Hurley’s Surf Team’s Great Migration

by stab January 29, 2020 8 min read

Yesterday, John Florence walked away from the largest sponsorship contract a surfer has ever penned, passing up a rumored $12 million for a $2mil payout to walk and explore new opportunities. 

Meanwhile, the lion’s share of Hurley’s former pride is free on the range and according to team managers, every single surf brand currently in the market has been approached by former Hurley surfers looking for new homes. 

In a small and connected industry, it’s open season on the details around how these deals are working. As of January 2nd, 2020, the days of secrecy and artificially inflated contracts are over. Friends work at opposing brands and most are negotiating from a place of desperation so conversations are very open and without any tricks.   

There are very few brands who have spare cash lying around to secure a big name surfer without serious planning and budgeting. 

Sources have revealed to Stab that what’s likely to happen is that surfers will take their Hurley contract kill fee, commit to surf for a new brand for the rest of 2020 (basically for free, in some cases), and start their financial relationship in 2021 and beyond. That way the surfer has income this year by way of their buyout and the brand can budget for the inclusion from their P&L in 2021 onward. 

Here’s where people are landing…

Kolohe Andino: As a teen prodigy from California, it was Kolohe, not John Florence, who was the next big thing from the US. 

Under the guidance of his management and father, Dino, Kolohe put together one of the smartest deals in surf history: Red Bull would be Kolohe’s primary sponsor; Nike would be the secondary sponsor (leaving the hat and nose of the board to Red Bull). The real mind-melter? The deal would be for 10 years. 

When Nike bailed on surf in 2013, Hurley inherited the $1.2m per annum deal (which evidently still has two years left on it). 

Like Julian Wilson, Kolohe was the marquee surfer from his continent. That was until John John Florence rolled into town and the volume was turned down on both Kolohe and Julian in Hurley’s marketing push. 

We reached out to Kolohe’s camp for comment but they declined. Given the options offered to other top-tier Hurley surfers, we would assume he has a kill fee offer like John and the other members of the troupe.   

Unlike some others, Kolohe has significant bargaining power: he’s still only 25 years old, he’s the highest-rated American on tour, and he has a spot in the Olympics. He’s also from California, which always helps come negotiation time. 

There are talks of both O’Neill and Quiksilver looking at Kolohe, two companies without big-name American surfers* on the roster.   

*if you consider Kanoa as being Japanese, and that Ian Crane is tremendously underrated.

Carissa Moore: After winning her fourth World Title, ‘Riss is taking 2020 off from the World Tour—and from occasional glimpses of her Mayhem’s in social media appearances she’s already taken off her Hurley stickers. 

Like Kolohe, Moore has some financial safety nets in place, most prominently in her not-insignificant marquee Red Bull deal. While we’ve heard from a few brands that Carissa has been shopping around, similar to John John it’s easy to imagine her trying to break* into the non-endemics after her sabbatical. 

*’Riss and Kolohe’s famous Target contracts notwithstanding. 

Lakey Peterson: Lakey is to Carissa what Kolohe is to John, and the two seem to be in a similar spot with their marquee clothing sponsor. 

There were talks of Lakey joining former Nike 6.0 teammate Malia Manuel on Lululemon, but as of this writing, like Brother, her contract is still intact, her stickers still visible, and her Olympic qualification still a lost cause. 

As painful as Honolua must have been for Lakey, her non-Olympic status might be a blessing in disguise, as she’s not at risk to breach her contract with Hurley re the Olympic endorsement laws (see yesterday’s story for more on that).

Brett Simpson: The two-time US Open champ is headed to the Tokyo Olympics as coach of Team USA and has retained his sponsorship with Hurley. 

Rob Machado: One of the first big grabs for the brand in 2002 from Gotcha, Rob Machado leaves Hurley after almost two decades on the team. 

He is still one of the most identifiable surfers on the planet, with a few best-selling Firewire collaborations under his belt. 

A few New York industry insiders tell us some international beach brands are discussing potentially working on a line with The Drifter, himself. 

Barron Mamiya: Barron was the next Hawaiian in line for the throne, a blue-blooded Hawaiian with a John John infused remix. 

His mastery at Pipeline, railwork at Sunset and consistent aerial prowess have set him apart. Barron likes luxury cars, and after locking his first serious contract, he went Audi shopping. 

RVCA had been eyeing Barron’s contract, which ended Dec 31, 2019, and locked him away, as a hope for the brand as a world tour surfer, as New Zealand’s Ricardo Christie fell off in 2019. 

Barron’s salary starts at $140k and juices heavily when he makes the tour and finishes in the upper echelon (with a top-end earning capacity of $650k annually). 


Eli Hanneman: Like Barron, who is also under the management of Shaun Ward, Eli’s Hurley contract expired at the end of 2019. Eli was recently voted as the world’s best junior in our recent Stab Surfer of the Year poll. 

As we said in the film above, there will be around three more minutes until Eli secures a sponsor; murmurs suggest Quiksilver will win the current bidding war.    

John John Florence: As we reported yesterday, John pulled the ripcord on his Hurley deal before even shopping around his 30 days to find an alternative sponsorship arrangement. More rides on John’s next decision than any of us think. As we reported, the world’s most marketable surfer sets the ceiling for everyone below him. His contract will be what everyone else is measured against. 

Another layer to consider is this: if John moves to a traditional endemic surf brand, he’ll essentially take food off other surfers’ tables. The surf industry isn’t as buoyant as it once was; if John signed with O’Neill, that would be a hit to Jordy. Billabong would mean Griff, Seth, and Italo feel the pain; likewise, Mikey Wright and Leo if he goes with Quiksilver.

“Whatever you say about John,” an industry insider told Stab this morning. “The rules just don’t apply. If Patagonia has a $500k ceiling to secure talent, that’s out the window if they want John. This guy is the anomaly and there’ll be surprises in whatever he does.”  

Julian Wilson: Apparently, the new owners of Hurley think the team is great—just, well, overpaid. And, that more conservative thinking is probably dead right.  

Julian Wilson is an iconic, highly marketable Australian surfer bound for the Olympics, whose current Hurley deal is up at the end of 2020 and there are no such desires to kick the father of two to the curb.  

It’s likely he’ll sign another two-year deal into 2021/22, however, it looks as though that two-year deal will be equal to his previous 12-month salary. 

There was talk of Julian working with Lululemon, but even with a 50% haircut in salary, our sense is that Julian will remain as Hurley’s marquee Australian surfer.    

Michel Bourez: Michel’s resume can’t be overlooked. He’s won every event in the Vans Triple Crown—something only three other surfers in history have achieved—he’s won a bunch of world tour events, and he’s confirmed to surf for France in the Olympic games this year. 

Michel was on the OG Nike 6.0 surf team that rolled into town back in 2009, which later switched to Hurley. Michel was dropped in the first round of Hurley cuts on January 2, 2020. 

The Tahitian has been firing his resume to various marketing directors’ inboxes but still currently remains unsponsored. “The fact you can pick up such quality surfers like Michel Bourez for well under $100k fucking boggles the mind,” says an industry insider.  

Reef Heazlewood: Reef was dropped by Billabong on December 31, 2018. In the weeks leading up to his dropping, Reef had his coming out party on the north shore of Oahu. He made some of the biggest airs ever landed at Rocky Point that caught on fire on Instagram.  

He then went on to win the Red Bull Airborne at Snapper Rocks* before being swooped up by Hurley in Australia. The deal remains intact until June 30, 2021. 

*(Official results have that as Italo Ferriera’s victory, but the final was won easily by Reef from where we were sitting.)

Koa Smith: With all the cuts, it would be easy to skim over Koa Smith’s tremendously marketable resume: a proper Influencer, a post-modern entrepreneur in the age of Self-Care, a breathtakingly handsome gent with an aspirational lifestyle, model girlfriend, and a track record for the longest pits every time Skeleton Bay turns on… 

Koa Smith is staying on with Hurley. The majority of team casualties have been surfers in the $300-$400,000 to $1million range, whereas Koa earns ¼ that and delivers exponentially more bang for his buck. 

Surfers of Koa’s ilk and positioning are a rare breed—low-maintenance, high-profile, Instagram famous, near-offensively beautiful, and thoroughly aware of how to keep sponsors happy: he does the work himself. 

While his business The Sunrise Shack grows exponentially year-on-year with stores opening around the world (they’re at 40 staff already), Koa will keep the Hurley logo on the tips of his Pyzels. Koa sits in that sweet spot that would be difficult for any new marketing director to scratch.  

Matahi Drollet: After consistently turning heads at Teahupoo the last few years, often in the same groundbreaking sessions at John John, Hurley swooped on the bronzed, stylish, and steely-nerved Tahitian a few years back, though the terms of his contract were never revealed. 

Matahi was handed his pink slip on January 2nd and took to social media to thank the brand for their support (and put out the feelers for new brands looking for the next Michel Bourez). 

Yadin Nicol: After nearly 15 years with Hurley, Yadin was handed his walking papers Jan 2nd with no explanation. One of Kai Neville’s generation of surfers who shined much more brightly in video clips than in a singlet, Yadin has shelved his ego and signed up for the surfing reality tv show, Ultimate Surfer.  

Filipe Toledo: There’s always a silver lining during these pivotal moments and this time, the Filipe Toledo timing is one of them. Filipe has had a rougher-than-usual run. He grappled with a back injury last year and was fighting for an Olympic spot against Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira. I mean, c’mon, you’re fighting the World #1 and #2, who both made the final of the Pipe Masters. 

There is no one better suited to the shifting beachbreaks of Chiba and sitting out surfing’s debut in the Olympics will be difficult for Filipe. The upside is that he’ll be doing it with a freshly-signed five-year, $600k-a-year contract to support his 450 family members. 

Kai Lenny: We reached out to Kai Lenny’s camp for comment and have heard nothing but the gentle sound of Peahi crickets since. Like Koa Smith, we sense that the new owners of Hurley see the value in Kai Lenny is the modern athlete. Kai is the archetypal professional, hard-working, punctual, well-mannered, and is comfortable shaping his own brand and media. He became famous as the outsider standup paddleboarder but Kai’s skill and commitment have silenced even the most critical naysayer.

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