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17. Quiksilver Inc.

Huntington Beach-based Quiksilver Inc. continues to lead Orange County’s surf scene into uncharted waters.

The apparel maker is tracking to hit $1.2 billion in sales this year, up from $975 million last year, according to company officials.

The move will make Quiksilver the first surfwear company to reach the $1 billion sales level and catapult it into the retail big leagues, along with multibillion-dollar sellers such as San Francisco-based Levi Strauss & Co. and Oregon-based Nike Inc.

Quiksilver has tapped into Southern California’s hip surf culture to grow sales across the U.S. and internationally.

The company’s annual sales are up 95% to $1.1 billion in the past three years, putting it at No. 17 on the Business Journal’s list of the 50 fastest-growing companies in the county. It was No. 28 a year ago.

Net income, meanwhile, nearly doubled to $66 million in the period.

Initially based in Australia, Quiksilver launched in the U.S. in 1976 when chairman and chief executive Robert “Bob” McKnight and surf legend Jeff Hakman started selling boardshorts from their house on 56th Street in Newport Beach.

They spent the next decades building a brand that put the surf lifestyle on the map,and eventually on New York fashion runways.

The company, which has about 1,390 workers in OC, has made big gains even as other apparel makers struggled with a weak economy.

It’s grown via acquisitions and diversification. It widened its line to include women’s surfwear, such as the Roxy and Raisins brands. The company also has bought smaller brands, such as Mervin, a snowboard and bindings maker.

Most recently it gobbled up Vista-based DC Shoes Inc. earlier this year for $87 million in cash and stock.

The company credits the new DC Shoes unit with driving gains in men’s sales, which jumped 41% to $102 million for the three months ended July 31.

Men’s outpaced women’s, which rose 34% to $83 million, mainly driven by the expanding Roxy girl’s line.

Quiksilver’s overall sales also jumped 34% to $338 million for the period.

The company continues to steadily build its empire.

Last year it bought licensees Quiksilver Optics in the U.S. and Omareef in Europe so it could focus on niche products, such as glasses, watches and wet suits.

It’s also looking at China as a major growth vehicle.

Quiksilver teamed up last year with Glorious Sun Enterprises Ltd., which runs more than 500 stores in China. The partnership plans to open retail stores and distribute surf apparel and gear in China.

Quiksilver has rolled out more than a handful of new stores so far this year in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing.

The moves are part of the company’s retail expansion.

It has about 375 stores globally,148 of which are company-owned and the rest are licensed. Quiksilver has about 100 stores in the U.S., including Quiksilver Boardrider Clubs, Roxy stores and outlets. (In 2002, Quiksilver paid $7.5 million to buy Beach Street Inc., the owner and operator of 26 Quiksilver outlet stores in 16 states.)

Among the company’s flashiest shops: a 3,000-square-foot store that opened last year in New York’s Times Square. The store features neon signs and a 63-screen plasma video wall playing surfing, skating and snowboarding videos. It also has a canopy of 60 hanging surfboards.

Quiksilver has straddled a delicate fence: bringing its name to the masses while staying cool with the hardcore enthusiasts.

Two years ago, it launched an entertainment division to help get the word out via movie deals, television shows, books and more.

Most recently, the unit launched Union, which is set to offer more than 300 action sports DVDs produced by Quiksilver, its DC Shoes unit and rivals including Costa Mesa-based Volcom Clothing and Torrance-based Globe Shoes.

Quiksilver is working with Los Angeles-based Epitaph Records, which plans to package and distribute the DVDs to retailers such as Best Buy and Blockbuster.

Quiksilver also plans concerts with Epitaph bands, which include Bad Religion and Pennywise.

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