6 surftreprenuers who’ve ridden the wave of success

For these surftreprenuers, their passion for the ocean has led to successful careers as the founders of innovative and lucrative businesses. Here, we take a look at six surfers who have literally ridden the wave of success to the very top of the billion dollar surf industry.

Nicholas Woodman

Kelly Slater is just one of GoPro's fans. Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Slater
Kelly Slater is just one of GoPro’s fans. Photo: Courtesy of Kelly Slater
Forbes recently estimated Nicholas Woodman’s wealth at $1.04 billion, which is not bad considering around ten years ago he was selling shells from his garage and taping a 35mm camera to his hand while surfing. Frustrated with his inability to take action photos of himself (and with the help of a loan from his mother) he started GoPro.

His invention (allied with slick marketing and on-point athlete endorsement) has created an army of amateur action sports photographers and made him the richest surfer the world has ever seen.

Dare Jennings

The Deus store in Byron Bay. Photo by Deus
The Deus store in Byron Bay. Photo: Courtesy of Deus
In his lifetime Dare Jennings has created two hugely successful brands and sold them for vast sums. He was the man behind Mambo, one of the biggest and most innovative brands throughout the 1990s. In 2002 he sold the company for an estimated $15 million.

Proving that lightening does strike twice, he then created Deus Ex Machina, a motorcycle and surf brand that has flagship stores in Sydney, Bali, Milan, Tokyo and Los Angles. On the eve of its tenth birthday he is now in advanced sale negotiations with L-Capital, the private equity arm and one of the world’s largest luxury goods companies.

“If you don’t stand for something you won’t stand out at all,” he recently told the Financial Review. “You’ve got to have a distinctive brand, philosophy or product. Take the risk, you have to take the risk, and back yourself.”

Bob Hurley

John John Florence, who rides for Hurley. Photo by WSL
John John Florence, who rides for Hurley. Photo: Courtesy of WSL
After starting Hurley Surfboards in the 1970s, Hurley acquired the Billabong license for America and transformed the brand into a cool, huge money spinning brand that was valued at $100 million by the late ’90s.

Instead of then cashing in on a public float, he left to start his own apparel brand named Hurley. In 2002 Nike bought the company, but kept Hurley to head the company’s operations. Since then he has piloted the company to become one of the biggest and most lucrative in the industry.

Matt Grainger

Matt Grainger, in the office. Photo Manly Surf School
Matt Grainger, in the office. Photo: Courtesy of Manly Surf School
Sydney’s Matt Grainger employs over 50 staff in peak times at his Manly Surf School. After a brief foray in competitive surfing followed by the completion of a University Degree, Grainger started the surf school and secured the only license to teach surfing on Australia’s second busiest beach.

Through hard work, good business acumen and a love of the ocean he has created a thriving and lucrative business, and one which still has him at the beach every day.

“If I ever whine just hit me on the head with a stick or something and say, ‘Wake up!’ he told the BBC recently. “Everyday I pinch myself that I’m doing what I love.”

Hayden Cox

Cox and a recent collaboration with Audi. Photo Haydenshapes
Cox and a recent collaboration with Audi. Photo: Courtesy of Haydenshapes
Despite leaving school at 16, the founder of Sydney-based Haydenshapes has created a global brand and, in the Hypto Krypto, one of the most popular surfboards of all time. He has recently signed worldwide distribution deal with Global Surf Industries, set up a custom factory and office facility in Los Angeles and has signed a book deal to author his first novel.

He now manufactures more than 18,000 boards a year from his factories in Sydney, Los Angeles and Thailand. Despite almost going bankrupt in the Global Financial Crisis of 2011, Cox has used an innovative mix of custom designed materials, modern construction methods and new age business acumen to become one of the youngest influencers in surfing today.

Yvon Chouinard

A recent advert for Patagonia. Photo by Patagonia
A recent advert for Patagonia. Photo: Courtesy of Patagonia
The head of clothing company Patagonia, the world renowned climber started the business after buying and selling rugby shirts in 1970. Over the years he developed a brand based on sound environmental practices and rugged, sustainably-sourced technical clothing. The combination has seen his net worth estimated be around $300 million.

His best selling book about the brand and his business practices called Let Them Go Surfing is seen as the tome to both creating a successful business and keeping your employees happy. Now, at age 77, Chouinard is as passionate about the environment and his business as ever and he continues to show the possibilities of mixing business with your lifelong passions.

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