HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — “This is as close to the Last Supper as you can get,” quipped Ocean Pacific Apparel chief executive Dick Baker, remarking on the number of surfwear executives gathered in the name of education.

This story first appeared in the April 17, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Quiksilver chairman and ceo Bob McKnight hosted the who’s who dinner at his company headquarters last week, recruiting Hurley International president Bob Hurley, Pacific Sunwear president Tim Harmon, Billabong USA president Paul Naudé, Lost Enterprises ceo Joel Cooper, Stussy president Frank Sinatra and Lunada Bay ceo and president Susan Crank, among others, to learn of the resources at Otis School of Art and Design, most notably, the fashion program.

It was testament to how much the industry has come of age, according to Surf Industry Manufacturers Association president Sean Smith. “Four years ago, if you said there was going to be such a dinner, everyone would have scoffed at it. But now, these kind of things are taken seriously.”

Surprisingly, these surf leaders don’t view themselves as arch rivals, but rather, a cohesive bunch fighting the retail establishment. “We work together and surf together and support one another,” McKnight said. “It’s those players like Hollister, Old Navy and private label programs that are the real competition.”

The surfwear industry also lives and eats well. Over pan-seared sea bass salad and filet mignon, Otis officials, including president Samuel Hoi and Rosemary Brantley, founding chair of the 23-year-old fashion design program, promoted the merits of the program and its strong slew of students for internships and entry-level design jobs. Three students also offered examples of their sketches and showcased their swim and men’s wear designs on models.

Spreading the word is a challenge for the four-year fashion design program at the downtown Los Angeles school. In the past decade, it has graduated 350 students — not exactly a vast pool of alumni to help with job placement. But the program is growing, and boasts 80 students for fall, according to Marianne Hudz, Otis’ director of career services.

McKnight was bullish on the school, since his 19-year-old daughter attends and comes home on weekends full of stories.

“She tells me that she’s working hard, juggling multiple assignments, and I’m like, ‘Thank God,’” he said, noting that a number of Quiksilver’s employees hail from Otis.