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PHOTO: KEVIN SULLIVAN/ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
O'Neill's Steve Ward, right, high-fives a colleague after winning the Men's Marketing Campaign of the Year at the 2012 SIMA Awards at the Grove in Anaheim Thursday night.
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O.C. surf brands dominate at industry awards

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

There's the wetsuit that dries in less than 15 minutes, boardshorts inspired by Olympic swimmers in Europe, and marketing campaigns that instantly transport consumers to the beach.

Those are some of the ideas and innovations lauded Thursday night at the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association's 10th annual SIMA Image Awards in Anaheim. A sold-out crowd of about 900 industry insiders showed up at the City National Grove for the event.

"There are so many people who are in the design, development, marketing and sales of these amazing products," said SIMA president Doug Palladini. "To have them all here and be a part of it is what this industry is all about. The level of creativity is at an all time high."

Surf brands from Orange County dominated with wins, bringing home eleven of the sixteen awards presented. A few brands took home consecutive awards, leading in their category for several years in a row.

Here's a rundown on some local winners:

Men's Boardshort of the Year: The Phantom Fuse by Hurley won the Men's Boardshort of the Year for the fifth year. The material of the trunks originally was made for Olympic swimmers in Europe, and Hurley's parent company Nike helped bring the idea to the Costa Mesa-based surf company.

"We wanted to make boardshorts better, and change the game with that material. Since then, it's been a process of refining with the goal of having it be like a second skin," said Hurley's senior vice president of marketing Evan Slater. "We've found the sweet spot for it to be perfect for performance. It's just a validation to our dedication we put into a product."

Women's Swim Brand of the Year : Irvine-based L*Space once again broke a record for the most wins in a row for a category, winning the Women's Swim Brand of the Year for the sixth year in a row. The company has nabbed the award each year since the category was introduced in 2007.

"We're very humbled, I just can't believe we are here again," said founder Monica Wise, of Newport Beach. "L*Space is my baby. It's the only child I've ever had in my life, maybe that explains it. I love my brand so much."

Wetsuit of the Year: Rip Curl, from Costa Mesa, for the second year in a row won the award for its Flashbomb suit. The suit is the fastest drying on the market, with moisture vanishing within 15 minutes. This year's version has added flexibility to the design. Rip Curl has been making wetsuits since 1969.

"We started with wetsuits. We obviously make everything else from boardshorts to swimwear for girls -- but the wetsuit is still the anchor of our business," said CEO Kelly Gibson. "It's really what people use to go surfing, for the most part in California anyway – so it's important for us."

Environmental Product of the Year: SIMA President Palladini said he's especially proud of the level of social consciousness in the surf industry, and the amount of sustainability built into the innovations. "It's so tied to the surfing culture, it makes so much sense -- without clean water, without clean beaches we don't have a surf industry," he said. "So people building that mindset into every product they make, that makes all the difference in the world. This industry doesn't do that for marketing purposes – they do it because it's imperative to who we are. It's pretty amazing to see what people have come up with.

Irvine-based Billabong won the award for Environmental Product of the Year with the Recycler Boardshort Series.

"All the companies do a great job at recycled products. Everybody is making a difference with boardshorts, and making an impact with recycled products," said Rob McCarty, Sr. Director of Design for Billabong. "We all keep pushing each other."

The top fundraiser for the "Stokes Me" contest held in October also was recognized during the awards, with Reef founder and International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre taking the podium. His team "Liquid Tribe" brought in 10 percent of the $78,000 raised during the online campaign, which benefited 10 non-profits, including Life Rolls On, Waves for Water and SurfAid International.

"It doesn't matter how much you donate," he said. "If you touch someone else in their heart that day, you are a humanitarian. People say you can only be part of changing the world if you only make money. If that's all you do, you are poor. Because when you die, you can't spend it."

A few San Diego brands took home awards through the night, such as Encinitas-based Nixon winning Accessory Product of the Year for the Supertide Watch, and clothing brand Brixton winning Breakout Brand of the Year.

The event honors the surf culture's most innovative and progressive businesses, products and accomplishments for the previous year. Attendees range from company heads to the people who work behind the scenes to make the products come to life. The awards event was held in Cabo San Lucas until 2010, when it moved to Orange County. More info: sima.com

Contact the writer: lconnelly@ocregister.com


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