Surf Expo got underway Thursday in Orlando with a backdrop of a major hurricane bearing down on Florida.
Before the show started, Surf Expo announced that Saturday, the third day of the show, would be cancelled because of the storm. Then on Thursday afternoon, Surf Expo decided to cancel Friday as well due to updated forecasts.
On Thursday, there were more people on the show floor then we expected, but most of the talk centered on the hurricane.
Lots of industry brands were on the show floor, but for many, more than half of their appointments had cancelled.
Salty Crew, for example, had 72 appointments booked and came to the show fully staffed. But as the storm updates developed, all but 18 retailers had cancelled. And appointments that had been scheduled for Friday, asked to move to Thursday, said Tom Ruiz.
Some Florida retailers made it to the show at least for the day, and then were heading home to prepare for the storm.
Bruce Cromartie of BC Surf & Sport, who is based in Ft. Lauderdale, flew in for the day for a few meetings and to show support for Surf Expo.
“I didn’t want to miss the show, and Surf Expo has been supporting this industry for a long time,” he said.
While his wife, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren evacuated to safer ground, Bruce and his three sons will stay in Ft. Lauderdale to keep an eye on the store and their houses.
BC’s five stores in South Florida have been very slow the last few days as people in the area focus on buying supplies like water, plywood and canned goods.
If the hurricane makes a direct hit on South Florida, there’s a potential for five of BC’s 14 stores to be impacted.
Bruce has lived in Florida his whole life and said this hurricane feels very different.
“It’s so powerful, so organized, and it’s coming in over the water,” he said. “Hopefully it’s not as strong as they are saying it could be.”
We did see several retailers at the show Thursday morning including Curl, 17th Street, Hi-Tech and HIC. We also heard that Ron Jon saw many brands at the show on Thursday.
After an absence at trade shows for a while, Hurley returned to the show, and even Bob Hurley came.
“I planned on coming before the hurricane, and I miss a lot of people out here that I haven’t seen in a couple of years and I came to see them,” Bob said. “It’s great to say hello and pick their brains.”
Mark Simpson of Hurley said a lot of appointments had been cancelled but they still saw a surprisingly large amount of people.
“Mark said five minutes after the show started that it had already been worth it,” Bob Hurley said.
Brand executives were understanding about the challenges retailers and Florida reps were experiencing.
Quiksilver’s Ted Li said about 70% of the brand’s appointments had cancelled, and some Florida reps had stayed home. Gasoline was becoming a scarce commodity, and highways were snarled with evacuation traffic in some parts of the state.
Reps did not want to drive to Orlando and burn precious fuel they may need in coming days.
In fact, Quiksilver sent a bunch of empty gas cans to a rep in Florida via FedEx because all the gas cans are sold out at local stores.
“We just want to make sure everyone is okay, and that hopefully all our retailers come out okay and can get back to business,” Ted said.
It wasn’t just retailers from Puerto Rico, Mid-Atlantic, the Carolinas and Florida that cancelled trips. Accounts from Texas, New York and other parts of the country also cancelled because they were worried about getting stuck.
A contingent from Hawaii came to the show, and some that had tickets to fly out Sunday were worried about getting home. As the storm approached, changing flights became increasingly difficult. The storm is predicted to hit central Florida Sunday and Monday, and some are estimating it could be Wednesday before flights resume.
Kim Ball of Hi-Tech was due to fly out Sunday and was unable to change his flight to leave earlier. So he and his team of three employees are driving to Dallas, then are catching a flight to Hawaii from there.
Sanuk VP/GM Magnus Wedhammar and his team visited Florida retailers Wednesday, with the last stop in West Palm Beach in South Florida.
When they headed back to Orlando, a drive that usually takes two and a half hours, they found themselves in crazy traffic for six hours.
More than 50% of Sanuk’s appointments cancelled and many reps did too. I asked Magnus why they decided to come to the show given the circumstances.
“We want to support Surf Expo and the industry and backing out doesn’t seem like the right thing to do,” he said.
Katin got lucky in some ways, and used creativity. Their booth got stuck in Dallas due to a shipping snafu. So Dale Rhodes improvised, and borrowed clothing racks, used the Florida rep’s sample lines, and went to Wal-Mart and bought kitschy beach chairs and accessories.
“We are more concerned about the people that are going to be impacted,” he said. “Rather than sitting around and getting mad and frustrated, we are going to have fun, seize the moment and support.”
Dimitri Kjos, the Florida rep for Stoke House, Richer Poorer, and Catch Surf, lives in South Florida. He was at the show with a smile on his face and appeared to be very calm.
He and his family had evacuated to Orlando, with plans to spend a few days at a hotel near the convention center and a few more at one at Disney.
The drive up to Orlando had taken them nearly eight hours – it usually takes three. Along the way, it was hard to find gas. He stopped at 10 gas stations before he was able to fill up.
“I talked to my friends in the Caribbean who rode out the storm, and they said it was the gnarliest thing they had ever seen,” he said. “I’m glad I am in a safe place, and the kids are super happy.”
Surf Expo Show Director Roy Turner said the situation has been challenging, especially since booths start arriving and the set up wheels start turning more than a week ahead of the show. It’s unfortunate the show was cut short, but safety of all involved is a top priority, he said.
Roy was heartened that so many brands still showed up.
“The fact that so many brands are here, and are supporting is a bold statement,” he said.
The amazing thing is that Surf Expo has never had to shorten its schedule before despite hosting the show during hurricane season.
“This is the first time in 40 years,” Roy said. “At the end of the day it’s just unfortunate. But safety is more important than anything.”
Editor's note: SES is sending our best wishes to all of our friends in Florida and on the East Coast during the storm!