavilion with air conditioning – a place for beachgoers to beat the afternoon heat and peruse the aisles filled with the latest surf gear on the market.
"The surfboard will forever be the alpha and the omega of the surf industry, the surf world, and the surf lifestyle," says Scott Bass, The Boardroom founder and director. "Because deep down surfers really only care about two things – waves and the equipment to ride them with."
Vans has signed on with event producer IMG Worldwide for a three-year commitment to the event.
IMG senior vice president James Leitz said the idea will bring a "market week" feel for the industry, with more than 300 brands, and the country's top surf and skate retailers, and business leaders from across all action sports being included.
"I like the idea of bringing the industry back to the beach. And what better way to be inclusive than having The Boardroom on the beach, in the backdrop of the US Open," he said. "The Boardroom is a massive footprint. It is going to be a visual destination by the shear physicality of it. Combine that with displays, premiums and promotions from the world's top surf brands, and The Boardroom is going to be one of the hot spots on the beach."
HISTORY OF U.S. OPEN
1994: The US Open of Surfing was created in 1994 after the OP Pro struggled financially in the early '90s, never rebounding from a past tarnished by images of a beach riot in the mid-'80s. Those images include police in riot gear, cars in flames and chaos on the sand. The OP Pro would be a warm-up event with 410 competitors, then the second week the U.S. Open of Surfing would bring the best surfers into town for the first World Tour event on the mainland since 1991.
A young Kelly Slater, 22 at the time, would show up with the rest of the best 48 surfers on the World Tour, along with the 16 best women. Slater the year before had just wrapped up his stint with "Baywatch" and was being followed around by crews of the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."
Back then, viewers could buy tickets for seats to watch the event – $20 to watch the last days of the Op Pro and the US Open finals. But ticket sales were lackluster, drawing 30,000 fewer fans than the 200,000 projected.
1995: A big showdown happened in 1995 in a final with Rob Machado winning a close – and now historic – heat against Slater in front of nearly 50,000 fans. His prize: $14,000, a bit smaller than the top prize offered the past few years under Nike's reign: $100,000.
1997: The event was pulled off the World Tour list, meaning the big names became less frequent at the event each year.
2003-2008: The event was named Honda US Open of Surfing, and included nonsurf events such as freestyle motocross, volleyball and poker in the festival area, creating a circus-like atmosphere. In 2007, wackiness hit the sand before the surf contest as 100 steer and 25 horses showed up under the pier as a joint promotion with the OC Fair.
2009: Hurley came on as sponsor, paving the way for parent company Nike. The event focused on surf, skate, art, fashion and music. The event was upgraded in status to an ASP 6-star Prime event, and along with a $100,000 purse, the event became a stop for most World Tour surfers looking to earn valuable points. A big swell with 15-foot surf had crowds pumped, and surfers performed at their top level. It was a fairytale story for Orange County, with Huntington Beach's Brett Simpson and Costa Mesa's Courtney Conlogue winning first place.
2010: Nike – parent to Hurley – took over title sponsorship but kept a big presence of the surf brand, along with sister company Converse. Weezer performed in 2010, and in 2011 MGMT again brought near-tipping-point crowds. The crowds continued to hit nearly 1 million during nine days. World champion Kelly Slater won his first US Open title in front of tens of thousands of surf fans.
2012: The US Open had the same look with Nike/Converse/Hurley as the previous year, with an increased focus on social media and brand interaction. Two big retail shops were built on the sand, and the Walk the Walk fashion show was eliminated. The city enforced restrictions on the concert series, and smaller bands were brought in, with no headliner on Saturday as in previous years. Still, crowds continued to swell, and the world's best surfers still showed up.
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