SURF EXPO SCENES: From top, booths for the brands Maui & Sons and Katin. | Courtesy of Surf Expo

Snowstorms hit a swath of the country last week, but bad weather did not throw a wet towel on the Surf Expo trade show, which ran Jan. 10–12 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla.

Retailers from the Northeast, West Coast and the Caribbean attended the biannual show, with the largest delegation typically hailing from Florida and the Southeast.

Surf Expo is the only surf-focused trade show with a national focus currently doing business in the U.S.

The Agenda trade show postponed its January show in Long Beach, Calif. However, Surf Expo vendors and show producers did not feel a palpable effect from the postponed Agenda, which in recent years has focused more on streetwear, said Roy Turner, a senior vice president for Emerald Expositions , Surf Expo’s owner.

Good business was reported by vendors, retailers and show organizers for the 200,000-square-foot trade show, now entering its 42nd year. It has continued to be a place where retailers could see what major surf brands were working on, said Bob Abdel, a partner in and buyer for Jack’s Surfboards in Huntington Beach, Calif. The 62-year-old surf shop is considered one of the influential retailers in the board-sports market.

“A couple of brands did not show up, but otherwise all of the brands were here,” Abdel said. “We can finish a lot of work here. You can communicate with a lot of companies, from their vice presidents to their salespeople, rather than meeting with separate companies one by one.”

Major action-sports brands Volcom and Quiksilver did not produce booths at this edition. Ryan Immegart, Volcom’s chief marketing officer, said that his company prefers to exhibit at the September run of Surf Expo. Quiksilver’s sibling brands Billabong , RVCA and Element did exhibit at the show.

Also exhibiting at Surf Expo were top surf brands Hurley , O’Neill , Reef and Katin . New surf brands Roark and Vissla also exhibited. This Surf Expo marked the first major trade-show outing of Sisstrevolution , a brand for female surfers. Sisstrevolution is Vissla’s sibling brand.

Swim brands also made a significant showing at Surf Expo, including Manhattan Beachwear , Anne Cole , Maaji and Snapper Rock . In addition, the show featured Bluewater, a special section for fishing clothing and accessories, and another section, named Mind & Body, focused on environmentally conscious and organic products.

Retailers attending the show included Dick’s Sporting Goods , Ron Jon Surf Shops , Sun Diego , Surf Diva , Caesar’s Entertainment , Six Flags Theme Parks , 17th Street Surf Shop , Disney Theme Parks & Cruise , and BC Surf and Sport .

Exhibitor Dale Rhodes, Katin USA’s sales vice president, said that this show’s business was “remarkable.” “I thought we’d see 30 appointments,” he said. “We ended up seeing 50 accounts. We ran out of catalogs.”

Patricia Thornton, sales vice president of Maui and Sons , also said business was good. She estimated that half of her business was for at-once deliveries.

Dickies Girl , a division of the Jerry Leigh company, marked its second time exhibiting at Surf Expo. Paula Unger, the brand’s creative director, said that it picked up 10 new accounts. “It was helpful for us growing the grassroots of the brand with influential boutiques,” she said.

“There seemed to be an optimism starting out this year that previous shows may have missed,” Turner said. “Everyone has figured out that bricks-and-mortar has not gone away. It has changed. If you have figured out your niche, you’re going to do well.”

Patrik Schmidle, president of the market-research firm ActionWatch , agreed that business is looking up for core surf and skate shops. ActionWatch aggregates point-of-sale data from a panel of skate and surf retailers.

Sales for ActionWatch’s retailers have increased 1 percent over the period from January 2018 to November 2018 compared to the same period the previous year. “I’m anticipating that we’ll have the first growth year in this channel in four years. There’s optimism in the air,” Schmidle said

The surf business was lifted by the rising wave of a good economy in 2018. There’s also hope that surf will be a growing business. Surfing will make its debut in the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. This competition is anticipated to attract more fans, said Joel Cooper, chief executive officer of Lost International , which exhibited at Surf Expo.

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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