SAN DIEGO — With a tropical storm that sent eight-foot swells onto local beaches, nature delivered spectacularly for the Action Sports Retailer Trade Expo.

Executives turned up late or snuck out early to catch waves, returning to their booths ebullient and exemplifying the surfer lifestyle.

The buying mood was equally vigorous at the three-day event that ended Sept. 7. Buyers cited everything from the surf flick "Blue Crush" to the increasing array of lifestyle products — from lamps to lip gloss — from such brands as Roxy, Hurley, Rusty and Billabong, as helping to heat up summer sales.

Pacific Sunwear chief financial officer Tim Harmon said the industry’s brand strength helped the Anaheim-based chain see a 13.1 percent increase in last month’s comp-store sales, its best monthly same-store sales performance in four years.

"Some of these brands have been here 22 years, going from $20 million to $600 million and they’re still cool," he said, referring obliquely to Quiksilver. "That’s real brand building. This industry has some of the best role models for it."

Since "Blue Crush" opened last month, more young girls have showed up for surf lessons at Island Watersports in Deerfield Beach, Fla., said buyer Jessica Payne. Meanwhile, Billabong has spent the last several weeks "chasing rash guard business," referring to its logo top worn by actress Kate Bosworth, said sales manager Angi Broberg.

Debbie Harvey, director of merchandise buying for Ron Jon Surf Shop, a Cocoa Beach, Fla.-based chain, said families retreated to the beaches this summer.

"Women’s business was particularly good," she said. "We’re up about 9 percent and our New Jersey store had the best summer we’ve ever had."

As for trends, the mood alternated between bleached and beachy Seventies looks and Eighties artsy-punk. Volcom and Stussy epitomized the latter with neons, safety-pin charms, brushstroke stripes, and graffiti-scrawl and paint-splatter prints.

Keeping with Gen Y’s fondness for any childhood flashbacks, Paul Frank offered a striped top in a knit "jammie" fabric with snaps and O’Neil designer Monica Martinez showed old-school terry cloth gym shorts.Fit is loosening up, with longer tops and slouchy pants elbowing in on bare styles. Hurley International designer Lian Murray defined the new, slightly higher rise as "resting on the hip bone, a hip-hugger as opposed to a low-rider."

Hurley, Rusty and Split contoured pants accordingly, with wider waistbands and prominent belt loops. Dickies Girl revised classic workwear pants with a slouchier fit, wider belt loops and slanted front pockets.

The brand uses ASR to reach single-store accounts, said chief executive officer Masud Sarshar, adding, "We generally turn away major accounts here."

Nonetheless, the big guys were out in force, including contingents from Wal-Mart, Macy’s West and The Bon Marché. Tim Hug, Bon Marché’s senior buyer for active, said he hoped to persuade Billabong and Paul Frank to sell the Seattle-based department store chain. But "Paul Frank is not ready yet and Billabong is not crazy about the idea," he added.

A novice to the ASR spectacle, which included complementary needle-tattooing at Sessions’ booth, one of 900 brands at the event — Hug said, "seeing what people wear to this trade show alone is worth the trip."

At a screening of boardsport rising star Nathan Fletcher’s video "These Colors Taste Like Music," Quiksilver senior vice president Randy Hild quashed rumors that the close relationship between Quiksilver and Volcom is a financial one.

"For the record, we have no financial interest in the brand," Hild said.

Would they take a stake if Volcom wanted a big backer, à la the Hurley-Nike deal?

"Never say ‘never,’" said Hild, pointing out the companies are "emotionally close."

"[Volcom ceo] Richard Wolcott trained at Quiksilver," he noted. "Now he sits in Bob McKnight’s old office in the building Quiksilver used to lease. Tell me that’s not synergy."

Quiksilver ceo McKnight was more guarded. He said, "We’re just close friends."

Leveraging its Nike connections, Hurley premiered a collection of footwear, including Chuck Taylor-inspired styles, suede sneakers, platform flip-flops and sneaker mules wholesaling from $18 to $32.50. For sportswear, designer Murray said she planned a "big push of color" for summer 2003."It’s important to keep retailers excited for the change of season," Murray said. "We’re using gold and orange and pink to bring a vacation happiness to the floor."

While Hurley launched footwear, several action-sports shoe brands stepped into apparel. Gallaz, the women’s footwear division of Globe International, a Torrance, Calif,.-based firm, launched a junior line. Looks included enzyme-washed fleece, black and fuchsia jailbird-striped tops and logo T-shirts. Gallaz is planning to break a national ad campaign in YM, SG (formerly Surfing Girl) and Elle Girl in March 2003.

Their target customer "looks up to skaters, listens to the same music they do," said brand manager Tabitha Erhardt. "She sews her own clothes, may be an artist or aspiring to be an artist."

Another footwear brand, Osiris, has spun off a little sister. Copia, a year-old young contemporary brand, served up tea-dyed gauze and a halter wrap dress. The label is positioned for twentysomethings who’ve "grown up on surf brands, have an active lifestyle, but don’t want to shop at department stores," said creative director Stacy Dye.

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