Surf’s Up, New York




Jadson Andre takes off at the Quiksilver WCT on Long Beach. Photo: Carolina Küng

New York is not a traditional surfing destination, but the most prestigious surfing competition in the world drew more than 100,000 viewers to the shores of Long Beach last month. Sponsored by the sports retailer Quiksilver and the Association of Professional Surfers, the ninth round of the Quiksilver Pro World Cup Tour was the first global surfing event in the region in over 70 years, featuring a total prize of $1 million, of which the winner, Australian pro Owen Wright, got $3,300.

As one of the world’s largest surf and board-sport manufacturers, Quiksilver operates a total of 834 stores in Africa, Europe, New Zealand, Australia and the Americas. Although the company’s headquarters are in Huntington Beach, California – and despite its increased spending in the United States –Quiksilver’s 2010 financial statements reveal considerably smaller profit margins here.

According to Lauren McReady, managing supervisor of the Times Square flagship store, New York consumers seem to be more excited about the prospect of adopting the surfer style than about the actual sport; the store primarily caters to tourists buying DVDs and merchandise. At the company’s only other Manhattan outlet, on Fifth Avenue, West Coast surfer and sales associate Edward Alontaga said, “No one is willing to drive out of town for an hour to catch unpredictable waves in cold water.”

“Unpredictable” waves go hand in hand with poor surfing quality for most surfers  – professional Bobby Martinez recently accused Quiksilver of “buying us [professional surfers] out” for the sake of marketing when it decided to host the competition at Long Beach – but the 8-foot waves generated by August’s Hurricanes Katia and Irene that greeted finalists Kelly Slater and Wright delighted both competitors and spectators. “When we came to New York for the event, the expectations for waves weren’t that many, so I guess all of us were pretty surprised with the quality of the waves,” said professional Portuguese surfer Tiago Pires.

Organizing an event in such a “unique place as NYC was a big stepping stone for our sport,” he said, adding, “the East Coast can deliver quality waves for world surfing events. It was proven this year.”

Indeed, post-competition business seems to be booming. Quiksilver has signed a contract with the city of New York allowing the company to host the event again at Long Beach any time in next three years, and some surfing retailers – hoping to catch a ride on Quiksilver’s profit wave – have increased advertising and in-store discounts to attract potential new customers. At Unsound Surf Shop on Park Avenue, owners Juan and Mike Nelson have discounted all event merchandise, begun publicizing their surfing classes more intensely online and opened the first franchise Quicksilver store on Long Island, just across from the beach at Ocean Avenue. According to Mathew Scott, store manager at Unsound, “our client list has increased a lot since the competition. During the event, we had a lot of tourists come in, but we are still experiencing above-average sales” one week later.

Suiting up on a recent Sunday afternoon, 46-year-old Richard Adler, a stay-at-home father of three, is a testament to this; heavy traffic or not, Adler endures a weekly one-hour drive from downtown Manhattan to the surf shop for a private surfing lesson. “I used to be a surfer in my teenage years” he said, “After watching the competition I decided it was time to take it up again.”