What is core surfing?
By Simon Short
I am not talking about your fitness. I am talking about you, me and the every-man or every-woman surfer. The blue collar surfer. The guys and gals who fit in a session where they can. Before work, after work or the weekend warriors. The ones who ride duct taped boards and wear patched up wetsuits. The guy who surfs after grabbing the morning coffee and battling the traffic for an hour only to find all the good parking spots are taken, there are a hundred people out and the meter is broken. Or the girl who got up at 5am, before dark and drove to a freezing beach to find onshore winds, but paddled out anyway in a 5mm wetsuit. We are surfing’s core.
In this modern globalised world nothing is sacred. If there is a buck to be made from something, then someone will make it. You can’t blame anyone for doing so, that is the world we live in and everyone’s value system differs from the next. Some value money over experience, others value family first, each to their own, we all have to make a living. As surfers we also differ in our value systems. I am as guilty as the next man who fuels the multi-billion dollar surf industry because I buy into the scene and I like wearing surf brands. It’s easy, I throw on my Hurley shorts, Rainbow sandals and whatever generic surf branded tee shirt and I am good to go. Personally, I admire the guys who do not buy into the surf brands. The people who wear whatever they want, they don’t need to wear a tee shirt based on a hobby that they partake in on weekends. When you look at it that way, it is ridiculous, I probably look like a 33 year old teenager.
These days the big surf brands are so far removed from the core surfer. We recently saw the two biggest surf brands of all time go bust, bankrupt and eventually merge. Why? Probably because they gave up on the core and went after the almighty dollar. I don’t blame them, in my basic understanding of business, it makes total sense, they are businesses and a businesses' purpose is to make money. Especially ones with shareholders. It is all about profit. But there has to be a balance somewhere, these companies can't abandon the core completely. Most of the big brands did start out as core surf companies and most were started by well known surfers. I recently spoke with someone who was involved with the LOST surf brand for many years. LOST was once about as core as you could get, now it is also owned by an umbrella company. He explained it to me like this.
All companies start out as passion projects, as the company grows and becomes successful it usually will be sold to a giant corporate parent company. Almost all of the major surf brands are now owned by parent companies. It becomes part of a cycle. There are pros and cons to this cycle. The biggest benefit is that it presents an opportunity for the next up and coming surf company to start out in someones garage. Maybe that company will succeed, grow and be purchased one day.
So if that is the case, why would I wear a brand that now has less to do with surfing and more to do with major fashion labels. The big brands tried to move away from surf shops and into department stores. If I’m going to wear a fashion brand I may as well wear something that doesn't make me look like a adolescent beach bum. There seems to be two very distinct surf worlds, the upper industry and the core. The upper industry contains the major brands, the World Surf League, which, for those who do know is the governing body of competitive surfing. Even some major surfboard manufacturers have deserted the core market.
The major brands and the WSL have a mission to make surfing go mainstream. Quicksilver wants to sell tee-shirts to Dads shopping in Macy’s and the WSL wants someone who has never surfed before and lives in Kansas to watch a surf competition and go the local wave pool in a few years. That's okay, it’s inevitable. It might even work, the UFC got millions of people to pay to watch combat sports on a Saturday night, people who had no interest in fighting ten years ago. With the advent of performance wave pools, the future looks very bright or dark for surfing depending on which side of the divide you stand.
Surfboard shapers are not immune from the cycle either. Certain big brands have monopolised the professional competitive tour. Is that down to the quality of the product? Partly, elite professional surfers can’t be wrong. But at the same time, you can’t tell me that there are only three surfboard manufacturers in the world that are worth riding? If you looked at the top 30 surfers in the competitive world you could be forgiven for believing that, as they all ride for one of three or four shapers. That seems to be all down to marketing and mass production. Those boards are also now filling up local lineups.
Now, I have rode a few of the boards mentioned above and there is no denying that they are quality products and so they should be for $800 a piece. However, they are not of superior quality to some of the locally shaped boards I ride. My quiver at the moment consists of one widely known shaper and 4 local shapers. For me, if the local shaper makes a quality product at half the price it has to be a no brainer. You have to go local. Next time your thinking of buying a new board or some new threads, think local. There are many misconceptions to buying local. Most think it will be more expensive, it often isn’t. More often than not it may even be cheaper. Not to mention the benefits of local service and loyalty rewards. In other words, get to know your local brands and build a relationship with them. Help them grow and keep the cycle going. Maybe when you're older and you're walking your kids around Macy's, you’ll be able to buy that cool, local underground brand you sported in your youth.
Written By Simon Short
Cover - Rebecca Simpson Photography
Pic 1 - Surfscapes Cornwall
Pic 2 & 3 - We are Beatnik
Pic 4 - Hannah Bristow - Will
Pic 5 - Simon Short