The Enemy at the Gate

Stu Nettle
Surfpolitik

In the beginning there was Rip Curl. And there was Billabong, and Quiksilver too. In the beginning these three countries stood alone on a beggared surfing landscape. They'd go on to shape the history of the world.

They weren't the first countries of their kind however. Others had come and gone, felled by fashion revolutions or internal impropriety, but fortunate timing saw Rip Curl, Billabong and Quiksilver flourish beyond all their forebears. They became the Big Three.

But not by skill alone, nor good management did they come to dominate the world. The Big Three were the beneficiaries of fate; they were in the right place at the right time, as each had a solid toehold when the world experienced the first surfing boom.

The first surfing boom saw the Big Three countries elevated to superpowers and they began to wield their influence and shape the world as we know it.

The first thing to happen was that many smaller, less developed countries, created in the wake of the boom, were quickly colonised by the Big Three. Billabong in particular had a penchant for plundering the resources of young exotic countries and sending the profits back home. On the back of others toil did they advance their standing.

At the same time some countries were simply crushed. Strategically squeezed by the superpowers till their infrastructure inwardly collapsed, and for no reason other than a small slice of market share. The surfing almanacs of the day are littered with the products of these failed states.

Yet despite this some countries were neither colonised nor crushed. Small though they were they began to occupy the periphery and fill niches that the cumbersome countries couldn't. Common among them was a desire to be larger but also a resigned acceptance of their fate. They would always be lesser countries held at bay by circumstance and collusion unable to make the leap forward.

It would be easy to believe that this iteration of world affairs would be permanent. That the current convention, where the Big Three have all the means to keep the lesser countries down, would be the end of history. Yet a threat to the stasis is occurring.

From the east the enemy is approaching, and from outside the known world. Too rich are they to fall in a Billabong-style buyout and too strong to be bullied from the marketplace. They have no history in this world but their intentions are clear and strategy transparent: buy loyalty, start with the young.

Comments

seethesea's picture
seethesea's picture
seethesea commented Wednesday, 5 Jan 2011 at 9:52pm

Was it in an article here on Swellnet that I read that Nike is bigger than the whole industry combined? Kind of makes me wonder why with this in mind they are even targeting surfing as a growth area especially when they already own Hurley. My only conclusion is that they wish to become a complete 'sport' brand where when you think of any sport not only running, golf, tennis etc you think of Nike. Surfing is the most visual action sport, enlist the young and perhaps Nike can take hold of the whole sport world no matter the nature of the sport.

seethesea's picture
seethesea's picture
seethesea commented Wednesday, 5 Jan 2011 at 9:59pm

In other news Quiksilver just announced Steph Gilmore to join their team which would have cost them a motza.

Makes more sense on how they couldnt fit matching Julians bid from Nike as well as acquire Steph into the budget.

top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells's picture
top-to-bottom-bells commented Thursday, 6 Jan 2011 at 12:41am

How will the United Nations of ASP fight the enemy? Or will they meekly offer them a place on the board, a license for a comp?

saltman's picture
saltman's picture
saltman commented Thursday, 6 Jan 2011 at 3:53am

Nike have been circling the Surfing market for some years, eg not long after the Quiky/Rossignol debacle there was talk of Nike buying out Quiky
Turns out Hurley presented as a better option with a young loyal following and without the third world debt of quiky

It is interesting times indeed Stu but ... Billabong in particular had a penchant for plundering the resources of young exotic countries and sending the profits back home. On the back of others toil did they advance their standing .... Nike mastered that art decades ago !!!

jimmybasil's picture
jimmybasil's picture
jimmybasil commented Thursday, 6 Jan 2011 at 1:51pm

i dunno... julian wilson on nike.. rza versus kolohe andino...

action sports hip hop rap hybrid colabs...

even the nike "6.0" bit... hmmn... all these sports tarred with the same brush- chunky soles and fat tongues..

i'm seeing dollar signs in eyes and bad tastes in my mouth...

zzzapp's picture
zzzapp's picture
zzzapp commented Friday, 7 Jan 2011 at 12:07am

I personally don't understand any loyalty to the big 3 brands.
As Stu writes, they are corporate entities. They have roots in surfing but mass-market aspirations.
They corporatised surfing - can't complain that they now have to compete with big big players for the $$.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Friday, 7 Jan 2011 at 1:45am

Interesting times, eh Saltman? Isn't that a Chinese curse?

Yeah, was aware that Nike were the pioneers of that business model but didn't want to sully my simplistic worldview with anything like 'facts'. Guess it's a matter of a bigger fish swimming into our little pond.

As for loyalty to the Big Three and they're image for being 'core'. From Warshaw's 'History of Surfing':

By 2006, US sales were just short of $7.5 billion, and surfwear leviathan Quiksilver pulled down $2.6 billion all by itself. Internationally the aggregate figure was $14 billion. Surfing's new boom was an order of magnitude bigger than the previous boom, but it nonetheless followed the same procedural order: surfwear manufactures sent vast consignments of goods to department stores worldwide, while doing everything in their power to come off rootsy and 'core'. Wave riding didn't figure much into this, except as a marketing device.

Reading the above book and Jarratt's brilliant 'Salts and Suits' will quickly wash away any notion that the Big Three can still be called surfing companies. At least in the sense it was once known. To be fair, Rip Curl may have an argument, but as for the other two, no way.

But don't take it personally, it's just business.

paully's picture
paully's picture
paully commented Monday, 10 Jan 2011 at 5:18am

When your out in perfect glassy peaks with your mates, no-one really cares about who's sponsored by who. I couldnt care less if im wearing kmart boardies when im getting slotted off my nut.

billvis's picture
billvis's picture
billvis commented Wednesday, 12 Jan 2011 at 11:02am

True Paully, I envisage a world where a man or woman isn't judged on price of their boardies or the amount of spono stickers on their boards, but on their attitude and how well they surf and treat others in the water.

stever12's picture
stever12's picture
stever12 commented Thursday, 13 Jan 2011 at 10:04pm

True Stu, but as there has always been in the world of surfing, a small group of non conformists (rebels, for want of a better word)That as long as they can get weapons (surfboards) will continue to pursue the love of surfing for what it really is, simply riding a wave and not align themselves with any of the so called super powers. Long live the rebel!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 13 Jan 2011 at 10:11pm

Or your could call them rogue states, Steve. Either way, more power to them!

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 5 Dec 2011 at 9:31pm

Gabriel Medina is now sporting a Nike logo on his board: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=117980521650851

brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus commented Monday, 5 Dec 2011 at 10:00pm

does he now not surf for rip Curl?

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 5 Dec 2011 at 10:12pm

He's got both Rip Curl and Nike stickers on his board. The Nike sticker is a new appearance and leaves a few question marks around the Rip Curl one.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 5 Dec 2011 at 10:17pm
brutus's picture
brutus's picture
brutus commented Monday, 5 Dec 2011 at 10:41pm

looks like Nike are putting together a kick arse team of surfers for the future......
great to see Nike up the ante,in sponsoring surfers,which increases surfers chances of better sponsorships $'s,and creates real competiton for the surf co's in having to compete against Nike/Hurley and now volcom,who bring true professionalism to our sport...

lopez's picture
lopez's picture
lopez commented Tuesday, 6 Dec 2011 at 3:20am

Yes just what surfers need another big money spinning business to market surfing to even more people.

Check out coast cam at D bah this morning.Surfing is quickly choking itself to death all for the mighty dollar.

Regards,

wreckybuddy's picture
wreckybuddy's picture
wreckybuddy commented Tuesday, 6 Dec 2011 at 7:40pm

As Billabong owns about 2/3 of the retail market in Australia, are they going to support Nike by carrying the brand in their stores? Nike is a marketing machine and will be a threat.
Looks like the big 3 are in for a shake-up. I usually don't support hostile invasions, but in this case...

blindboy's picture
blindboy's picture
blindboy commented Tuesday, 6 Dec 2011 at 9:52pm

To be quite honest I don't see any difference between Nike and Billabong or Quiksilver. They are all large multi nationals out to maximise their profit. Surfing's destiny was clear decades ago when the "big three" aimed at expanding into the non-surfing market. Since then the influence of business has massively outweighed the influence of surfing itself in their policies. Increasingly they are run either by non-surfers or corporate type "surfers" with no real connection to the grass roots.

There was a point way back there before Coca Cola became involved when surfing could have gone an entirely different direction but greed, for money, status and power, won out. The future, regardless of which corporate players get to pocket the cash, is more of the same; increasing crowds, decreasing levels of competence, more marketing.

I remember, way back at the beginning, how keen they all were that surfing should be "just like golf". It made me want to vomit then ......and it still does.

roubydouby's picture
roubydouby's picture
roubydouby commented Tuesday, 6 Dec 2011 at 11:52pm

With the emergence of 'extreme' or 'lifestyle' sports, the major athletic brands have realised that the athletic image is a swiftly contracting market. It is interesting that Nike are the only athletic brand to make the jump into surfing. But, as we have seen, it is much easier to gobble up smaller, established 'rootsy'companies than to build credibility (especially when branching into non-mainstream sports)

The surfing world isn't the only place this has occured.

In the ice hockey world (for those of you that are into such things) there have always been two major companies, Bauer and CCM, and then a bunch of smaller ones. Over the last decade the smaller companies have been bought up by Bauer and CCM, which in turn have been bought out by (you guessed it) Nike and Reebok (respectively). The Ice Hockey market is interesting in that the manufacturing of equipment is a massive part of the brands. If the equipment is poorly made or not constantly advancing and improving, marquee players (and then the rest of the market) move away from those brands. Because of this there is a huge amount of intellectual property and patents tied up in the established brands that you can't simply fake through marketing.

Conversely though, in the surfing world, Nike are competing against the perceived image of the established brands, rather than against hi-tech production of equipment and all the R + D that entails. This makes me think that Nike (or similar companies) wouldn't bother buying out the big 3, as it is easier to gain market share by buying up the smaller companies and their pre-established credibility.

But lets face it, the big 3 are the same as Nike in that they are virtually an image. The only reason we give them credence and not Nike is because they have come from the anti-establishment, non-mainstream platform of surfing. But, be fooled not, they have long been mainstream companies.

Results may vary.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 7 Dec 2011 at 12:16am

Good point Wreckybuddy. Will Billabong stock Nike in their retail stores? (Surfection/ Jetty Surf/ Bay Action/ Surf, Dive N' Ski et al). If not, where will Nike surf clothes be bought? Will they have their own Nike surf shops? If they do, I imagine it will create even bigger changes in the idea of a 'surf store'?

I can feel the earth trembling...

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 7 Dec 2011 at 12:43am

@Rouby Douby,

I always thought that by using the marketing bylines 'Since 1969' and 'Since 1973' Rip Curl and Billabong were merely indulging in quaint adspeak. That was till I realised what they were trying to do: advertise their credibility. History matters, and the newcomers had none.

Nike, with no surf history whatsoever, managed to buy credibility with their Hurley purchase, but are now in the process of creating credibility and history for their own label (Nike 6.0) by sponsoring the next wave of stars.

roubydouby's picture
roubydouby's picture
roubydouby commented Wednesday, 7 Dec 2011 at 5:34am

@Stunet,

That's an interesting point. I hadn't thought of their 'since 19xx' as advertising, but it really is akin to flashing their credentials.

Do you know when those date stamps started first appearing? and was it in response to new brands entering the market?

Some times I'd love to be a fly on the wall during marketing meetings.

I am very skeptical re: Nike 6.0 ever being taken seriously as a real surf brand. I think they will be tolerated as long as they are bringing dollars to the table. But I wonder if they expected this and are actually using it to their advantage.

The majority of people who are buying surfwear probably don't know that Hurley is owned by Nike. If Nike enter the market as Nike it almost creates a distinction between Hurley and Nike.

Nike did this in the ice hockey market, alongside their mainstay brand Bauer, for a number of years before withdrawing the Nike brand, and now Bauer exists without mention of Nike.

Results may vary.

kbomb's picture
kbomb's picture
kbomb commented Wednesday, 7 Dec 2011 at 7:14am

If nike can enter the market and produce good quality wetties that last 2 or 3 seasons, which is longer then any of the big 3 can at the moment, then it wont take long for people to forget about the history of other brands. same goes for t-shirts etc. If Nike produce better quality products that surfers need and use then they will be taken seriously.

195

shaun's picture
shaun's picture
shaun commented Wednesday, 7 Dec 2011 at 8:35am

Nike SUPERSTORE coming to a wave pool near you.

I'm the scab you keep picking off and is there again the next day.