Longtime surfer Michael Donovan recently bought Con Surfboards of Lawndale, but his plans go well beyond Con's custom boards.

Through his company, Enth Degree Inc., Donovan plans to create a line of apparel around the locally known Con brand.


As such, he'll be riding a retail wave that has given L.A. County for years in the shadow of Orange County a greater share of the surfing industry market, at least for surf apparel.


There are no statistical breakouts, but anecdotal accounts, the spreading presence of surf gear on the shelves of major retail outlets and the emergence of companies like Hermosa Beach-based Body Glove International point to L.A.'s increasing clout in the surf sector.


And it's a growing sector. According to a recent study by the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association, sales in the surf industry nationwide driven mainly by apparel have increased about 15 percent from 2004 to 2006 to $7.48 billion.


"The surf industry has rooted itself strongly in Orange County," said Sean Smith, executive director of the group, "but at the end of the day, if you are going to focus more on surf fashion, that's happening in Los Angeles. Surf as a category of fashion has really just grown over the last few years. It isn't just for surfers anymore."


The OC is home to such well-established manufacturing/retail players as Quiksilver Inc. and Billabong USA. However, "the retail stores that sell surf apparel are every bit as strong in Los Angeles," said Nate Franke, a partner in consumer business at the Orange County office of Deloitte & Touche.


At Body Glove, sales of its primary product lines including wet suits and apparel are up between 9 and 12 percent in 2007 from 2006, said Scott Daley, vice president of marketing for the company, which is a surf manufacturer as well as retailer.


"The participation of Los Angeles residents in surfing has increased about 300 percent to 500 percent over the past 10 years," he said. "There is more interest in the L.A. consumer as opposed to a few years ago, and it is definitely driving business."


Body Glove is one of the larger surf companies in Los Angles County and, like others, it has been diversifying its product line to include things like shoes, baby carriers, and laptop cases in addition to wetsuits to attract a wider audience.


As the surf style continues to rise in popularity even among non-surfers, brands are increasing their offerings to include men's and women's apparel lines, accessories, sunglasses, watches, bags, and more. Companies nationwide like Pacific Sunwear, Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, and even J.C. Penny and Target, carry surf-inspired trends.


"I think California as a whole radiates the surf culture. People recognize it as a surf Mecca," Donovan said. "We see a niche right now that we want to get involved in."


That's why he bought Con, an older surf brand that's rooted in L.A. "We are taking it upon ourselves to become the steward of the brand, to build a clothing line around it and make it into a global brand," Donovan said.


Surf goes mainstream

In the last few years, exposure to the surfing culture has become widespread, analysts said. Television shows like the former WB's reality program, "Boarding House" and motion pictures like "Blue Crush" have caught mainstream viewers' attention and made the sport more accessible to women and families, Daley said.


News coverage of events like volleyball player Gabrielle Reece's marriage to surfer Laird John Hamilton and their move to Malibu, as well as coverage of Billabong's XXL Global Big Wave awards, have also boosted surfing into the national spotlight, he said.


The surfing lifestyle is becoming trendy, Daley said.


Dan Egan is the founder of a boarding company called IG Surfboards in Westlake Village. He shapes boards, but also has several retail stores.


"For a while, we were the only store within a 10 mile radius. Now there are probably 20 stores in a 20-mile radius selling surf apparel," he said.


In November, Santa Barbara-based Channel Island Surboards plans to open a flagship store along with Burton Snowboards on Melrose Avenue near Crescent Heights Boulevard in Los Angeles.


And some surf companies are trying to sell their trendy wares at boutiques like Fred Segal in L.A., said SIMA's Smith. But not everyone is so sure that the surf industry will continue to be so strong.


"My view is that nothing keeps rising on a consistent basis forever, but the market has been very strong," said Franke. "For a while everything in surf apparel was neon, it was short-lived but it was replaced by other styles."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.