Better sales, and better weather, have buoyed the spirits of Orange County’s surf-inspired clothing makers.
That was evident at the annual Waterman’s Ball, held earlier this month at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel in Dana Point, where apparel executives, surfers and others came together to honor their own and raise money for charity.
“The industry is fairly satisfied with the little turnaround that we’ve seen (this year) compared to last year,” said Paul Naude, presi- dent of Irvine-based Billabong USA, part of Australia’s Billabong International Ltd.
The Waterman’s Ball, put on by the Aliso Viejo-based Surf Industry Manufacturers Association, helped raise $400,000 for about 20 environmental charities, including San Clemente-based Surfrider Foundation, Costa Mesa-based Orange County Coastkeeper and Ventura-based Paso Pacifico.
“This is our fun night to come out and have a good time,” said Greg “G.T.” Tomlinson, one of the founders of Irvine-based VonZipper, a maker of sunglasses, goggles and other accessories that’s part of Billabong.
The event is “really about embracing what we do,” said Tomlinson, who emceed an auction. “The only competition that you’re going to see is the ivory tower guys competing at the auction.”
The gala was a break for Billabong, which is on an acquisition spree.
Last week, the company prevailed in a short contest to buy Canadian retailer West 49 Inc. (see story, page 1) after rival suitor Zumiez Inc. dropped its bid.
Just days before, Billabong said it was buying Costa Mesa-based Rvca Clothing, one of the industry’s hybrid brands with clothes inspired by art, music, surfing, skateboarding and mixed martial arts.
Industry consolidation is nothing new.
Most of the action sports industry here can be traced back to Huntington Beach-based Quiksilver Inc., Billabong, or Costa Mesa’s Hurley International LLC, part of Nike Inc.
Kent Maul, a 10-year veteran of Quiksilver, now owns Surroundings International Inc., which helps action sports companies turn their designs into finished products.
Surroundings, an agent for overseas factories, produces sandals, backpacks, wallets, handbags and other accessories for Quiksilver and its Roxy brand, San Clemente-based Rainbow Sandals and others.
The industry is competitive but tight-knit, Maul said. The Waterman’s Ball is a chance to foster that bond, he said.
“Let’s keep it a little tighter,” Maul said. “Let’s remember who we are and who our friends are.”
On hand were some of the biggest industry names, including Quiksilver’s cofounder and Chief Executive Bob McKnight and Hurley founder and Chairman Bob Hurley.
The annual gala is a huge deal for nonprofits.
Surfrider Foundation derives about $200,000 of its nearly $6 million annual budget from the event. The grant is one of Surfrider’s largest.
“As a surf industry gala, it’s a lot of fashion, etcetera, but this funds some of the best conservation work on the planet,” said Serge Dedina, executive director of Imperial Beach-based Wildcoast, one of the beneficiaries of the fundraiser.
Much of the money was raised through an auction.
Some of the items auctioned included surfboards, surf art, travel packages and 2010 Audi A3 clean diesel car valued at $36,000.
Johnny Schillereff, founder and president of Billabong’s Element, bought the Audi for $40,000.
Audi Mission Viejo supplied the car for the auction.
Even the centerpieces—mini replicas of surfer Tom Curren’s Black Beauty surfboard—were auctioned.
Capistrano Beach sculptor Malcolm Wilson, dressed in a Scottish kilt for the evening, made the centerpieces as well as the award plaques, which were resin sculptures of honorees’ favorite surf spots.
The gala also is a time to recognize people and causes dear to the surf business.
The industry honored Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who won the surf association’s Environmentalist of the Year award.
Kennedy, an environmental lawyer, founded Irvington, N.Y.-based Waterkeeper Alli-ance, a nonprofit that champions clean water.
“He’s top of the food chain for environmentalists,” Dedina said.
Kennedy mingled with the crowd and made an impassioned speech touching on the Gulf Coast oil spill, which was on the minds of many at the gala.
“As a surfer goes, everybody trips on that,” Tomlinson said. “It’s so disconcerting.”
The group also honored beloved surfer Tom Curren as Waterman of the Year and surfboard shaper Al Merrick, who won the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Scott Anderson of Santa Barbara-based Channel Islands Surfboards, founded by Merrick, accepted the award for Merrick, who couldn’t attend the event.
Professional surfer Kelly Slater, who’s sponsored by Quiksilver, presented Merrick’s award.