Surf industry stoked to be in Irvine

by TOMOYA SHIMURA

The surf industry has moved to Irvine for the same reasons you likely did: It’s near the beach, and life is good in this master-planned community.

Of the industry’s four big brands, two call Irvine home – Billabong and O’Neill. Other companies, such as Von Zipper, Xcel Wetsuits, L*Space Swimwear and Lost Clothing, also are located here.

“The proximity to SoCal’s famous surfing breaks, coupled with its world-class business centers, puts Irvine in the heart of a global surf apparel industry,” says Sean Smith, executive director of the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA), which represents 90 companies. “It’s at the center of a thriving industry.”

Indeed, the U.S. consumer market for surfing extends far beyond an estimated 2.7 million surfers. More than 66 million people spend $26.5 billion each year in retail sales, according to a study by SIMA, which is headquartered in Orange County. As a comparison, global revenues for recorded music were $19.1 billion in 2018.

“The industry has seen incredible growth,” Smith says. “What started as equipment for surfers has become a cultural phenomenon. People around the world want a piece of the Southern California lifestyle.”

Of the surf industry’s Big Four brands, two call Irvine home – Billabong and O’Neill. More than 66 million people spend $26.5 billion annually in retail sales in the industry.

Industry evolution

Many of today’s major surf brands started in the beach cities of Orange County.

“As these brands grew,” Smith says, “they needed the infrastructure and order of Irvine’s business districts – something that was challenging to find on the coast.”

The surf culture has been a welcome addition to Irvine, according to Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce CEO Bryan Starr.

“They’re stoked to be here, and we’re stoked to have them,” he says. “They make our business environment even more dynamic and fun.”

O’Neill and Billabong were big winners at the 2018 SIMA awards. Here, Billabong’s team celebrates being named the Women’s Apparel Brand of the Year.

Economic powerhouse

Irvine’s business environment is one of the most diverse in California.

The city’s educated workforce, weather and SoCal location has attracted America’s top companies, from Mazda to Edwards Lifesciences to Blizzard Entertainment.

These companies create a citywide jobs-to-population ratio of nearly 100% while keeping taxes low, the parks maintained and the Police Department fully funded.

Irvine became an economic powerhouse by design, not by chance, according to Starr.

“More than 60 years ago, Irvine’s founders understood the genius of building a new city around a world class research university, UC Irvine.

This plan laid the foundation for Irvine’s evolution into a city of innovation and a magnet for diverse companies that provide quality jobs for residents.”