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'Weird times & getting weirder' - Peter Pan on Surf Expo


National Surf School Instructors Association : photo NSSIA

Industry News

2008 Surf Expo Report By Peter Pan

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 20 January, 2009 : - - The annual Surf Expo is regarded as the largest and most successful surf/skate trade show in the world.  For the past decade, it has taken place at the huge convention center in Orlando, Florida.  When I boarded the plane last week, T.F. Green Airport was quiet. 

For the first time since the Twin Towers attack, the airplane was not even ½ full.  You usually cannot even find an empty seat on a trip to Florida, this time of year.  It seemed as if even Disney World was taking a big hit with the falling economy.

It turned out that despite predictions of doom and gloom, the Surf Expo was quite busy, filled with buyers from all over the East Coast and the Midwest.  While there was plenty of traffic at the show, not a lot of orders were actually placed.  Surf and skate shop owners and buyers were looking, but holding back with big orders.  The general feeling was that many of the surf show attendees were going to wait and see if business picks up, as the temperatures warm.

One thing for sure is that Stand-up Paddle Boards are expected to be very popular this coming summer.  I watched just about every sample SUP at the show walk out the door, as surf shop owners took advantage of the deeply discounted show specials on the samples.

While the big boys like Quicksilver, O’Neill, and Billabong did business as usual, the smaller, start-up companies did not fare as well.  The show size was definitely smaller than usual, with Surf Expo offering more wide open space at reduced prices to vendors.

For the second year straight, South Asian manufacturers positioned themselves in the heart of the show, as they displayed surfboards, wetsuits, body boards, and skim boards at reduced rates. 

Interestingly, these companies were the same ones that had produced hard goods for some of the American manufacturers at the show. 

Thus, they were competing with the same goods at lower rates.  The only difference being the labels that were attached to the U.S. products.

There was definitely a reduction in excess spending by the bigger companies, as extravagant parties and Typhoon Lagoon surf sessions were unavailable.  The expensive skate board ramps were not built for the show, for the first time in many years.

Ironically, there were very few, custom, hand shaped surfboard manufacturers displaying their wares at the show.  In 1976, when the first expo took place at the Holiday Inn in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the show was comprised of probably 90% custom surfboard companies.  In 2009, the figure was probably less than 10%.

There were lots of “pop-out” surfboards being displayed and sold, especially those that were designed by top world famous surfboard shapers and manufacturers.  While many of the lower priced foreign produced boards were produced at the same factories as the “designer” pop-outs, the prices varied quite a bit.  While the construction of the boards were similar, the names stamped on the boards, and the marketing behind them, dictated the price increases.

It was fascinating to overhear on the selling floor, a lengthy discussion on what surfboard sweat shops in Asia were paying the lowest wages and offering the least benefits.  And debates on what surf shops and surf companies will go out of business before the summer begins.

These are weird times, and getting weirder every day.

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Peter Pan

Surf Culture - Surfersvillage


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