Quiksilver on the Road to Mandalay

Stu Nettle
Surfpolitik

Quiksilver recently opened its first store in Myanmar and it chose the location well. Situated in Yangon on the east side of Inya Road, a secondary thoroughfare that separates the historical University of Yangon and its stately faculties with Kamaryut Township, a prosperous upmarket neighbourhood. The United States and German embassies are nearby, as is the University of Foreign Languages.

The University of Yangon has been a centre for civil discontent stretching back to British occupancy. Many anti-colonial agitators, such as Aung San, the honorific father of modern Myanmar and actual father of Aung San Suu Kyi, were alumni. Less than one kilometre east, along University Avenue Road lies the lakeside residence where Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest. During her imprisonment Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the International Simon Bolivar Prize from Venezuela, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United States.

For 50 years, from 1962 to 2011, Myanmar was cut off from the outside world, yet this neighbourhood remained a touchpoint to the world community. And it's into this auspicious environment the Mountain and the Wave have made their latest foray.

"Our distribution partner is very positive with the outlook of Myanmar's economy and society," says Sammy Gosling, Quilsilver's South Asia Marketing Executive. "They have seen our brands blossom when they've travelled to Australia and they see potential for our brands in Myanmar. It feels like it's Bali twenty years ago."

Myanmar has nearly 2,000 kilometres of coastline stretching from the sheltered Andaman Sea to the Bay of Bengal. The coastal alignment, however, stops all but the very largest Indian Ocean groundswells - the same swells that strike Indonesia during winter - from making landfall in Myanmar. When those infrequent groundswells do occur they're greatly attenuated, weakened by refraction and a shallow continental shelf.

In May and June the monsoon batters the Myanmar coastline with relentless short period windswell. During these months even the sheltered Andaman Sea coast can have waves, albeit small, weak, and dirty too. The monsoon coincides with the coming of the wet season when Myanmar's great rivers swell and the mud from highland forests turns the ocean brown. While in the months before the wet season breaks Myanmar swelters under intense heat and stifling humidity.

Although improbable, surf cultures have taken root in less likely environments. The way it's taking shape – or more precisely, the way it's being given shape – here in Myanmar differs from other countries where surf cultures have been free to develop organically.

It's a familiar pattern: first comes the culture - the social assemblage of like-minded people – and then comes the commercialisation of the culture - the attendant industries to service that culture. Yet Quiksilver is reversing the arrangement in Myanmar: a surf industry is being created for a surf culture that doesn't yet exist. The success of this cultural cloudseeding hinges upon the economic growth of Myanmar.

It's easy to draw comparisons between Quiksilver's expansion into Myanmar and past ventures into non-surf countries. When surf companies opened in non-traditional countries - Billabong, for instance, in Russia, Italy and Germany – the move signified the strength of the company. Business commentators observed the robust health of said company as it sought further growth.

The same could be said of Quiksilver though its expansion into Myanmar is best viewed in a different light.

For 50 years Myanmar has been cut off from the outside world. It has been governed by one party operating with the backing of the military junta. Its population were repressed and democratic uprisings countered with violent force. In 2007 the government was ranked as the most corrupt in the world.

Two years ago the military began relinquishing control of the government and the tentacles of international commerce have slowly spread into Myanmar. Last year foreign investment was allowed and for the first time it engaged with the international business community. And just as modern economies use stock market indices such as the Dow Jones to reflect overall health, so too can the presence of Quiksilver be used as an index to reflect the health of the modern Myanmar economy.

Comments

abc-od's picture
abc-od's picture
abc-od commented Tuesday, 3 Sep 2013 at 3:17pm

I wouldn't pay much attention to the Quik marketing manager, Myanmar will NEVER rival Bali. I travelled the west coast two few years ago and the only surf I found was knee high windswell. Curiously I had better waves at Cox's Bazar further north into Bangladesh, though the improvement was marginal. Cox's Bazar does have a nascent surf scene (a and a lifesaving scene too!)

There are many reasons why surfing want take off in Myanmar. Access to the surf is one, it's 200 kilometres from Rangoon to the surf and in the wets season it's impossible to get there without flying and driving. Very few locals can afford that. The second reason is economics as youve touched on, surfing requires disposable income and free time and the average Burmese cant afford either.

More likely Quik is trying to spread its label as far and wide as possible, and surfing - whether the customers do it or not - is just the vehicle to drive it.

Great country though.

derra83's picture
derra83's picture
derra83 commented Tuesday, 3 Sep 2013 at 3:39pm

Quiksilver own DC shoes so they'd be better off opening a DC branded store. There's more chance of skaters in Burma then surfers.

carpetman's picture
carpetman's picture
carpetman commented Tuesday, 3 Sep 2013 at 4:01pm

You don't have to be a surfer to buy Quicksilver. This is more about reaching a untapped market where the audience is not privy to the major issues the commercial surfing industry is facing. They can once again rely on the cool factor to sell clothes.

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Tuesday, 3 Sep 2013 at 6:36pm

It wouldn't surprise me if Quicksilver goes the same way as Billabong, IMO these kind of moves are part of there downfall, once they were surfing brands making products and clothes for surfers, now there just another clothing brand among all the other big clothing brands, hence nothing really unique about them and they even start to lose the cool for the kids.

Please Stunet give me an ignore button for Talking Turkey, Shatners Basoon, Dale Cooper, Factotum, Pupkin, and any new fake profile he decides to create.

Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt's picture
Phil Jarratt commented Wednesday, 4 Sep 2013 at 7:37am

Very interesting read, Stu. I'm always amused that people think surf brands selling to a non-surf market is a new and dangerous move. Non-core sales have been the foundation of all major surf brands for a generation now, and Quiksilver has led the way into unlikely geographic expansion in both Europe and Asia. Quik's partnership with Glorious Sun Enterprises in China is more than a decade old and is only now beginning to prosper with the shop-window emergence of a surf culture in Hainan. So it won't happen overnight in Myanmar, but it might happen. Wherever there's been repression, there's potential for brands that represent freedom in any form. In the late '60s and early '70s a couple of Aussies in London found there was a good earn smuggling Levis into the former USSR. They did quite well, and went on to form Top Deck Travel and Flight Centre.

Phil Jarratt

grumpy's picture
grumpy's picture
grumpy commented Wednesday, 4 Sep 2013 at 8:04am

Have travelled to burma many times,thought about starting a surf shop there myself.the juntas kids are filthy rich and keen for product,smart if you ask me.Burma has a huge ,beautiful coast line ,but it is hard to travel and search for waves,as there are lots of restrictions.most surfers are bored with the crap these companies make, so new markets must be found for them to survive.like mr Jarratt said,look at china and Russia ,they are soaking it up. As for knee high dirty waves,you got skunked abc od,might want to learn how to read a weather map,probably a good idea to stay in Bangladesh. It's true burma will never be like Bali,thank god!,the waves are no where near as good,but the people are gems and the country is amazing.

abc-od's picture
abc-od's picture
abc-od commented Wednesday, 4 Sep 2013 at 9:35am

Why so grumpy, Grumpy? I know how to read a weather map. Perhaps you should learn how to read as I didn't say it was dirty at all. I had small, clean (as in clean water) waves in Burma. Sometimes good shaped, most ofetn not.

Phil is right about the image surfing represents. Whether the impulse is strong enough to create an industry remains to be seen.

wombatwombat's picture
wombatwombat's picture
wombatwombat commented Wednesday, 4 Sep 2013 at 1:03pm

i live in Thailand and i will need picture proof of surf in Myanmar please

abc-od's picture
abc-od's picture
abc-od commented Wednesday, 4 Sep 2013 at 2:51pm

Nice try Mr Wombat. Seek and ye shall hopefuly not get skunked.

the-dugong's picture
the-dugong's picture
the-dugong commented Wednesday, 4 Sep 2013 at 5:10pm

no surf in myanmar,none what so ever so dont even bother to go and look for it because you wont find any what so ever,flat all year around,and the fishing is crap to,did i mention there is no surf (am i convincing you not to look as myanmar as a surf destination )

fiacre's picture
fiacre's picture
fiacre commented Wednesday, 4 Sep 2013 at 8:24pm

Apparently there is surf in myanmar. But, only for the adventurous it seems.
http://www.tjhawaii.com/Additional/recent/SurfersJournalSpring2001.pdf

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 5 Sep 2013 at 7:00am

Woah, how're those waves?! Wasn't expecting anything like the size of that right on pg 93. Good find.

grumpy's picture
grumpy's picture
grumpy commented Thursday, 5 Sep 2013 at 8:21am

I'll learn to read if ,you learn to spell abc od. As for you double wombat,stick to kata beach,photographic proof ,ha ha ,some people! need someone to hold your hand as well? Grumpy for the fun of it abc od .happy travels in the golden land to anyone with the spirit to explore.

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Thursday, 5 Sep 2013 at 8:40am

@philljarratt I deffiantly wasn't implying its a new thing, Ive watched the development of the big three since the 80,s as a grommet, when only surfers wore surf clothes, then through the 90,s when it was supposedly cool even as a non surfer to wear quicksilver, billabong even rip curl to a degree.

But IMO for the grommets i know now its almost uncool to wear quicksilver or billabong as these brands are often viewed as try hard brands, in regard to quicksilver i think the kelly factor has helped them hold credibility.

To me i view these brands like a star, starts out small, shines bright, burns huge, then dies out, then one days becomes a black hole.

PS. Sometimes my quote buttons etc wont work :(

Please Stunet give me an ignore button for Talking Turkey, Shatners Basoon, Dale Cooper, Factotum, Pupkin, and any new fake profile he decides to create.

jsc's picture
jsc's picture
jsc commented Thursday, 5 Sep 2013 at 1:46pm

Indeed a few waves in Myanmar - long coastline, many islands.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/surfexplore/sets/72157624692863383/

spt's picture
spt's picture
spt commented Tuesday, 17 Dec 2013 at 3:01pm

Couldn't they ...."just leave it well enough alone" !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

spt's picture
spt's picture
spt commented Tuesday, 17 Dec 2013 at 3:05pm

The reality is that "Surfing" has very little to do with, ..."the Surf Industry", and visa versa. I'm with @philljarratt on that one.

the-roller's picture
the-roller's picture
the-roller commented Wednesday, 18 Dec 2013 at 11:31am

If Quiksliver, or any other brand of surf related tog companies, relied on surfers only to boost the bottom line, wouldn't they'd still be stuck flogging boardshorts in local car parks?