GROWING THE POND: Eye-Catching Products and Brands at ASR

The Action Sports Retailers (ASR) Trade Expo went off again at the Convention Center in downtown San Diego, and as always, it was rife with interesting products, exciting innovations and emerging brands. Here are a few that Surfermag.com found to be particularly intriguing, broken down into their respective categories of soft goods, hard goods, and lifestyle accessories, respectively.

From classic favorites making a comeback, to four-finned guns, to high-end watches, here is a sampler of some brands to keep an eye on in 2005.

SOFT GOODS

Hot Tuna
“It’s all about the gnarly fish,” says Terry Micklos, Vice President of Operations for Hot Tuna USA. “It’s just a nasty little mark that oozes attitude.” Vicious in appearance with razor teeth and barbed fins, the Hot Tuna Fish is the logo the brand rode to U.S. success in the ’80s and early ’90s, only to disappear seemingly overnight. Miklos explains: “The look started to lean more towards a European influence, and at the time, the U.S. market just wasn't ready for it. So it was decided by the owner in Australia that it should be pulled from U.S. distribution. But the pull was very clean. The clothes didn’t go to the discounters or anything like that, you just went to bed one night and when you woke up Hot Tuna was gone.”

Now, with a master license that allows Hot Tuna USA the freedom to develop clothing specifically for American markets, the fish is back, and the clean pull from the shelves is what Micklos feels is crucial to its reemergence in the U.S. marketplace. With an image untarnished by a slow descent into obscurity, Hot Tuna has the ability to burst back onto the scene more than a decade later with a brand name that is intact among its core customers from the past. “There are no skeletons in the closet and we’re not slipping on blood anywhere. We know that we can rely on the heritage market to make up a strong consumer base, so the challenge now has been to create a look that will attract the groms on the beach as well. But as I said before, it's all about the fish and the groms love it. We’re in a unique position to be able to mix the old with the new to create a very forward-looking line.”

And Miklos is right. Hot Tuna has done an exceptional job of blending the appeal that made it so popular in the past, with a look that that exudes the edginess necessary to draw in today’s progressively styled beach rats. Tees and boardshorts are the heart of the line, and the famous Hot Tuna Fish is the key ingredient to apparel that Miklos says “will without a doubt punch through” in the U.S.

Look for Hot Tuna in core shops near you.

HARD GOODS

Surflife
Technically not hard at all, Surflife manufactures soft surfboards that are aimed at getting children into the water so they can safely develop a lifelong love for the sport. Not your standard foamy, these boards are made from a durable and more rigid material than other soft boards currently on the market and retail for about half the price of a traditionally constructed board. “I took my background in material science, and combined it with my experience as a surfer, and created this new stuff called Duro-foam,” says Mathew Murasko, founder of Surflife. “We use molds to create boards that work just like a real surfboard but are soft and safe for kids. I did all my research over on Maui with Buzzy Kerbox and his little boys, who were three and five at the time, and it went so well. It’s all just come together from there.”

With a product that targets a consumer group whose age range is from about 4 to 12 years, Murasko has focused much of the brand’s ideology on creating responsible little surfers of the future. One way he has done this is by teaming up with legendary waterman Rabbit Kekai to create the non-profit organization the Rabbit Kekai Foundation. Since 2003, Murasko and “Uncle Rabbit” have been hard at work spreading the foundation's mission statement of “promoting surfing, supporting education, and spreading the spirit of aloha to children,” by hosting a series of grom contests, board giveaways, and essay-writing competitions aligned with Hawaiian elementary schools. “The first year over 200 children showed up at Waikiki, and afterwards we donated all the boards used in the contest to kids from the local school,” says Murasko. “The winners of the boards were selected from essays they had written about why they love surfing. And this year, we aligned ourselves with the Ke Kula Kaipuni ‘O Anuenue Hawaiian Language School and we had the kids write, interpret, and read essays in both Hawaiian and English. To see little four-year-olds doing that with no help from the adults was just incredible.” Murasko also says that they are working with Senator Fred Hemmings on a project that allocates any extra money raised by the foundation to other Hawaiian schools that are in need of extra supplies.

With a product that safely nurtures an affection for the sport, and an approach that places a heavy emphasis on grommet education, Murasko, Rabbit and crew are looking to take Surflife and the R.K. Foundation worldwide in the years to come. “We want to go back to the clean living image that surfing had in the past,” says Murasko. “There are so many high-end performance boards out there, we just want to concentrate on the entry level, and through Surflife and the Rabbit Kekai Foundation we can help give kids the lifelong gift of surfing and an education.”

Visit TheSurfLife.com to check out the product and RabbitKekai.org for more info on the Foundation.

Jeff Clark Surfboards
On the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Surflife, the Formula Four Four-Finned Gun from Clark Surfboards is a tool created with only the expert big wave rider in mind. Clark, who has been riding and developing the boards in huge Maverick’s slabs for more than ten years, collaborated with the Rainbow Fin Company to come up with specially foiled fins specifically for these atypical rhino-chasers. When asked about how his innovation rides, Clark had this to say: “When they first came out with plastic removable fins, I had trouble getting my three-finned boards to hold in huge surf. So I developed the Formula Four and they are really fast and responsive and hold so much better in a turn than any other design. It’s definitely my favorite, and is the most secure fin setup for paddling into 25-foot-plus surf. It gives you the confidence to really put it on rail. Imagine a gun that goes rail to rail as quickly as a little twin-fin with the speed and drive of a bigger board. Plus, in a really late takeoff, you can airdrop and land down the face, and the rail will hookup right away.” Serious boards for serious situations. Enough said.

Visit JeffClarkSurfboards.com(Coming Soon).

LIFESTYLE ACCESSORIES

Reactor Watches
Jimmy Olmes, Reactor’s CEO, sits back and chuckles. “After my partners and I sold Freestyle in ’99 I stayed on for three more years until I decided to retire. But after about eight weeks of retirement my wife decided that I needed to get out of the house and go back to work.” So Olmes went back to it, and in early 2003 used his 23 years of watch manufacturing experience to start Reactor. “I knew I wanted to stick with watches but I also wanted to come back in a very different way. So the objective of Reactor is to make the very finest watch possible, regardless of manufacturing expense.”

With this mission in mind, Olmes did some time in Switzerland studying and learning to emulate the quality control and longevity assurance procedures of the most prestigious Swiss brands. He then researched the very best materials the watch market has to offer, nailed down construction details, and put together a line of nearly bomb-proof watches that have a distinct surf-oriented flair.

“We make the finest performance sport watch on the market because of what we call Reactor DNA,” says Olmes. “Every watch in the line shares the same six design features that give it unbelievable longevity.” A thorough explanation of these features by Olmes reveals that Reactor DNA combines to create a product that is made of the highest grade Japanese steel, is super water-resistant, will remain water-resistant even after the battery gets changed, is incredibly tough, nearly shock-proof, keeps impeccable time, won’t fall off when you’re getting hammered in the impact zone, and has a highly phosphorescent dial face thanks to a rare Swiss material called Superluminova.

The bottom line is these things are sick, stylish, and incredibly durable. With Joel Tudor on board as a pro rider, and a retail price well below that of Swiss watches of comparable quality, Reactor is poised to make its presence felt in any arena that calls for a classy and resilient performance timepiece.

Look for Reactor Watches in core shops near you, or visit ReactorWatch.com.

GoPro Hero Cameras
“It happens to everybody,” says Nick Woodman, the managing director of GoPro Hero Cameras. “You’re paddling back out and you see your buddy ripping down the line and you say, ‘Oh man that would make such a killer shot.’ Well, now you can get that pic. I wear the Hero every single session I go in for and it never gets in the way, it never falls off, and it takes amazing shots.”

According to Woodman, almost three years of development went into making the Hero both user-friendly and durable. “We didn't want to release it until it was perfect, so we spent a lot of time in the water doing R&D. It’s been through everything, 2-foot to 20, and now we have it dialed.” Cruising the coast in a VW bus and using the frigid waters of NorCal as their lab, Woodman and crew have developed an incredibly light (7.2 ounces loaded with film), wrist-mounted, point-and-shoot waterproof camera that is secured to the arm by an intense but comfortable Velcro strap. Laying flush when not in use, the Hero can be released and swung up in an instant when a photo opportunity comes along. Sold with its own specially molded watertight housing and re-loadable with any 35mm color, black-and-white or slide film, the Hero is a great deal for anybody interested in getting a few water shots out of their next session.

As for maintenance, Woodman says, “All you need to do is make sure it’s loaded with film, keep the housing seal clean, and wax the lens so you don’t get water spots.” With a digital prototype in the works that can go five frames per second and is even smaller than the Hero, GoPro is looking to expand its consumer base and transform every surfer in the lineup into a veteran water lensman.

Look for the GoPro Hero in core shops near you or visit GoProCamera.com.