Surf Expo Show Highlights The Pluck And Optimism Of The Surf Industry

For the briefest moment, it looked grim for Surf Expo, but then something amazing happened.

On September 21, just ten days after the attacks in New York and Washington D.C., Surf Expo opened its doors for business at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. In the days prior to the show, some predicted traffic would be extremely slow. Others thought the show would be a complete disaster and were calling for its cancellation.

And at 9:00 on that first morning, it looked like the predictions would, unfortunately, come true. During those first few minutes, traffic in the halls was light and the ambient Convention Center music much too loud — like a forced smile at a wake.

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But by 10:00 a.m., a different mood had settled over the hall. Yes, traffic was visibly lighter than previous September shows, but it was in no way the train wreck that some had predicted. As always, some booths stacked up deep with appointments while others looked empty — but that seemed more about brand strength than worries about terrorism.

More importantly, there seemed a strong sense of camaraderie at the show. Some were comparing it to a hurricane mentality, where a huge storm may be brewing outside, but “Isn’t it nice that we’re all here together and safe.” Others mentioned the feeling of “family” and how nice it was to be away from the television — with its constant stream of troubling news — and actually working.

And this was no small hurdle. The two trade shows scheduled prior to Surf Expo at the Orange County Convention Center — Emergency Nurses Association and Builder Marts of America — had been canceled. But the action-sports industry — with its parties, bikini models, skate demos, and movie premieres, rolled right on. And there was some comfort in that.

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“During a crisis time like this, it was great that the surf industry could rally and get together,” says Lori Kisner, VP of sports/retail for dmg World Media, the parent company of Surf Expo. “It was inspirational to say the least to see the mood and the spirit of everyone at the show.”

Kisner confirms that traffic was significantly down — from about 15,000 last year to approximately 11,250 — a dip of about 25 percent. “But the remaining 75 percent who did come were people who were serious about buying — or else they would have stayed home,” says Kisner. “The quality of who showed up was a very good representation of the strong retailers out there who are ready to buy for 2002.”

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According to Counter Culture CEO Mike Lesher, “The mood of the show to us seemed very upbeat. The buyers all seemed very optimistic about the future and anxious to get moving into holiday and spring. They were cautious, but not afraid. It was almost like they were excited and challenged at what was ahead, and they wanted to make sure that they didn’t foul up.”

Leigh Tonai, president of Rip Curl U.S.A, thought the mood of the entire show was one of cautious optimism. “Most Florida people had concerns in the short run, but felt things might improve for spring,” he says. “They felt that most spring break kids would not fly to Cancun, for example, but would probably drive to Florida — just like the good old days.

“The show was definitely better than expected,” continues Tonai. “I would estimate traffic down about 1/3, but the turnout from Florida was great. It seemed the farther people had to travel to get to the show, the higher the percentage of no shows.”

Tom Holbrook, Quiksilver executive vice president of sales, also says he had a good show: “Overall we were very happy we attended Surf Expo. We expected it to be slow, but it was better than we had thought. The mood of the buyers was great considering, and we were pleased that the people who were there were ready to work Spring with our reps. We had reduced our staff for the show, but it all worked out. The best thing was that the accounts all seemed to appreciate the fact that a bunch of us Californians make the trek to Expo.”

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