Alex Smith Interview

The Kauaian ripper on maintaining surf sponsorship and Costco membership

Regardless of whether Costco will give him another soft-top, Alex Smith seems to fare alright on his standard shortboard. Photo: Lowe-White

Touted as the next great brotherly duo from Kauai, Alex and Koa Smith have grown up in the spotlight. As a standout among his Hawaiian counterparts, the path to a successful career in professional surfing seemed inevitable for Alex. But as he has quickly learned, no matter how many accolades, trophies, and photo spreads you’ve got under your belt, a renewal on your contract is never guaranteed. After parting ways with his longtime sponsor, we talked to a surprisingly optimistic Alex about brand loyalty, brotherhood, and of all things, Costco’s return policy.

Before we get too into the thick of the interview, I heard that you've had a pretty interesting relationship with Costco involving their return policy on soft tops.

Yeah, well one day we were stocking up at Costco and the soft-top surfboards they had caught our eye. We threw one in the cart, no questions asked because the Koa "Doyle" Smith saga was coming in hot to the North Shore. We rode that board all through November and December and our last day before we headed back home to Kauai for Christmas, Koa pulled into a bomb at Off the Wall and snapped it. We returned to Oahu in January and traded the broken board for a new one at Costco. The next day the board snapped again on our first wave and we drove all the way back to Costco again to return it. I think one of the employees recognized us because there were eight of them surrounding a computer giving us the hairy eye. The big boss started questioning us and went on to say "maybe you don't know how to surf" and that we shouldn't buy anymore. As planned, we walked out with two new ones and we were told not to come back. We also overheard a snappy Aunty saying they would revoke our membership. We broke another one yesterday...but maybe we will wait a day or two to take it back.

On a different note, we heard that you and Rip Curl parted ways recently.

Yes, we decided to part ways starting January 1 of this year. I'm looking into a few new opportunities that would better suit me. Going into 2012 I have a lot of plans to travel, film, do contests and take my blog to a new level. Parting ways with Rip Curl is just a small bump in the road and now it's made me hungrier than ever for success.

You’ve had some really solid performances in the last couple of years and have been a standout at Sunset a few times. In your eyes, what do companies want from their riders?

That's a tough question. I think it all comes down to being marketable. I guess a good candidate would be an all-around ripper: someone that stands out in freesurfs and events and is connected within the industry. Nowadays, it's important to be on top of social networking, self-producing your content for sponsors, and creating an online following through blogging.

Do you think there’s a sense of loyalty with the brands or is it purely an economic thing?

I would think certain brands are more loyal than others, but I’m sure these hard economic times are causing brands to make heavy cuts because budgets aren’t there.

How has your relationship with Koa changed over the last few years as you two get older?

Our relationship is good. And as we get older, it's just more fun. He’s been going mad in bigger waves and that's been pushing me a lot lately. I’m looking forward to traveling together this year, we’ve got a bunch of fun trips lined up already.

I think a lot of people don’t realize that there’s a third Smith Brother. Who is Travis Smith?

Yeah, there are actually three of us. Travis is our middle brother, he’s a model who bodyboards in his spare time. He pretty much lives the dream traveling to Paris, New York, and Asia partying with hot model chicks. It's great when we can all be home together.

Kauai has been likened to being a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s an amazing place to live, on the other, it’s hard to leave to get exposure. Is that something you’ve struggled with?

Kauai is my own slice of heaven and it's a perfect place to recharge the batteries between trips. The island is my inspiration to work harder so one day I can have a nice house to retire in. For that reason, I know I can’t get homesick when I’m traveling on the road because it's getting me closer to achieving my goal.

In a perfect world, what would you be doing this time next year?

I'll hopefully have a great sponsor supporting me. I'll be doing certain contests and putting a lot of focus toward locking down clips for surf movies and my blog. I'm also really excited to take the production level of our videos on the blog to the next level. We have a whole new website layout going up in early 2012 with an added store with products that myself, Koa, and our friends design. It will be a great project to work on when I’m not I'm not in the water.

Highlights from Alex and Koa’s winter in Hawaii: