Abercrombie & Fish

The Quiksilver Indies Trader blends sex, surf and science

Courtesy if QuiksilverThe Quiksilver Indies Trader strikes an odd balance between genius marketing and ecological conservation. On one hand, you've got a boat crammed to the gunwales with surfers in search of unsurfed waves and docking at ports around the world to offer free surf camps and pass out Quiksilver accouterments. On the other, you've got a scientist from the UN-sponsored organization Reef Check onboard, gathering information and educating the public about conservation. Just think: some kid out there in the mountains of Panama is sporting a fab Quiksilver tee andhas the knowledge to protect his local environment.

Since its 1999 launch in Cairns, Australia, Traderhas located and surfed 115 world-class waves and called at ports in the South Pacific, Indonesia, the Maldives, South America and the Caribbean. The goals of the boat (according to the OC-based surfwear company) are to find surf, contribute to the environment, educate the public, and—my favorite—"have empathy for the local culture and customs." It's like StarTrek's prime directive.

As the festive 73-foot boat, decorated with an orange and blue Polynesian tattoo design, makes its maiden voyage up the West Coast, stopping at Dana Point and Newport Beach on the way, the marketing side of Quiksilver seems more obvious.

On one such promotional evening, I spend a couple of hours aboard the Traderfor some sushi and libations among various Quiksilver insiders; most are retailers who sell the product. As the boat cuts through the chop of Dana Point harbor, multimillion-dollar homes shimmering in the mist, I try to make small talk, but the retailers are fashionably cliquey. So I ditch the party and poke around the boat.

For a former salvage boat, the Tradersmells surprisingly decent—apart from the front bit where the deck hands sleep, which maybe needs a fan, and the WC, which emits a foul odor. I take a shine to the fuzzy dice hanging from the dash, the steering wheel salvaged from a Japanese WWII boat, the flat-screen TVs (bolted down, of course) and their superb DVD collection.

The wheelhouse offers excellent protection from the wind, so I take a seat on top of a sticker-covered mini-fridge and chat with the minions.

In OC, there aren't many coral reefs or kelp beds to speak of, so Bob Foster, the onboard scientist, has plenty of time to fill me in about life on the boat.

"It's interesting. You have 73 feet and up to 13 people. If you have personalities that clash, you are going to be aware of it," he says. But then Foster (who surfs) adds, "On the flip side, when you get out to that uncharted break and you are surfing these waves that have never been surfed before and you are with a few guys that are just stoked on the lifestyle—stoked on surfing—and you spend all day diving and exploring these habitats . . ." He goes all gooey.

Besides several pro surfers, the rest of the castaways are a motley crew, if "motley" means "Abercrombie & Fitch models." There's blue-eyed Captain Jay, who kindly points out to me that they can't sail on the brown parts of the GPS (land). There's the PR Girl, an Aussie with a lollipop accent and pretty blond-brown curls. And there are two plaything, 21-ish deck hands, with buzz cuts, who are strictly eye candy.

David Barnett, the original owner of the boat and token grown-up, appears at the helm to plot our course for the evening's cruise. Barnett used to salvage WWII shipwrecks for bronze propellers and condenser tubes. I like the look of him: watery eyes, grizzled face in a full beard of white, curly sheep's hair; he also seems endearingly hard of hearing. Add a pipe and he's good to go.

The pro surfers onboard, Hawaiians Reef McIntosh and Mark Healy, aren't talking to the guests either, so Foster corrals them into the wheelhouse. They love to surf-breathe-surf-watch the movie Anchorman-surf. Unfortunately, people like Kelly Slater get called in for the truly epic discoveries—the passengers have to sign a non-disclosure form to protect "secret spots"—but McIntosh and Healy find the combination of work, surfing and partying (the captain insists they bring their own beer onboard) exhilarating.

"This boat is all about surfing and surf lifestyle," Healy says. "You get a bunch of people out here, and you go enjoy life."

The guys are an interesting blend of intensity and frivolity. Like most elite athletes, when they speak about their sport they seem suddenly put together, like they've just had a CEO moment. "I can't leave Hawaii in the winter," Healy tells me firmly. Yet the two have an aw-shucks look about them. Neither enters many competitions, instead opting for photo spreads in magazines and surf videos. "It's more like an image thing," McIntosh says. "It's more just being really, really, really ridiculously good-looking."

I'm excited to finally get to ask a real pro surfer the question that has always disturbed me: Those women lounging around in bikinis at surfing competitions all oiled and at the ready . . . Who are they, anyway? What do they do? Do they have any identifiable function?

McIntosh and Healy start grinning. "Savage pro-hos," Healy says. "They grope you and offer you sexual favors in porta-potties." McIntosh hasn't heard of the porta-potty thing before, but he affirms the groping.

The male version of a pro-ho wants to hang out with them. "We call those bro-hos," he explains, and then imitates one: "Remember me!? I was surfing Pipeline with you! I hooted for you!"

Healy gets into it. "Remember me!? I hooted when you surfed that tube!"

Foster, who doesn't seem particularly interested in savage pro-hos, talks about the ecological disaster swelling toward the California coast these past 25 years. The loss of the sea otters left the urchin population unchecked, thereby depleting kelp beds—the habitat of many fish in our waters.

As the boat heads north this month, the Reef Check will teach locals to protect the environment by monitoring kelp beds and looking at fish diversity. Volunteers will enter their findings in a database posted online so everyone can follow the state of the sea. Apparently, this method of conservation is unusual, because developed countries usually approach environmental problems with federal regulation. But Foster swears that when the locals enter the game, the environment has the best chance for success.

"A couple of times in Panama we rocked up to a couple of beaches where they'd never seen surfing before," Foster says. "They'd actually cheer as you rode the wave into the beach, the whole village. It's a warm reception: they're happy to see you and pretty curious about how you are. At the same time, western man has gone into Latin America and screwed them pretty hard for the last 500 years, so they're pretty leery. That isn't a reflection on Quiksilver, but you would be, too."

The marketing tactics—the surfers, the waves, the adventure—may drive traffic to the ship's website (thecrossing.quiksilver.com). But once the surfers arrive, they may stay for the environmental lesson. The surfers admit they've caught Foster's enthusiasm for science. Not always by choice: "Oh, he'll corner you," Healy says. "You can quote me on that."

Follow the QuiksilverIndiesTraderat thecrossing.quiksilver.com.

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