James McDonald from Lost Dog

ORLANDO, FLA.—There were no registration lines at 9 a.m. on the opening day of Surf Expo and few vehicles in the massive parking lots at Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center . In the lobby, buyer Paulette Daley from the Turks and Caicos Islands boutique Treasures S&S Gift Shop , was taking phone calls from relatives back home who were preparing for Hurricane Irma while Surf Expo Show Director Roy Turner greeted Ron Jon President and Chief Executive Officer Debbie Harvey and others. On the show floor, Catwalk Productions ’ Randi Layne met backstage with models filling in last minute for South Florida models who had canceled.

In the days leading up to the planned Sept. 7–9 show, Hurricane Irma was predicted to hit Central Florida on Sunday and Monday. Show organizers initially cut the three-day show down to two, then ultimately shortened the run to one day. By the Sept. 7 opening day, traffic headed out of Orlando was at a standstill as emergency and disaster-recovery convoys headed into the area.

Tavik ’s Florida rep, Logan Watters, met with buyers from Everything But Water and the Curl Surf Shop , both based in Orlando. The rest of her 30 to 40 appointments canceled right before the show.

“I was truly worried about every single one of them,” she said.

Watters was also worried about her husband, who drove six hours from Orlando back to their Brevard County home (typically an hour drive at most) to pack up their two children and the dog.

Buyers from retail mainstays 17th Street Surf Shop and Ron Jon kept their appointments. And while a rumored 40 or so exhibitors were no-shows, many noteworthy brands made a point of showing up. Absent for the last few years, Nike ’s Hurley returned to the aisles, with Hurley founder Bob Hurley himself putting in an appearance.

Show management later told exhibitors that 1,400 registered attendees showed up onsite. Yet it was obvious on the show floor that buyers from across the Caribbean, the Mid-Atlantic, Texas and Florida canceled.

Responding to Irma was a moment-to-moment maneuver for show management. Because setup begins at least a week before the show opens, it was impossible at the start to pinpoint Irma’s exact threat—for commuters, travelers and the show itself. During its 40-year history, Surf Expo had never had to tweak a show schedule due to a hurricane, despite having to deal with numerous storm-related hassles over the years. By 2 p.m. on opening day, organizers announced plans to close the show at 6 p.m. and not reopen the next day “due to the progressive conditions of Hurricane Irma.”

Among those taking Irma’s chaos in stride were many first-time show exhibitors looking to make their marks in Surf Expo’s active-lifestyle segment. Simplex Apparel and Shaka Wear consolidated the company’s two lines into one booth. Lost Dog ’s James McDonald made do without his new line of artwork tees, which were lost in shipment.

Ramtin Sadeghi’s RuckJack —a new line of outdoor wear that converts into a daypack—plans to return in January. “It’s obvious that it’s a huge opportunity for us,” he said.

East Prairie, Mo.–based A-Game Camo , a just-launched line of technical outdoor wear founded by former big-game hunting guide Rex Burney, made its Surf Expo debut to a mostly empty aisle. Still, he said, “We saw five or six accounts who were interested.”

After a few days at her Orlando hotel, Daley, from Turks and Caicos, returned home to find her store had escaped damage and her family, including her one-month-old grandson, safe. Tavik’s Watters and her family returned home after spending two nights in a hotel near the Convention Center that she described as a “hotel for dogs.”

In retrospect, Watters said she thinks Surf Expo should have canceled the show altogether. “They should have known that everyone was worried about their stores,” she said. “How could people buy for Summer 2018 when they don’t even know if they will be around?”

Surf Expo organizers noted that all decisions were made with the exhibitors’ and attendees’ safety in mind.

“We hope that all attention can be focused on helping those in need,” the company said in a statement.

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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