The website's deafening silence on the most important surf story of the week!
Did you know that the two largest surf companies in the world, Quiksilver and Billabong, are merging into one? It’s true and… oh just kidding. Of course you know. It’s all we’ve been talking about for almost two whole days. Some of you are unimpressed. Manuka wrote under Derek Rielly’s previous posting, “I get the “these brands have shaped our sport” message, but for sure very little purchasing power from “Us, the BG” goes to Quik or Bong. The question is, why do you cover it to such a detail? Why the excitement? Am I missing something?”
To which I respond, “Yes!” These two brands have dictated what has happened in the surf industry for a quarter century and their merger speaks to its future. For my money this is the most interesting story of 2018, mostly because it is big/unprecedented (imagine in Ford and Chevy combined… or Boeing and Airbus) but also because 2018 is only 5 days old and the rest of the “news” has been typical post-holiday bland.
But you would never know that our world has shifted on its axis if your only surf industry portal was Hawthorne, California’s own Stab magazine. That’s right. The website, never shy about jumping into a day old story with both feet while pretending it is the first to report, has been entirely silent on the matter. Since the news broke last evening Stab has released:
Keanu Asing Will Not Be Silenced
“Comments of the Week” edition 115
John John Wants To Get “Better” At Surfing
Snowy, Windy, Pumping And Oh So Cold! Maine, Yesterday
Watch: Oliver Kurtz’s Triple OBX Tunnel This Morning
Jake Patterson: “I Wish John Had A Bit Of Andy In Him”
And nothing but nothing on the merger. A clipped silence.
I don’t quite know.
Stab is, of course, partially responsible for Billabong’s prodigious fall and an utter corporate shill. The website has proudly produced, supported and pushed unfortunate Billabong collaborations for years under the name “content.” Like the latest ten-part series, Can You Believe The World’s Biggest, Most Popular, Rock Star (Iggy Pop Of Course) Wears Billabong Trunks? I would imagine there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth in Stab’s Hawthorne office that not one of its purchased Facebook “likers” actually went out and bought any product.
Also, the website is also currently selling a co-branded trunk with Quiksilver that I must admit looks very sharp though I’m curious why Stab is using a flare gun in its advertising.
But do you really think that both Billabong and Quiksilver’s parent company Oaktree Capital tells Stab’s ownership, “Hey. Keep quiet on this story or else we’ll merger you right in the face.” Like, really? Or is there something else at play?
Maybe there is a silver lining. Maybe when Quiksilver x Billabong do pop-up shops at Costcos Stab can drive “traffic” like it once did for the mighty SurfStitch.
Oh let’s hope!
Warshaw: “Best world-title interview of all time!”
Earlier today, the financially robust surf historian Matt Warshaw sent an archived interview with the message, “Best post-world title interview ever? I say nothing’s even close.”
I applied myself to the fruit of his searchings and found that, yes, the interview, snatched of the 18-year-old world champ Nat Young in 1966, was splendid. Frank, cruel and cheerful. It really does ricochet.
BeachGrit: First, I want to list my favourite quote: “Girls shouldn’t surf, they make fools out of themselves.” Provocative! A different time, yes?
Warshaw: There’s nothing to say in Nat’s defense except he’s 18, invincible, and Australian. In that interview you do get flashes of the man he would later become. Nat can be really generous and funny and gracious. But by and large, in this piece, he’s just a bastard. In many ways I love how raw he is. But in other moments, like the “girls” comment—which was cruel even by 1966 standards—you just want to punch him. Or get someone bigger than yourself to punch him. Did you see the comment about the poor Irish surfer?
BeachGrit: “What is the meaning of it all?”
Everyone at the 1966 world titles had to fill out a questionnaire, and one of the questions was “What do you get out of surfing?” And Nat, in the interview, wonders “how the Irish guy answered something like that. That would have been ridiculous.” Just lashing out at that poor guy, his name was Kevin Cavey. Nat can’t imagine an Irish surfer having any kind of meaningful relationship with the sport.
“Nat can be really generous and funny and gracious. But by and large, in this piece, he’s just a bastard. In many ways I love how raw he is. But in other moments, like the “girls” comment—which was cruel even by 1966 standards—you just want to punch him.”
BeachGrit: Everybody dumps on the Irish! But let’s do a little background on this interview. It’s 1966, San Diego, it’s the world title and Nat Young is an eighteen-year-old animal. Big. Smart. Powerful. Colour it in for me.
Go back a year, and Nat probably should have won the 1965 world titles in Peru. Kid was just 17, but already so good. Big, tall, powerful, the best paddler in creation, talent and ambition to burn. He out-surfed everybody in Lima, but Felipe Pomar played by the rules, got the biggest waves, rode the furthest, and won fair and square. Nat was runner-up. And I think at that point there was no way he wasn’t going to take it all in 1966. He won everything in Australia that year; the New South Wales titles, Nationals, Bells. Nat and Bob McTavish and George Greenough meanwhile were all hunkered down working on equipment. Thinner boards, long narrow flexible fins. Nat flew to San Diego with a 9’4” that was less than 2.5” thick. Ten-foot by 3.5” thick—that’s what the other guys were on. David Nuuhiwa was God to American surfers, just 17, but smooth as honey and could hang ten from here to the next county. Nat was good on the nose too, but beyond that was just far and away the most progressive surfer in the world, on the most progressive equipment. So he won the contest going away. In the finals he rode a wave to the beach, stepped off onto the sand, put his hands on his hips and just stared down the judges. The mother of all claims.
BeachGrit: Can you imagine John John, say, or even Kelly Slater being this lucid, this self-aware, this…candid… in a post world title interview? The references to ego in surfing, the talk about “commercial interests”, self-expression an so forth. I wonder, has the commercialisation of surfing, the snatching of children from the cradle to become pro surfers, the removal of all stimuli and challenges except those related to surf technique, turned our best athletes into empty vessels? Balls of stupid?
Barton Lynch was sort of like Nat in his interviews, but without the arrogance. Pam Burridge, the same. Smart, aware, didn’t pull punches. But sweet. Rabbit was a great interview, but there was always a sense of performance, that he was putting on a show. Kelly is very good, but also very calculating. With Kelly, you never get it raw. But all of them were all a lot older when they won their titles. Nat was just 18. So my answer is . . . nobody was like him, certainly not at that age. It wasn’t just that he was smart and lucid. All the bluster aside, Nat was eager to learn, open to new ideas, a good listener. He just absorbed knowledge, from Midget and McTavish, from Greenough, and certainly from Bob Evans, who was a father-figure. Nat wasn’t a man in full at 18, but he’s on his way, you can tell.
“The actual worst interview? She’s not a world champ, but I tighten up whenever Courtney Conlogue is interviewed. She’s a tremendous surfer, but all I really get from her—in the way she rides waves, and from her speech—is just all the sweat and toil and practice and repetition.”
BeachGrit: I’m awfully fond of Nat talking about surfboard design, about the thickness of boards, accelerators and brakes. This, “If you want a paddleboard, and you want to get out the back, you go out and buy one. But surfboards are made to ride waves and have nothing to do with paddling.”
When I hear that, I hear McTavish’s voice. The bit where Nat talks about two trains being on the same track — that’s a McTavish riff. I think the gas pedal comment is also from Bob. But so what? That’s what I was trying to say a minute ago. Nat just sucks in ideas and thoughts and concepts. That’s what the great ones do
BeachGrit: Was LSD and marijuana an influence on the ability to be so… expansive?
Not in 1966, no. But there’s a funny picture of Nat in Peru from the year before, at the after-contest party, just shitfaced on the dance floor.
BeachGrit: If this is the best post-world title interview. What’s the worst you’ve heard or read?
Damien Hardman had nothing to say to creeps like me, to any surf writer who raised a microphone to his face. But I always loved him for that. It’s like Nat says, Be who you are. Damien never wanted to be a public figure, and didn’t fake it, and good for him. So his interviews are terrible, but for a good cause, if that makes sense. The actual worst interview? She’s not a world champ, but I tighten up whenever Courtney Conlogue is interviewed. She’s a tremendous surfer, but all I really get from her—in the way she rides waves, and from her speech—is just all the sweat and toil and practice and repetition. Endless repetition. I always drink more on the nights after I see Courtney onscreen.
BeachGrit: So we start off with Nat insulting the girls, and end with you doing the same?
Well, Nat was in a position of power. I’m just some poor geezer blogging for free on your website. Courtney could beat me up and still make it to the gym on time.
Yesterday, the two biggest surf companies in the world quit playing cute and merged. As Chas Smith wrote yesterday “Did you ever believe that you’d live to see the day when the two biggest surf companies in the world, Billabong and Quiksilver, united into one? Well congratulations! You did!”
The Wall Street Journal reported,
“The combination would create a global player with ubiquitous brands, about $2 billion in annual sales and 630 stores in 28 countries. But both Quiksilver and Billabong have struggled in recent years with declining sales and corporate restructurings.”
So how’s the deal gonna work after it gets rubber-stamped by shareholders who are very thrilled to be getting a buck a share on something that felt like it might’ve evaporated into nothing a couple of years ago, and were twenty percent less before the takeover deal was voiced?
In a very good interview yesterday on the website shop-eat-surf, the new CEO of Quik-Bong, Mr Dave Tanner (a former airforce pilot turned biz whiz), explains how he sees Quik-Bong play.
A lot of the detail is buried behind feel-good talk of preserving the independence and cultures of the brands and so forth but you don’t merge unless you plan on roughly cutting costs.
i.e. job cuts.
The story is behind a paywall (Oh the future! But not here! Free forevs!) but let’s examine a few of the pertinent quotes.
Tanner on duplication: “The integration would be focused on protecting (brand culture) at all costs. So that would mean designers, merchandisers, and brand marketers. As little will change for those people as possible because we realize that we’re only as good as our brand, and our brands are only as good as those cultures and that creativity. So we’ll be mostly hands-off with those, with the brands. And we create brand pods that are supported by a common back end. But a common back end includes hundreds of millions of dollars of spending on anything from corporate offices to finance support, to IT support, to e-com platforms, to logistics and distribution networks, etc… What you have here are two completely redundant business systems on the back offices of the business.”
The takeaway: if you’re a designer, you might keep your job. If you’re a computer cat or you punch numbers or count beans, start looking for a new gig.
Tanner on respective market strengths: “Boardriders (Quiksilver) is stronger in Europe, Russia, and Mexico. Billabong is stronger in Australia.”
The takeaway: Russia? Mexico? Quik’s getting its ass kicked in Australia? Has the mountain fallen that far that Mex and Russia are significant markets? Did you know?
Tanner on taking on new debt: “Yes. We’re recapitalizing the balance sheet of both companies as part of the transaction. Meaning, the combined entity will have a completely new balance sheet.”
The takeaway: A completely new balance sheet! But more red ink!
Tanner on using combined muscle to pressures stores into buying Quik-Bong: “There is nothing in our financial modeling that has any sort of plan to accrue benefits from that kind of activity… If we’re talking about a bigger piece of your store, and how we merchandise your store, and how we partner with you, give you the right data – we think there’s a way to elevate that game that is a win-win.”
Rejected a takeover bid 4 times as much just five years ago and other salacious insights!
Yesterday, alongside sister publication TheWall Street Journal, we broke* exclusive** news of Quiksilver’s acquisition of former rival Billabong and today we have more information on the blockbuster deal through our partners at the BBC. Quiksilver’s official business name was changed to Boardriders last year and took over the company which was valued at $155 million. And when I write “Quiksilver” or “Boardriders” I mean Oaktree Capital.
According to the report, Billabong lost $58 million dollars in 2017, only made a profit during one of the past five years. Also, Billabong rejected a takeover bid in 2012 that was worth four times the amount agreed to yesterday.
Chief Executive Neil Fiske said,”Billabong’s brands’ great strength is their authenticity and heritage. I’m confident those qualities will not simply be protected but enhanced by a new organisation that will have the scale and financial security to continue to support and build them as we enter into a new and dynamic retail environment.”
I have many questions. Like, where did Billabong’s 53 million dollars go? And how much both Andy Warhol and Iggy Pop were responsible for? And if Italo Ferreira gets cut due “cost saving measures” will Quiksilver scoop him up?
And, in these corporate takeover scenarios, does the word “synergies” mean the same thing as “lay-offs”? And the stock market has been soaring for the last few years. Is the surf industry immune to good times?
And how long before Quiksilver and Billabong appear exclusively at Target?
Do you have answers?
* Stab recently claimed they “broke every single WSL story” of 2017 apparently changing the definition of the word “broke.”
** BeachGrit will attempt to do the same thing for the word “exclusive” this year.
The parent of the Quiksilver surfwear brand has agreed to acquire rival Billabong International Ltd., combining two of the largest active sports brands as the industry is undergoing a major shakeout.
The combination would create a global player with ubiquitous brands, about $2 billion in annual sales and 630 stores in 28 countries. But both Quiksilver and Billabong have struggled in recent years with declining sales and corporate restructurings.
This is maybe the least interesting news of the week (John Florence Sr. losing more integrity wins) seeing as the same finance corporation owns both’s debt but you made it to the day when Kelly Slater and Andy Irons rode for the same company.