Getting On Board

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Surfing had its moment in the sun in the `60s and `70s, but the resurgent $6 billion industry this time around has potential for a global cultural tsunami.

Fueled by last year's film "Blue Crush," surfing images are proliferating this season. Target Corp.'s "Red" campaign features teens with surfboards. The new "Charlie's Angels" film is being advertised with a billboard campaign featuring Cameron Diaz on a surfboard.

Hawaiian, Southern Californian, and other island themes are abundant in summer fashions. One of the struggling retail sector's biggest success stories of late has been Abercrombie & Fitch's surf-theme chain, Hollister, which sells lower price surf-style clothing. Pacific Sunwear, with more than 600 stores in 48 states, reported net income for the first quarter of fiscal 2003 up 142% to $8 million, while sales at stores open for more than a year, an important retail indicator, were up 13.1%.

Even the upscale and older-targeted Tommy Bahama, the marketer of Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica labels recently acquired by Oxford Industries, has been making a splash beyond resort retail shops, moving into high-end retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. Some high-priced designers have indicated they are considering fashion made from wet-suit style neoprene.

"In general, the surf industry continues to see very strong acceptance and support not only at a core level but at a mass level," said Norb Garrett, VP-group publisher/editorial director of Primedia Action Sports Group.

Research firm Board-Trac puts the number of participants in board-riding sports at 22.3 million, with skateboarding accounting for 13.1 million participants. Board-Trac, however, believes skateboarding has reached a plateau or even slight decline in popularity, while surfing is up about 11% from 2001 to 2002 as Generation X and Y begin to discover the sport.

And that's just in the U.S. Quiksilver and other surfing brands have been making their biggest sales gains in Europe.

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