Coolangatta on the Southern Gold Coast is a hotbed of surfing talent, home to multiple world surfing champions but there’s also a world-class talent pool of designers, photographers, filmmakers and creative types who have forged great industry careers, right alongside their more famous surfing friends. Beau Campi is the Global Boardshort and Surf Product manager at Volcom. Now based in Costa Mesa, California, Beau says that the collective of ‘Coolangatta Kids’ are super-ambitious and supportive of each other’s goals and on the odd occasion when ‘the boys’ still get together he says it still feels really special.
This interview first appeared in issue#72 of Australasian Surf Business Magazine
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As a kid, did you ever imagine you’d become the Senior Director of Global Board shorts & Surf Product at Volcom and be living in California?
Ha! I never thought I’d have a massive long title, if that’s what you mean. Nah, I never thought as a kid that I’d be living in California. I didn’t even think about moving from Cooly at all, I guess. It was a magic place to grow up: why would you want to leave? As for the job, I definitely knew I wanted to do something that I loved. I’ve always been creative and hands-on: making things, doing art on boards and drawing logo designs. Stuff like that.
I didn’t know at the time what I wanted to do when I was older. I kinda wanted to be a surfboard shaper or an architect. It wasn’t until years later in high school when I took industrial design – then I realised my love for designing.
What was it like growing up around Mick (Fanning) and Joel (Parkinson) and all your Coolangatta friends? Could you see that talent pool rising to be the best in the world?
At the time it felt like any other group of friends growing up, just doing whatever we wanted to do. We were little shit heads, just surfing, chasing girls and having fun. There were a lot of good surfers our age and a little older on the coast, so I wouldn’t say it was real obvious.
We definitely knew they were the best surfers of our circle of friends, and being a pro surfer was a realistic dream for them. I guess it was real obvious when we were all eighteen in 99’, Joel won the Billabong Pro in J-bay on a wildcard and Mick cleaned up the Konica Skins event, both beating the world best.
So that’s when, but I’m sure Joel will tell ya he was the best in the world at 15!
As a kid, who were the other surfers who influenced you?
Jeez, growing up in the 90’s it’s hard not to say Kelly Slater. He was pashing Pamela, had girls drawn on his boards and was doing crazy shit. Black and White is still my favourite surf movie.
But there were the local guys like Jay Philips, Will Lewis, even Brendan Margieson and Mark Occhilupo. Being able to see those guys in the water, the things they were doing and wearing were most influential, because it was real life.
It was stuff that you didn’t see until months later i a surf mag. Not like today with Instagram and webcasts – the kids see it as it’s happening basically.
There was also a creative group of individuals who emerged out of Coolangatta including film-makers, designers and photographers. Despite the creative and inspiring backdrop, was there any incident that bought the group together?
The only devastatingly tragic time was when Joel and Sean died. Looking back, positive things came from that, led by Mick. Most of us were 16-20 years old, and it was like ‘it’s time to be a man and saddle up and take on your dreams.’ It made us grow up real quick, and be accountable for our actions.
Our group was super-ambitious, and I’m nothing but proud of what my friends have achieved, be it designers, filmers, shapers, builders…even Mad Huey! Everyone supported each other’s goals, and helped out if they could. We still do. The rare times now when we all get together, it still feels special. Stoked to have them all.
Do you feeI most homesick when the surfing pumping?
Yeah, it hurts to see home firing, when you’re slipping into a full suit and boots in mushy shit. We’ve been getting some decent waves here lately though. Surfed Rincon a couple of weekends ago and it was really good: even got a head dip! Nothing like behind the rock, but it’ll tide me over for a bit. The boys were saying it was mayhem at home. The crowd was super-thick, even some words exchanged among friends, that’s how intense it was. I don’t miss the crowds, that’s for sure.
The times I really get homesick are when I speak with my family and friends. That’s what I miss the most. Just having them close by.
Do you think kids today are less interested in who’s wearing a particular board short? Are they more influenced by how it looks?
No, the kids now are onto it more than ever! They know what their favourite surfer is riding, listening to and what wetsuit or boardshort style they’re running. It’s the social media reach that these athletes and brands have. So yeah, kids may act like they’re not influenced, but they really know if you’re wearing a Target short.
“Kids may act like they’re not influenced, but they really know if you’re wearing a Target short.”
What’s more important, fabric or function in a boardshort?
I think they go hand in hand. One’s a subject and the other an attribute. Fabric is the most important and largest component of a boardshort, and to me must be functional. But if I have to say one, I guess it would be function. Because it’s top of mind for me when developing new fabrics, fits and construction, even trim.
Prior to Volcom you spent five years at Billabong as Global Boardshort Designer, where you received multiple awards like Environmental Product of The Year and notably the SurfAid Leader of Change Award for Recycler boardies. You must be proud of those achievements?
It’s nice to be acknowledged for initiatives like that, for sure. It starts with the designer to build something that’s better or can be less harmful, and then the responsibility of the brand to support it. So I was fortunate enough to design a hero product for Billabong that had a large audience and eyes on it. In turn it became a great story for the brand to tell, and kick-started other environmental initiatives within the brand.
Rob McCarty, who was the US design director at the time, was the one who brought the recycled bottle fabric to my attention back in 2005. It started as a rigid poly suede and a few styles, then I developed it into a stretch fabric and it really expanded into a large percentage of the line.
It’s cool to have those feathers in the cap for sure, kinda forgot about them actually. So thanks for the reminder.
You took some time out after Billabong and travelled extensively in Europe and Sri Lanka, to ‘recharge and draw inspiration’. How turbulent was it at the time at Billabong? What led you to Volcom and who was responsible for getting you there?
Wow, it seemed like a fifteen-year blur at Billabong. I’d been there since I left school, and had never taken more than two weeks’ holidays. I was just burnt, had to come up for air and needed a change, and yeah, recharge and refocus my life and my priorities. So I resigned and was jobless. Ha! It was awesome: no deadlines, no stress, surfing more and waking up a different person.
My girl and I decided to travel for four months, starting in Sri Lanka, then we bought an old VW Westy in Amsterdam and drove through Europe. We even shot over to Madeira for a bit. We didn’t have more than a three-day plan, and ended up doing eleven countries and over 10,000 kilometres. Drank, ate and took in the world. It was amazing, a good time to reflect and take a step back from the bubble I’d been in for so long. I had new appreciations, ignited old passions and got real deep on myself – ha!
In that time I had people approach me for interviews and positions but I just shined them because I couldn’t commit and give it my all. I came to the decision if I was to go back into the industry, there were two, maybe three companies I would work for and Volcom was one.
Dougall Walker called me. But what you probably don’t know is that he’d actually hired me as a fresh-faced grom out of graphic school for Billabong, when he was the GM there. He’s a person I really looked up to and respected his leadership values, his harsh honesty and people skills. He’s just an honest, straight-up guy.
He asked what I was doing now I’d left Billabong, and asked if I’d be keen to chat. We didn’t end up catching up until the CEO and marketing guys were in town from the US. We had some beers; I listened what they had to say and it really connected with me. Volcom’s five-year vision included a focus on becoming a real player in boardshorts, adding resources to the category, and giving me marketing support and the freedom to take it where I wanted.
It was what I was looking for, and really got me excited again.
It’s been almost a year and a half with Volcom now: my first product hit stores about three months ago and we’ve had great early reads and feedback. So I feel like I’m in the right place now.
Can you explain the collaborative process within your team at Volcom?
Coming into Volcom it wasn’t like someone’s left or been fired and I was replacing that role. It was a new position and resource that I could define myself. I was a little nervous coming in that some people may get their noses out of joint, y’know, this Aussie guy coming in over the top of them. But I really believe it is a team effort and not a one man band. If you surround yourself with good people you will become great. Joe Frizzelle was the boardshort designer, and kinda left to his own devices without any solid direction and help. So he was really open and accepting the guidance I could give. We work really well together: he has the brand DNA ingrained in him being there for over ten years, so he’s a great sounding board for me to ensure we have brand authenticity. What really got me excited was, for the first time in my career I was working with an entire boardshort team who surfed and lived the lifestyle, so it was easy to give direction and share my vision. Since then we’ve only strengthened our team, bringing in a textile designer and a new product developer who both are masters of their field, and most of all, they surf.
It’s super key to me that these guys live the lifestyle and understand the product we’re pulling together. And we can all go surf at lunch, so it’s a win-win.
“It’s super key to me that these guys live the lifestyle and understand the product we’re pulling together.”
What is the specific interest in environmentally friendly products for you?
It’s not really an interest, but I feel it is more a responsibility.
I’d be the first to admit I’m not separating every piece of rubbish I toss, I do buy plastic water bottles at times and I don’t drive a hybrid.
But, being responsible for something that is largely produced and knowing there are less impactful alternates, it definitely worth looking into.
Obviously first and foremost it’s about delivering quality product. If you can do that with an eco-alternate without losing huge money and not compromising the product then that’s an easy decision.
Once it is implemented into the business, it becomes the norm.
A lot of companies are now using Reprieve, PPT and have various environmental claims to their boardshort program. Do you feel proud of that, or is the feeling more like being knocked off?
Repreve is a business like any other, and they produce quality recycled yarns. I would encourage competitors to use them also, due to the fact they can actually account and test what percentage of a fabric is recycled.
I’ve used other suppliers in the past, and the fabric mills say the fabric contains a recycled yarn but there is no way of confirming or denying their claims. With Repreve they have this proprietary technology that makes the yarn traceable, so they can test finished fabrics and give a reliable content and claim.
Repreve likes us and we like them, so we have a partnership with the goal of getting their name and cause out there to educate the consumers to buy greener, in the hope the next generation will demand less harmful products. So, no I don’t care if everyone is on the recycled bandwagon. It’s awesome to see.
Kering have extensive environmental and ethical standards. Is that part of what attracted you to the company?
It wasn’t a huge part, no. The attraction to Volcom for me was the credibility and strength the brand has without product.
I would say in early Volcom they had some strong iconic products, but of late they have had a lot of missed opportunities. The biggest potential I saw was the whole boardshort and surf categories: it’s like the market and consumer is craving something new from a reliable brand.
Volcom is the one that can do that – not looking forced and fake but staying true to its origins. Environmental practices and standards can be implemented in any business, but it was great to walk in and have Kering’s support and guidance.
Can you explain the relationship, from a design perspective, between Kering and Volcom? Have you ever met CEO François-Henri Pinault? Is Wooly (Richard Woolcott) floating around the staff Café?
Kering and Volcom are pretty much kept as separate entities. We share some of the same certified manufacturers, but we really aren’t affected by Kering in design. It’s more sharing business resources and stuff that design doesn’t deal with. I’m yet to meet Francois, but see Wooly around pretty regularly. He’ll be floating around at sales meetings, pop his head in every now and again with some boardshort testing feedback. So yeah, he’s still totally involved, and still super passionate.
Can you explain the subtle differences between working for a listed privately owned company (like Kering) and a public company (like Billabong)?
Basically it’s all just hanging out as a public company for people to see, like a fish bowl. I reckon they pretty much operate the same way, but being under a listed company you can go about your business without distractions and opinions that are not needed from the outside.
I’m not big on share market stuff, but I feel in my experience it’s definitely a hindrance more than an advantage to be public. You have media talking shit on your numbers, and they can basically paint a picture to the average listener how they want. Y’know, “Surf Brand Wipes Out” shit like that: but really the brands should be focused on what brought them to success – product! Product is king. Without product you don’t need HR, you don’t need marketing, you don’t have a turnover. Pretty simple. Cut out all the noise and focus on what matters.
Brands should be focused on what brought them to success – product! Product is king. Without product you don’t need HR, you don’t need marketing, you don’t have a turnover. Pretty simple. Cut out all the noise and focus on what matters.
Marie-Claire Dave, chief sustainability officer and head of international institutional affairs at Kering says that “Every company should be redefining itself as sustainable.” Do you agree? More importantly, is the surf industry doing enough?
I definitely agree. We as designers always need to question the way things have been done before, and ask can it be done better, more efficiently, cheaper or less harmfully? I think every company could do more, but I understand things can’t implemented overnight also. It’s just a constant upgrade or ‘redefining’ like Marie says. If there’s a strategic plan and checkpoints to become more sustainable then it’s a step in the right direction.