Spending USA

Orange County has a crapload of stuff that makes it unique. A library that pays homage to the greatest former president ever—Dick Nixon. A Lego-like tract-house explosion that's a clear sign of progress and vision. Churches with breathtaking ocean views in every coastal neighborhood. And, naturally, we all have beautiful teeth.

Add to that sanitized picture the subculture of surfing, and it's no wonder OC is more mega-, hyper-, bercool than anywhere else on the planet. How cool are we? We're so cool we're about to export our coolness to the rest of the world. Well, the surfing part of it, at least, through the new Universal Pictures release Blue Crush, a smartly shot flick about fearless women surfers conquering Oahu's North Shore.

While the film is set in the soul center of surfing (Hawaii), the sport's pocketbooks are concentrated in OC. As a result, local-industry suits have dreams of mountains of Middle America cash dancing in their heads.

"This is exactly what we needed, especially in light of the current recession," says Surfing Group publisher and longtime industry veteran Peter Townend. "The movie romanticizes the surfing lifestyle, and that alone can make people around the country think that the surf apparel we make is happening and cool."

The sand work has already been laid.

"Skateboarding and other alternative sports have been getting major play on TV for years now," Townend says. "All the while, surfing has been largely left out. Now we finally have a chance of getting the national play we've been looking for."

Especially among girls. Women shop at least twice as much as guys, who are generally content with a banged-up surfboard and garage-sale-acquisitioned wetsuit. The purchasing power of wahines is precisely what Irvine-based Billabong USA, whose girls' line accounts for one-third of its overall biz, hopes to capitalize on by outfitting the stars of the movie.

"The partnership with the film will definitely open many doors," says Candy Harris, Billabong juniors brand manager. "It's going to help our athletes and generate widespread recognition of the brand."

Jessica Trent Nichols, the company's juniors division marketing manager, stokes the pre-release fire even higher.

"I believe it's going to be the biggest thing in our industry ever," says Nichols, who has a cameo in a key final scene of Blue Crush. "The industry cannot push our sport by itself, and to get this level of national and international exposure is huge."

Huntington Beach-based Quiksilver, whose woman's brand Roxy is expected to generate $130 million in sales in 2002, also plans to cash in on the trend. According to marketing director Amy Grace Patrick, Roxy, which domestically accounts for almost half of Quiksilver's total revenue, will take advantage of surfing's exposure to the Midwest to increase the brand's presence there. "We're definitely looking into those markets," she says. "We want those girls to feel and live the West Coast lifestyle."

Besides helping out giants Roxy and Billabong, Blue Crush should also induce smaller surf brands to join the market, according to Kathleen Gasperini, a market researcher for Label Networks. Local companies that fail to invest in women's surfing following the movie's release may be bummed out, she intimated.

"Manufacturers should look into launching woman's surf lines," she says. "They know women shop more, and they know their clothing margins are much higher than surfboard sales. Besides, 80 percent of household purchasing decisions are made by women anyway."

So Blue Crush may prove great for the local surf industry, but what about local surfers? Won't all this movie madness make the Huntington Beach lineup even more crowded than it already is?

"It'll probably popularize the sport I love, and there'll certainly be more people in the water," admits the movie's director, John Stockwell. "But at least they'll all be girls."

Edwards "The Big One" Megaplex in Irvine hosts special appearances by Blue Crush star Sanoe Lake and Billabong Surf Team member Belen Connelly and other activities. Sun., noon-4 p.m. Free.


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