LOS ANGELES — For Veronica Kay, the wildest stop so far on the endless summer voyage aboard an Indies trader ship was in Papua, New Guinea.
It was the maiden journey for the Quiksilver Crossing, a converted salvage boat the powerhouse surf brand painted in tart colors and set to sea six years ago from Cairns, Australia. Kay, then 19 and the only woman among the crew, which included fellow surfers Kelly Slater and his younger brother Steven, recently recalled that first trip.
“We set foot on this island beach that seemed deserted. All of a sudden we were surrounded. This woman comes out of a hut in only a grass skirt. I’m this girl with long blonde hair, and she and these other women start touching it. Very few words were exchanged — but there’s so much said in smiles.”
Through French Polynesia and the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean and, most recently, the Panama Canal, the Crossing’s Homerian expedition has logged more than 90,000 nautical miles. That’s four times the distance around the equator.
Its mission: to surf where no surfer has surfed before. Mums the word on the exact location of many of the 150 waves they’ve discovered and classified as world class. But much of the experience, including the ship’s log, schedule and archived data, is at thecrossing.quiksilver.com.
The Crossing also tops the list of quintessential marketing in the board sports arena, particularly for the $1.3 billion company, already a marquee name at many of the world’s major surfing contests. The budget hovers around $1 million in “hard costs” annually, according to Crossing director and president of Quiksilver International Bruce Raymond.
But the boat was more than just about branding or exotic photo ops for its team riders. Most of those working in the action sports industry do so because of a personal passion for riding waves — including fighting to keep the world’s oceans healthy.
“We’re not saving the world,” conceded Raymond, who ventured out on several passages. “But we’re trying to be thoughtful global citizens.”
Among the handful of groups benefiting is QuikScience Partnership. It teams the company with the University of Southern California’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies in a program aimed at improving science and environmental education in grades kindergarten through 12.
The motley crew, in fact, counted among its ranks marine biologists from Reef Check, the California-based volunteer foundation active in 82 nations. Their survey has already covered 70 remote reefs in 18 countries, and will be used toward creating global policy on conservation.
The scientists also take their message to school children at each stop.
It was a lesson for the surfers, too, noted Raymond, in Southern California this week from his base in Sydney. “Originally, we thought every two weeks we’d discover new surf and meet new cultures. But that was a little idealistic. We went through periods of lost transits, dealing with quite different climates that dictate where we go and what’s realistic to achieve. But all of that is part of the mystique.”
And it wasn’t all science. Free surf camps were also held for the locals, many led by top pros such as Kay and Slater.
Although this isn’t the end of the trip for the Crossing, the vessel is finally home. On June 14, it arrived in San Diego, the first of eight stops through September up the West Coast, from Malibu and the Channel Islands to San Francisco and Seattle. Parties, boat tours and environmental fund-raisers are on the calendar for most of the cities.
The grandest events took place last weekend in Orange County, headquarters of the Quiksilver brand. There was a black-tie dinner at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point on Saturday, followed by a beach blowout Sunday in Newport Beach, replete with fireworks for the 1,000 guests invited.
Like her fellow boardriders, Kay has flown to far-flung points to hitch a ride on the boat a half dozen times. Her longest stints lasted 14 days. And she made plenty of pals along the way, like the young surfer in Athens who flailed her arms madly from shore.
“The crew thought she might be one of us, waiting for a pickup,” recalled Kay. “She showed us the town that night, and I ended up staying at her house. The boat creates such excitement wherever we go.”