Attendance Up At Surf Expo

The surfing life has always been about the endless summer. However, the most recent run of the Surf Expo trade show, held Sept. 8–10 in Orlando, Fla., was the place to unveil Summer ’17 looks for action-sports and beach-lifestyle brands, such as Lira, headquartered in Anaheim, Calif.

“We use [Surf Expo] as our Summer show,” said Todd Kellogg, founder of Lira. Like many other action-sports brand owners and salespeople, he had spent the past few months selling Spring-season goods.

The chance to sell a new season has been a breath of fresh air for these businesspeople. They said that the new collections can put a boost in business. Joel Cooper, chief executive officer of Lost International LLC of Laguna Beach, Calif., estimated that his brand’s sales had doubled compared to Surf Expo’s September 2015 show. “It’s the first Summer show of the season,” Cooper said of Surf Expo.

Summer is not considered a major season on the fashion calendar, but it is considered important for the action-sports businesses and beach-lifestyle crowd, to which Surf Expo caters. The most recent run of the show was considered its largest, said Roy Turner, senior vice president of Emerald Expositions, the owner of the biannual trade show, which also produces a larger January show. At the most recent September show, there were 2,400 booths and 1,100 vendors at the sprawling show. Buyer attendance was up 7 percent over last year.

“Surf Expo is expanding from its regional surf roots. It’s the largest watersports and coastal lifestyle show in the U.S.,” Turner said. While attendance is particularly strong for the Southeast and Florida retailers, such as Ron Jon Surf Shop, Surf Expo’s show has fostered a national and international following. Retailers from Asia and Europe shop the show. It has a strong following from surf shops and resort boutiques in the Caribbean and Latin America. Leading surf and action-sports boutiques from California, including Sun Diego and Jack’s Surf, are regulars at the show. Bob Abdel, general buyer for Jack’s, said that Surf Expo has been the only market to get a product highly associated with California.


ENDLESS SUMMER: Summer is officially over according to the calendar, but Surf Expo vendors devoted themselves to showing clothes for the Summer 2017 season. Some pictures of the scene at the Surf Expo show, which wrapped up Sept. 10. All images courtesy of Surf Expo.

“I go there for hard goods,” he said. “We do our surfboards, fins, body-surfing boards at the show. It’s the only place where you can buy that stuff now.”

He also shopped for apparel lines. On the show floor, he saw a lot of performance boardshorts and hybrid walking shorts. “It was interesting how many brands were showing fishing clothes and styles. It was the most fishing brands I ever saw.”

Jack’s came off a profitable summer, Abdel said, but the beginning of the year was tough. “We’re trying to be lean and clean right now. You can’t take chances; you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow,” he said. “You have to add new lines, but we don’t add as many lines as we used to.”

Lira’s Kellogg also said that vendors must fight for every dollar. “There is business out there, but you have to work harder to get it,” he said.

Show debuts included Lira’s Hyper Flex Series. Made with moisture-wicking materials, the capsule collection will be Lira’s first venture into athleisure styles. The brand also expanded its offerings of boardshorts and men’s bottoms as well as cut-and-sew dresses for women.

Tavik, the Irvine, Calif.–headquartered brand, introduced its Wexler Collection. The bottoms collection does not feature as much performance fabric as boardshorts. Rather, Wexler Collection focuses on “pool culture,” not ocean sports. Prints on the Wexler Collection are inspired by mid-20th-century California architecture.

Surf Expo was a place where The Mad Hueys, a Carlsbad, Calif.–headquartered brand, introduced a major extension to its fishing sports–focused label. Taking a bow was its cut-and-sew button-up short-sleeve shirts, four-way-stretch boardshorts and jackets, said PJ Connell, the brand’s general manager of the Americas.

Connell had spent a career working for traditional action-sports brands, but he took a gamble in outfitting fishing sports. He recalled seeing market research that found that at least half of licensed American anglers were under the age of 34. However, he couldn’t see clothes reflecting the sensibilities and humor of youth.

“It’s a natural evolution of action sports. It’s the ocean lifestyle. How do you bring freshness and new people in your doors,” he said of the wave of fishing brands.

An expansion beyond traditional action-sports activities and brands has been building the appeal of Surf Expo. The show has attracted apparel brands and hard-goods companies serving water sports such as stand-up paddling, wakeboarding, canoeing and kayaking, Turner said. “Unless you are swimming laps in a pool, we have you covered,” he said.