With professional surfer girls on billboards, TVscreens and in magazines, the Los Angeles surf scene is hotter than it’s ever been.
She’s everywhere, smiling down from billboards and out from TV screens; featured in music videos and fashion magazines, and splashed across the covers of paperbacks.
Her image is so prevalent that it can only mean one thing: The surfing girl is now a bona fide icon.
It only took 46 years since Gidget appeared on the Hollywood landscape (first as a book) for the pop culture machine to elevate the female surfer from cute novelty to commodified muse. Following last summer’s quasi-hit chick flick “Blue Crush” and the spring runway shows awash with hibiscus and neoprene details, the rest of the consumer culture — from mass retailers to mass media — is now along for the ride.
On billboards across America, a bikini-clad Cameron Diaz strikes a determined pose on a board (and even learned how to surf) for “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle,” the sequel to the first blockbuster film, opening in theaters June 27.
On the small screen, seven real surfers will play out the trials and tribulations of their real-life journey to compete in a major contest in the WB’s new series, “Boarding House: North Shore,” airing June 18. Already under way Monday nights on MTV is “Surf Girls,” featuring 14 Pretty Young Things competing at exotic global locales for a highly coveted wildcard into the world championship tour and a spot in a pro contest. Roxy, Quiksilver’s megabrand that ushered the surfing girl into the post-feminist age, is behind the weekly 13-episode, 30-minute reality series.
Roxy is also behind the new “Luna Bay” series of paperbacks published by Harpers Collins. The first two, “Pier Pressure” and “Wave Goodbye,” hit booksellers June 6, with a third, “Weather or Not,” following June 22. Modeled after the popular “Baby-sitters Club” series and already endorsed by Scholastic Books, the $4.99 installments are authored by Fran Lantz, a seasoned writer and surfer, and target the tween Roxy Girl customer.
Amy Snyder, vice president of marketing at Roxy, said, “The idea is to grow the entire culture of women’s surfing. It’s not just about our brand, it’s about developing the industry and the sport as a whole and giving it some longevity. We know the consumer is smart enough that if she’s intrigued by the lifestyle she’ll support the companies that support the sport. I’m not going to pay $350 for designer boardshorts that don’t work in the water.”
The stamp of that much-coveted buzzword, “authenticity,” is also why those outside the surf arena believe the masses will buy into it. Honda automotive, AT&T, Mountain Dew and M&M all quickly signed on to sponsor “Boarding House,” even though it was untested original programming during the typically repeat-saturated summer TV schedule.
“We’re showing seven professionals competing in the Superbowl of surfing, the Vans Triple Crown. It’s extremely legitimate and authentic,” said Keith Cox, the WB’s senior vice president of alternative programming. “Our demo wants to see the lifestyle. It’s sexy, it’s young, the surfers are athletic and smart. It’s all positive, and women, especially, get to see these role models on television.”
That is the hope of many longtime champions of women’s board sports who hope the current love affair isn’t only about babes in bikinis.
“I’m happy to see corporate America embrace it,” said Patty Segovia, women’s board sports photographer and creator of the All Girl Skate Jam. “There’s still not enough girls doing it, but these efforts can only help progress the sport. We need the reality shows to show these younger girls as role models who are athletic, talented and powerful.”
Added 16-year-old Alice Martinez, who Segovia photographed last month during the Surf Diva Clinic in La Jolla, Calif., one of many such camps which have proliferated in recent years, “Surfing is something that girls haven’t been able to do for a while — it was more of a man thing. But now women are getting more into it. You can see it on TV.”
— Rose Apodaca Jones
For someone who turned pro just two years ago and hasn’t won a major yet, surfing phenom Holly Beck is having a ride of her lifetime.
Striving to further tap the surf influence, the house of Chanel enlisted the 22-year-old Beck to help launch its new J12 sport watch and sport collection series.
“As a pro surfer, you don’t get much opportunity to go to New York City and go to a ritzy party and wear an outfit worth thousands of dollars,” said Beck, who spends most of her time in bikini tops, board shorts and bare feet. “Two days prior I was camping in mud and sipping wine from plastic cups.”
A Chanel spokeswoman said of Beck, “She definitely represents the spirit of the collection with her beauty, charm and athletic ability.”
Beck’s fears about being a fish out of water at the event, also attended by Sofia Coppola and Frankie Rayder, never materialized.
“I wondered what we were going to talk about, but everyone there had seen ‘Blue Crush,’ so they wanted to know everything about surfing,” she said.
Her name will get a boost in celebrity status when the WB reality series “Boarding House: North Shore” premieres June 18. Shot at Oahu’s famed surf beach, the show spotlights the cocktail of hard-core competition and partying among Beck and six other surfers surrounding the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing last November. Beck didn’t place, but that didn’t matter, she said. She lived in style, having a bedroom to herself in a Hawaiian-decorated home.
“It’s definitely one of the most comfortable places I’ve stayed on the North Shore, which is pretty renowned for people sharing beds or having bedroom doors that won’t close,” she said.
Such heady times, however, haven’t diverted Beck’s attention from what matters most: Seeking the world champion surfing title. Surfing for just eight years, Beck, who grew up in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Palos Verdes, is still catching up with her contemporaries. While many skipped college in favor of the waves, Beck attended the University of California in San Diego and graduated in three years with a business degree.
The pinnacle for her is to qualify for the 2004 World Championship Tour. Currently, she has been competing in the World Qualifying Series to earn a spot on the tour and is ranked, so far, 12th in the world on the WQS. Her next stop is the Philips U.S. Open of Surfing held July 28-Aug. 3 at the Huntington Beach Pier. To prepare, she spends up to five hours surfing a day, but favors a relaxed eating regimen. A typical diet for her 5 foot 7 inch, 125-pound frame is cereal and fruit in the morning, carbs with French Fries or chips often thrown in for lunch and a light salad for dinner.
“I’m really lucky that I can eat what I want and maintain my figure, but it probably allows me to eat more junk food than I should,” she said.
Ultimately, Beck aims to enter the broadcast news media. She’s getting some practice on Fox Sports Net’s “54321,” a daily program on extreme sports.
“It’s something I know about, so it’s been fun,” she said. “I think it works out since it’s not just some girl who’s reporting and doesn’t know what questions to ask.”
Sponsors Ocean Pacific, Reef and Body Glove need not fret just yet that their star athlete is ditching the waves anytime soon. Beck remains fixed on the water and on winning, and sponsors confirm they’re in for the long haul.
“She is a great role model who finished college, who gave up her competitive career to some degree in an effort to get a degree first,” said Michael Marckx, Op’s vice president of marketing. “She will continue to build on her competitive successes and begin to upset the world’s best over the next few years. If she doesn’t, we will still love her.”
— Nola Sarkisian-Miller
Waves of Art
The art of surfing doesn’t only take place in the water.
With a legion of photographers, filmmakers, painters, musicians, graphic artists and others translating their passion into art, industry players are fast becoming their patrons.
Op has signed on as title sponsor of “Surf Style,” a showcase of more than 150 pieces set for July 10-Aug. 23 at 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco. Closer to home, the Irvine, Calif.-based firm is sponsoring the Summer Surf Series of classic surf films at the Lido Theater in Newport Beach.
“Surf Culture: The Art History of Surfing,” a show first mounted at the Laguna Art Museum in Laguna Beach last summer, is winding its way to the San Jose Museum of Art, opening Aug. 16, thanks to Huntington Beach-based Quiksilver, while Quiksilver Edition, the better men’s division, is sponsoring a show by surf photographer Art Brewer at the Earl McGrath Gallery in New York, June 19-Aug. 9.
“Getting into galleries is new for us, but since [Edition] is a premium brand, it’s another way to connect to our customer,” said Barrett Tester, marketing director for Quiksilver Edition.
The subjects can vary from novice to master, from fun to poignant. “Surf Style” features a multimedia array of paintings, photos and sculpture, along with surfboards and Airstreams appointed with bamboo floors.
The mood is decidedly less formal at the “Art Show” hosted by Santa Ana, Calif.,-based Split Inc. in Laguna Beach’s Surf Gallery. Split co-owner Dave Patri said the showcase, running now through mid-June, is a tribute to the artists in his company.
“Our building is filled with paintings from guys who work here, so now we can exhibit and it will be for sale — not that it’s about being for sale,” Patri said.
The alliances also can serve as creative marketing strategies to entice customers to linger longer at a store or to launch a new product. Volcom has hosted a series of artists’ works at its store on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles — most recently selections by skateboarder Matt Thomas, a.k.a. “Spazmat.” Hurley International Footwear sponsored the Quiet Riot art show featuring 40 artists who painted on replica riot shields that ran concurrently with the January run of the Action Sports Retailer Trade Expo in Long Beach, Calif.
Surfers no doubt are the target draw for the events, but the opportunity to reach beyond the community is even more compelling. Officials at the San Jose Museum of Art, which is 40 minutes away from another surfing mecca, Santa Cruz, plan to have Kathy Kohner Zuckerman, who was the inspiration for the “Gidget” book that spawned the movie and TV series, speak at the event. Another extra is the blessing a local Hawaiian elder will provide at the exhibit’s opening.
“We know it will have crossover appeal,” said Diane Maxwell, the museum’s director of communications. “We booked this show a while ago, but it’s now falling at a time when there’s a lot of mass media attention on the subject, and surf culture is in definite fashion.”
Surf officials said the events aren’t so much about size or scope as much as supporting the surf heritage. In addition, the companies, who can spend from $7,000 to $100,000 in sponsorships, aren’t looking for direct plugs in the works.
“We pretty much just do things that are done in the right spirit with the right people,” said Michael Marckx, Op vice president of marketing and advertising, echoing his industry peers. “It’s about shining a spotlight on those who have really been inspired by their relationship with the ocean.”
— Nola Sarkisian-Miller
WWD asked 15 of California’s hottest surf shops what junior lines their teen customers can’t live without. The findings? While Roxy still rules, Volcom is so close it was nearly a tie. Ditto Hurley, which is moving up in the ranks.
5. Rip Curl
Read and Ride
To get into the heads and hearts of the modern surfer girl —and skater girl, snowboarder girl and girls who aspire to those lifestyles — look no further than SG, the San Clemente, Calif.-based magazine catering to this growing consumer quadruple threat.
The Primedia book formerly known as Surfing Girl, which publishes every other month, went from a special insert in testosterone-heavy Surfing magazine to its own freestanding entity in 2001. It was rechristened to the shorter name with the August-September 2002 issue to better reflect its broader readership.
Now a recently hired art director, fashion editor and photo editor are aiming to even further multiply those eyes. It has a published circulation of 100,000, with a pass-around rate at more than four times that and 65 percent paid subscriptions.
“We looked for people who know what it means to live the SG lifestyle and who participate in at least one of the sports,” said surfer-snowboarder Robyn Lass, 29, also new to the role of SG’s top editor, after moving up the ranks from associate to managing editor since the magazine’s newsstand launch.
While Seventeen and Jane (like WWD, published by Fairchild Publications) are obvious competitors, Lass and her team note those and other similar titles don’t fully speak to their niche, which expects features on proper board stance and the newest skate parks, along with reviews on the latest fiction and lipstick.
At the top of the list is moving away from looking “so bubblegum,” said Lass, and giving SG a more sophisticated edge.
Lori Epner, a graphic designer at Quiksilver who worked on the megacompany’s various youth brands, including Roxy, was brought on board in April. The lack of publishing experience didn’t matter. The 25-year-old Florida native was bred on the lifestyle and in this industry — that is currency.
Although Epner’s vision won’t be entirely instituted until the February-March 2004 book, her sensibility is already appearing in the June-July issue: chicer fonts and an earthier palette of brick red, burnt orange and baby blue instead of the jewel tones that previously colored the pages.
“The magazine is still relatively new, so the changes are just an evolution as SG becomes a brand,” said Epner. “The plan is for SG to become more focused, to age it up a bit, design-wise.”
Readers’ ages average between 13 and 22, yet Primedia is after those in their late teens and early 20s.
“We’re still working through ideas,” Epner added. “But we all believe the visuals drive the magazine, so that will mean using more illustrations and the most amazing photography from perspectives we haven’t seen before.”
As the token male on the seven-member team, longtime SG contributor and now photo editor Todd Messick, 37, is charged with breaking the “Roxy mold” that has become the prevalent imagery of the women’s board sports arena. Part of his and Epner’s mission is to cultivate more personality in the sport.
“These athletes are celebrities in their own right, especially with all the reality shows,” said Epner. “We can capitalize on our unique access to them and what makes them special.”
The June-July issue on newsstands spotlights Holly Beck on the cover, and next up is Hawaiian longboarder Keliana Woolsey.
Among the most focused change, however, was hiring fashion editor Jill Lockhart. Previous attempts at style editorial had been pulled together in-house. With Lockhart helming the fashion, beauty and gear departments, SG aims to fulfill the needs of readers and advertisers who prompted the changes, said Lass. The latest newsstand issue contains ads from Subaru, Boost Mobile and Skechers, along with industry players such as Roxy, PacSun and Hurley.
So what’s on the mind of today’s surfer girl? Musical acts as diverse as Sum 41, Finch, 50 Cent and Miss Dynamite. Leather or embellished flip-flops over the plastic kind or high heels. Flowers in hair. Little makeup. Low-waisted bikini shorts instead of boardshorts. Less tomboy, more feminine.
“The surfer girl is a little bit more of an independent thinker and you can see that in her fashion choices,” Lockhart said. “That’s why America and the rest of the world looks to her for her individual style.”
— Rose Apodaca Jones
Although the hibiscus flower might be blooming everywhere this summer from Chanel tops to Target totes, surfer girls have tossed that perennial bouquet aside.
According to Southern California retailers, girls who ride or who aspire to look like they do prefer stripes. Top sellers are turning out to be striped skirts from Split, an Orange County company whose young contemporary brand is perfect for the teen and twentysomething who likes to mix it up with Marc Jacobs. While Southern California girls love minis, up north in Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay cool weather has dampened the trend, so far. But T-shirts emblazoned with slick vintage graphics make girls in neoprene pause everywhere in the Golden State.
— Elizabeth Khuri