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B O B H U R L E Y
"The future is unwritten."
Bob Hurley just did it. He built an empire behind a surfboard planer, stoke, and an opportunity of a lifetime. One day a satled grom sitting on peaks in HB to sitting on a surf industry gold mine known as Hurley. Now, Bob has shaped an entire new tomorrow for the culture of surfing, and we're sitting a long for the ride. So we sat at his pad to chat about the art of inclusion, innovating surfing, and the Clash.
Shaper of Stoke
Abstractfilth: You’ve always been a builder - from the shaping bay to surf companies - what was the first thing you ever built?
Bob Hurley: The first thing I’ve ever built was in eighth grade Wood Shop class. The teacher showed us how to build these sharks out of mahogany and pine. We'd glue two pieces together so it was dark on the bottom, light on the top, then cut them out and file them down. I was really not the best at it [laughs].
There’s no question you grew up tuning into punk rock. Who's your favorite band?
My favorite band would be the Clash. There’s a lot of great bands out there, but one thing I found fascinating about them was their ability to mix so many cool and different genres of music together; From punk to reggae, hard rock, and even different trippy bells and xylophone. They took the best of everything and mixed it together and I’ve always liked that about them.
You’ve said, “The future is unwritten,” how does that spirit translate into the future of surfing?
Joe Strummer wrote this line, and I've used it as a mantra. I took his meaning as, You can do whatever you want. You have a choice everyday, every minute...what are you doing next, and what are you’re doing now.
How do you feel partnering with Nike has helped surf culture?
The partnership with Nike is interesting. We approached Nike first, they were not looking to invade the surf industry, and we brought them in. Some people thought we brought in the devil, or the Trojan Horse...there were many differing opinions. Starting with athletes, and this goes way back, we've worked with Mark Occhilupo, Sunny Garcia, Richie Collins, Gary Green, Shane Dorian, Ross Williams and many more. It was pretty clear that the imagination of the industry was driven by the athletes. What they were doing in the water then, and to this day, really inspires the business. We felt that partnering up with Nike, a brand that believes in athletes and sports, would really further enhance our ability to work with and inspire athletes.
How has Hurley has pushed the boundaries of surf culture?
When we first partnered with Nike, we weren’t leveraging what we had...I was mismanaging and we were getting too big too fast. So around 2008, a good friend of mine named Roger Wyett came to work with us. He wondered, What makes this a great brand? And I said, “Good sunglasses and good jeans” [laughs]. Wyett said, No...his idea was that the brand started in Huntington Beach where I used to hang out and make surfboards, so we're a Huntington Beach brand, and we’re going to make the best boardshorts. Then when the global economic crisis hit around mid-08', Roger said, So here’s what we're going to do now, we're going to step on the gas! Surfing has so much potential and is so wonderful, we’re going to invest in it. He suggested we take over the U.S. Open, which happened to be available for title sponsorship. That proved to be a tremendous opportunity, so for four years we went nuts in an effort to elevate the sport, the prize money, and the event experience for the consumer and athlete. The fundamental reason that we did it, is because we were so inspired by the surfers, and the change in surfing...the aerial attack! No longer was an Air Show part of an event because airs had become a mainstay in competition. The surfers had become so electric, we felt they deserved more exposure, and invested harder. That’s why we did what we did, and do what we do.
Does it make the sport of surfing more authentic now that performance is at such a high level, and even being accepted into the 2020 Olympics?
Authenticity is key in surfing, as it is in life. We’re surrounded by a bunch of good people; Evan Slater, Pat O’Connell, Ryan Hurley, Jeff Hurley, Matt Barker and a whole group of others who love surfing. We work with athletes who love surfing, and that’s just our thing. If you're excited about surfing and innovation, Hurley is the right spot for you. An interesting thing is, the surf industry is much like telephones before the iPhone came out...it’s very dial up modem and antiquated, but in many ways wishes to be regressive. But the athletes don’t, they're at an incredible level now and who knows what we’re going to see at Teahupo'o next...are we going to see flips in the barrel, I don’t know. They’re going to keep pushing it forward, and meanwhile us as an industry, are a little regressive...we wanna hold back and do things like they used to be done. So consequently, a lot of the big players are failing. There are more surfers than ever, more companies than ever, but there are a lot of small companies that are going to have a big future and they don’t even know it. There’s a whole revolution going on, while these big companies are asleep at the wheel. Many of the big companies are failing, and the reason is they do not have the freedom to imagine. They are constricted by their financial situations or management. It’s not a big imagination-fest right now...but the surfers have it and that is cool.
You continue to leave a mark on surfing. How would you like to be remembered?
I like to think I’m a fan. And I'm not a guy who creates or does things alone. So with my family, and all the people that I work with, I try to be a player in their game. Fuel their fire with gasoline. If anyone were to remember me I'd hope it was as an enabler of other people’s dreams. It’s a win-win for me.
The boss at work.