A run of incredible swells that started way back in summer have the New Zealand surf industry buzzing.
Geoff “Hutch” Hutchison, the chief of surf at Backdoor, said there was no doubt the swell events spurred a lift in hardware sales.
“There have been a lot of busted boards this year and just great waves in many places,” he shares, adding with a laugh: “although, it has turned to garbage now.”
On the West Coast of the South Island at Greymouth, Westside Surf owner, Michelle Griffin, said it had been six years of slowly rebuilding since two disasters rocked the town.
“First we had the Pike River mine disaster and then the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes,” she shares. “They effectively stopped tourism in its tracks for us. We rely on that summer surf tourist and surf visitors to the area.”
Griffin said it had turned the corner now. She was optimistic about the future and said that people’s buying habits were swinging back.
“Where a lot of our customers were buying online, they’re now coming back. I think there are two reasons – they like to see and feel what they’re buying, but they also like to have a local surf shop and want to support us. We have more and more loyal customers.”
She said that some of her loyal customers had moved away from Greymouth, but still bought from her.
Over on the east coast of the North Island at Gisborne, Blitz Surf Shop owner Euan Nelson admitted that surf retail, like all retail in New Zealand, was still very tough going.
“I don’t think anyone is really killing it,” he offers. “I brought my business during the GFC so by trial and error I hope I have developed good business practice along the way when there has always been a threat that things could go bad with no warning.”
“For some time now it seems like the big overseas online players, and more recently local big business, want to race us all to the bottom.”
Nelson said that Blitz Surf Shop had seen complete domination by Rip Curl in the winter 4/3 wetsuit market – especially the upgraded Dawn Patrol chest-zip model.
He said they were also excited about some young, up and coming New Zealand kids’ brands.
“Local brands like Radicool Kids and Hello Stranger have helped breathe some much needed life back into the kids’ space,” he explains. “Kissed By Radicool for the girls is killing it in a tough retail area with all the fast fashion options around. It shows that some people still value uniqueness and quality, not just the lowest possible price.”
He said the more established New Zealand brand ilabb continued to be their quickest selling men’s brand each season.
“Personally, I am loving Barney Cools clothing, which we picked up about 18 months ago,” he shares. “Our home brand Gizzy Hard does really well for us, too, and continues to grow. Our ongoing aim is to continue to provide the best selection of product to our customers in a tough market with limited capital.”
Nelson noted that surfing’s popularity rose and fell with the tide of energy surrounding it.
“One of the major things that has really helped our local surf community have a great buzz in the last few years are the handful of local surf photographers that post content regularly, and not just of the local rippers,” he considers. “Even your average surfer is getting some sick shots, they’re being named, too. So everyone seems to know who everyone is and there’s always talk of seeing each other’s shots.”
Joining seasoned surf photographer Cory Scott, of New Zealand Surfing Magazine, in the impact zones of Gisborne line-ups are talented photographers Shaun Tunny, Derek Fryer and a host of emerging lensman.
Nelson admitted that he was still shocked by the amount of non-recyclable plastic he received goods in and calls for leadership from within the surf industry.
“The garment industry, as a whole, is terrible,” Nelson asserts. “This is where the surf industry needs to lead the charge in finding alternatives for packaging. Blitz has been in the ears of most of our suppliers for some time now about the amounts of plastic everything comes in and how we are not happy with it.”
“It’s no good us going on about how a pair of boardshorts is made from recycled plastic bottles or a t-shirt is made of organic cotton if every single unit comes in its own plastic bag!”
Back in the rapidly expanding Backdoor empire and Hutch said the dust was far from settling on his past 12-months of acquisitions and new fitouts.
“We’re in the midst of three of our biggest fitouts yet with three of our largest stores moving to new locations in Rotorua, New Plymouth and Palmerston North in the next two months,” he explains. “We’ve also bought an existing store in Taupo and we take over at the end of this month on that, too.”
The New Plymouth store will be Backdoor’s biggest yet. It will stock around 300 boards and over 1000 wetsuits. It’s planned to open in early October.
Hutch hinted that there may be more to come on the horizon.
“We’re always looking at new opportunities,” he reveals. “I wasn’t super keen to take on all of these projects at once, but sometimes that’s how the cards fall and if you don’t grab a great site when it’s available then you miss out. But we’ve got a few irons in the fire for next year and we’ll see what comes out in due course.”
A very talented competitive surfer in his day Hutch and his Backdoor team have been one of the driving forces behind getting fellow Raglan surfer Billy Stairmand into contention in the WQS battle this season.
“Billy’s a good surfer and a nice guy with a great attitude,” offers Hutch. “I’ve obviously known him a long time watching him grow up from a grom. With the industry downturn he found himself without much support. We’ve been stoked to get behind him and he’s been absolutely outstanding in what he’s done for us, too. I see this as a great investment and we’ve always wanted to put back into surfing as much as we can.”
NZ Report by Derek Morrison @nzsurfjournal