Top surf brands in the industry
As with many industries worldwide, the surf industry works in cycles. What governs these phases is never apparent, but the underlying element is the whims of fashion. Even the biggest surf brands in the world, like Gotcha, go out of style and become uncool. They are sometimes the victim of their own success. As Gotcha founder Mike Tomson said, ‘size is the enemy of cool.’
Once everyone on the street wears a brand, it is no longer edgy and cool, and the youth move on.
A history of surf brands
Apart from Gotcha, there was Instinct, founded by 1977 World Champion Shaun Tomson. Currently, in the process of rebirth, Instinct was the go-to for so many hardcore surfers. The performance surfing idealism of Hot Tuna struck a chord with the young Australians looking for something that they could identify with. The quirky Mambo brand won legions of fans and supporters with its outlandish advertising campaigns and off-beat humor. …Lost was another one of the biggest surf brands globally, and they pushed the boundaries of outrageous marketing. They poured derision on the surf industry while capturing young acolytes at every turn. Matt Biolos lead their charge. He came up with so many unique marketing ideas. He opened up so many avenues for surf brands to expand their presence that very few have been able to copy what he did.
The surfboard brands have also gone through their cycles, mainly driven by new technology. For example, while still prevalent, the standard PU board sits alongside epoxy boards and Firewire technology. In addition, some boards are made particularly for a specific element of the sport, for example, Wave Pool Surfboards.
The surf gear brands are underpinned by one element these days: functionality. If a brand’s hard goods are known to perform, that brand will win out against brightly colored competitors and gimmicky products. Everyone needs a good leash for safety, and all surfers need a functional deck pad as part of their ensemble, so the gear brands fulfill those needs.
While the surf industry is somewhat in check, some brands have a wild and glamorous past.
Best surfwear and wetsuit brands
One of the oldest surf brands pioneered by the real deal surf innovator in Jack O’Neill. The O’Neill brand has been around forever and has sponsored some of the great surfers in the sport.
Shaun Tomson was an O’Neill ambassador for the longest time, and the flamboyant Brad Gerlach flew their flag through the turbulent 80s and 90s when he was one of the most outrageous of the crew.
Nowadays, they sponsor surfers like Jordy Smith and Kolohe Andino and still play a significant part in professional surfing and surf culture. The O’Neill Coldwater Classic at Steamer lane is one of the most iconic pro events in the sport’s history. Who knows, it might make a comeback.
Billabong is one of the leading brands in the surfing industry. The Australian surf brand Billabong was founded in 1973 by Gordon and Rena Merchant. Through time it has become a worldwide favorite among surfers.
Through their product lineup of wetsuits, board shorts, and surf apparel/accessories, they are one of the leading figures helping to innovate and further develop the industry.
Billabong has a big impact on professional surfing, sponsoring events and some of the best athletes such as; Italo Ferreira, Seth Moniz, Ethan Ewing, Isabella Nichols, and Luana Silva – just to name a few.
While sponsoring many surfing events, the most iconic one on the list has to be the famous Billabong Pro Pipeline; on the north shore, Oahu in Hawaii.
Just Like Billabong, Quiksilver has a strong reputation and history within the surfing industry. Both companies were founded around the same time in 1973, as the sport got more commercialized.
Quiksilver is considered an industry leader, owning numerous subsidiary companies such as Roxy (their women’s line) and DC Shoes (skateboard brand). Quiksilver is a leading manufacturer of wetsuits, board shorts, and surfing apparel. And you will find their stores and products worldwide.
Quiksilver sponsors some of the best athletes and world tour events. Riders such as; Kanoa Igarashi, Leonardo Fioravanti, Steph Gilmore, Caroline Marks, Kelia Moniz, Ezekiel Lau, and Koa Rothmann – help the company stay top-of-mind among the upcoming Groms.
Currently, Rip Curl dominates a relatively large section of the surf retail space. They sponsor many events on the Championship Tour and the Qualifying Series. In addition, they hold the Rip Curl WSL Finals at the end of the year, the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, and they run several Rip Curl GromSearch Series globally.
They have world champions past and present in their team, the two most obvious being Mick Fanning and Gabriel Medina. Still, they also sponsored Tom Curren during three world titles and following on to the Rip Curl Search program.
Their wetsuits are top-end, and Rip Curl consistently does their research and development to ensure they are cutting edge. In addition, they sponsor surfers like Tyler Wright, Bethany Hamilton, and Rosy Hodge on the women’s side. As a result, it is one of the best women’s surf brands as well as one of the best swimwear brands for both men and women.
Always been a great brand ever since Bob Hurley transitioned from Billabong in the early 2000s; Hurley has been through many changes over the last decade. Bought and sold by Nike, they currently sponsor the current world champion in Filipe Toledo, as well as kai Lenny and multiple world champion Carissa Moore.
The brand used to sponsor the WSL Finals at Trestles and the Sunset Beach event in Hawaii. Renowned for good quality clothing, Hurley has always been one of the top surf brands. It was always Bob Hurley’s dream to turn the label into one of the top surf apparel brands. With a solid background in the industry and good business sense, it became one of the best surf brands.
‘Famous for selling brown shirts’ was how Volcom was first described when they came into the market, but the brand was much more than that. It was funded in 1991 by Richard Woolcott and Tucker Hall. The brand includes skateboarding and snowboarding, as well as musicians and artists. They sponsored the Volcom Pipe Event and used to sponsor the Volcom Fiji Pro until the 2012 event was cancelled when the surf was deemed too big.
They currently support Jack Robinson on the ChampionshipTour and are sure to get a world title out of him at some stage. Yago Dora and Moana Jones Wong are also on the premier surf team.
Kelly Slater’s brand had one idea when it hit the shelves almost a decade ago: to become one of the top surf brands in the world. To do this, they did not hold back on the expense account nor the marketing budget and produced some of the best apparel, instantly making them one of the top surf brands.
They are top-end, however, and their costings often put their product out of the reach of everyday surfers. Still, this doesn’t hold them back as a surfwear brand. As they have very few hard goods in their order books, they can focus on the apparel range to become one of the top surf apparel brands.
Best surf gear brands
The first functional fin control system was called just that, Fin Control Systems or FCS for short. The brand soon started a revolution of fins and fin designs featuring interchangeable fins. In a relatively short time, all the top surfers and shapers in the world had a signature fin. Some of these are still available today, and some of them, like Al Merrick’s AMs, continue to be some of the most popular set-ups in the world. FCS also changed the world for travelling surfers. They made it a real possibility that they would land in a foreign destination with minor damage to their surfboards and none to the sensitive box area of the FCS system.
Futures followed the success of the FCS and FCS2 systems by developing a system that needs no grub screws to keep in place. Of course, you can use grub screws if you so desire, but the fins are firm without them. A simple interlocking mechanism made the system an instant hit and popular among many top surfers. John John Florence, Jordy Smith, and Jack Robinson all ride futures, as well as the next best thing in Ethan Ewing. With the strength of the fin technology, Futures are also favourites for many of the best big wave surfers in the world.
Founded in Hawaii, Dakine also came into the game because the founder Rob Kaplan was tired of dealing with damaged products. He was always helping friends out on the North Shore with broken leashes. So, he decided to have a go at making some sort of indestructible leash that was so desperately needed.
DaKine branched off into windsurfing during the 80’s heyday of the sport and invented the first adjustable foot strap, followed by the first seat harness and then the moulded waist harness.
They subsequently also branched out into mountain biking gear. Their roots, however, have always been in surfing. Developing into one of the best surf brands these days, they have ventured into the wetsuit territory. This segment is crowded, but the DaKine product range is one of the best, and their wetsuits will undoubtedly be of the best quality.
Best surfboard brands
One sometimes forgets that the surfboard makers filled the plate that the rest of the surf industry eats off. If it wasn’t for the shaper and the board makers, there wouldn’t be an industry because it is all centered around riding waves.
There are many great shapers around the world, that create top-class surfboards. If you ask us, the process of creating surfboards is an art form and there are so many individual shapers that are doing an amazing job out there.
However, on this list we have focused on the more commercial brands, to make sure they are available for purchase worldwide.
Pyzel has risen to the top of the chain recently, with their boards being ridden by John John Florence and Nathan Florence. Still, most of the top pros have had a Pyzel or two underfoot over the years.
John Pyzel had an ideology that didn’t align with pumping out boards as often as fast as possible. Instead, making the quality board everyone loves makes Pyzel one of the best surfboard brands.
When Mark Price, a former pro surfer from Durban and former owner of the Tavarua apparel brand, first rode a Firewire, he decided that these boards were the future. He became the company’s CEO in 2006 and has been there ever since, working on the boards, testing them, and marketing them to the world.
Firewire technology isn’t known by many. Still, they have several different technology systems that are said to make their boards stronger, lighter and fast, and more buoyant, which makes for one excellent ride.
Arguably the biggest surfboard brand in the world, CI succeeded by consistently producing boards similar to the ones before, making it possible to copy a perfect board. This, combined with the team riders of the time like Kelly Slater and Dane Reynolds, ensured that the brand was seen everywhere and the CI ascension had begun.
They decided to make a series of easy-to-ride, extra volume boards for the everyman that endeared them to a surfing population. As a result, Channel Islands quickly became one of the most fun and popular surfboard brands available anywhere.