On the evening of Wednesday, June 28, 2006, Al Merrick was busy making phone calls to all of his top team riders. Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Taylor Knox, Bobby Martinez, Dane Reynolds, each got a call. That afternoon the Channel Islands shop in Santa Barbara closed its doors a few hours early as Al explained to his dedicated employees what was happening. The next morning, Thursday, June 29, the rest of the world found out. Channel Islands Surfboards had been purchased by Burton Snowboards. Rumors of the acquisition have swirled about the surf industry for some time, but they were always vehemently denied both parties…until now of course.
“It’s a very good thing,” says Scott Anderson, Channel Island’s general manager. “There may be some people out there that worry about what this means for our surfboards, but they shouldn’t; this is a positive all the way around.”
“The companies share such a similar approach,” explains Burton CEO Laurent Potdevin, “that this was a very organic merger. Talks had been going on for some time, and since both Burton and Channel Islands are so dedicated to producing the best boards on the market, and the more Al [Merrick] and Jake [Burton] got to really know each other, the more sense it made.”
With the unexpected closure of Clark Foam back December of 2005, the surfboard market has been volatile to say the least. And with new technologies not only emerging, but becoming more and more accepted in the lineup, the CI/Burton union is yet one more twist for consumers to try and comprehend.
“Our first goal is to continue making great surfboards,” says Anderson. “The next step is looking at design and materials. You know, Al’s never borrowed money or taken out a loan for Channel Islands, so with Burton’s financial help we’re going to be able to take our board to the next level. Burton is famous for its research and development, and we’re going to be able to learn a lot from them.”
But does this mean the next Flyer you buy is going to have a big Burton logo on it? Not at all. “The companies are still going to remain completely separate,” insists Potdevin. “Basically Burton will be able to help Channel Islands with its distribution channels and other business related matters but, as far as the companies identities are concerned, theres not going to be any crossover. Most importantly, this is going to allow Merrick to do what he loves and does best; make surfboards. He’s not going to be so tied down to running the day-to-day business; instead he’ll be in the shaping bay a lot more.”
Considering that he’s been making magic boards for world champions for well over two decades now, that’s a good thing. “Another fundamental that both Burton and Channel Islands share is that they take a lot of pride in their respective teams, in regards to both riders and workers,” continues Potdevin, “and that’s definitely going to continue. The people that work at Channel Islands are still going to work at Channel Islands, and the people that work for Burton are still going to be working for Burton. And as far as team riders go, both companies have such great teams that we wouldnt even think of messing around with that.”
“Most of our riders could go out and ride some other boards and make a lot more money, but it’s the family aspect of Channel Islands that keeps everybody together,” adds Anderson.
So what’s the next step? Where do we go from here? Well, as of the posting of this story, while the phones in both Santa Barbara and Burlington were ringing off the hook, Merrick and Burton were headed out on a surf trip together to catch a few waves, and more than likely talk about what the future may hold in store.
Stay tuned to Surfermag.com for continued coverage