Brands are fantastic. Surf brands especially, are fantastic things. They benefit the surfer in countless ways, smoothing his path, and dissolving obstacles for him at every turn.
A young ripper may board a plane bound almost anywhere, and be received like a deity upon arrival. He will be coveted by the beautiful and envied by the strong. He will be toasted by the wealthy, and adored by their children. And when he is swimming in the universe's good favor, to whom shall he direct his gratitude? The brands that came before him, preparing the way.
People do what they are told, and surf brands have been telling the people how amazing surfers are for decades. Lovelies don't flock to the beach looking for surfers on merit; they take it on faith, and from their mothers. They go and strut and swoon, because fashion mags and insipid tv told them that they must.
This myth wasn't built by us or our fathers surfing in quiet obscurity, and it wasn't built by Kelly, surfing amidst a media circus. It was built by the blunt marketing perseverance of Ocean Pacific, of Quiksilver and their brethren. It proceeded from greedy fat men selling t-shirts and dreams to snowbound, unhealthy, miserable shivering masses in malls across America. For the last 50 years, brands from O'neill to Rusty to Rip Curl have sold dreams to the poor in spirit, and have given a kickback to us. We, the spoiled children of the beach. We, who never pay for t-shirts or wetsuits unless we choose to. We go on reviling the legacy brands, but we must acknowledge the truth in our hearts. We drink daily from the trough of every big brand that we revile for stealing our money and corrupting our core. Even as we protest, we have benefitted from their swindling mirage of crappy bottle-blond cliches.
And we must recognize our duty. Branding is our bread and butter. We don't create value in the surf world. We don't invent useful things. We live the dream by day and sell an amped-up and dumbed-down version of that dream by night. We ruthlessly innovate in the pointless and priceless art of cool. It's our duty. It's why we're not required to go down to Jack's to pay full retail.
In a series that starts next week, we will take a tour of the men and brands which make it all possible. The men and women who have paved the way for all of us who surf, from Orange County to Bondi, to work infinitely less than others of comparable mental acuity.