The International Olympic Committee announced last week that surfing would be added as a sport in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Given the Southland’s affinity for shredding waves, it comes as little surprise that three attorneys from downtown-based Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton – one from Los Angeles, one from Orange County, and one from San Diego – were the legal stalwarts who helped bring the sport from rough-and-tumble pastime to mainstream event over the course of the last 25-odd years.

The saga began when now-retired Sheppard Mullin partner and surfing enthusiast Jim Mittermiller was introduced to La Jolla-based International Surfing Association President Fernando Aguerre in the late 1980s. Aguerre and his brother Santiago were the co-founders of what was, at the time, a small startup sandal company called Reef. Mittermiller became enamored of the siblings.

“At Sheppard Mullin there aren’t too many people that surf, but I did,” he said. “I met someone who knew the Reef brothers in the late ’80s and I thought it would be cool for the firm to represent them,” he said.

The Aguerre brothers’ sandal-slinging operation ultimately became Reef Holdings Co., which reported annual sales of around $75 million in the early 2000s before being bought by VF Corp. – owner of brands such as Vans, North Face, and Timberland – in a private 2005 deal.

In addition to the sandal venture, Fernando Aguerre was also busy getting the ISA off the ground as the official international body for surfing competitions. Mittermiller was pressed into service on this front as well – sometimes at odd hours of the night on issues involving local police in Ensenada, Mexico.

As the organization grew, two other Sheppard Mullin attorneys, intellectual property partner Carlo Van den Bosch and media rights partner Kelly Crabb, were brought in to offer assistance to the organization. Crabb, who also does work for the Olympics, helped the company restructure its corporate organization. The whole team worked to get the drug-testing policy for surf competitions up to Olympic standards.

While Mittermiller said their work contributed to surfing’s inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics, he gave the lion’s share of credit to Aguerre.

“We provided a support role, but it’s always been Fernando’s dream to see surfing at the Olympics,” Mittermiller said. “He’s worked really, really hard at it.”

On the Ball

You might have heard that professional football is coming back to Los Angeles, but the Rams aren’t the only sports team arriving in the region. Los Angeles is one of 16 cities slated to get a team as part of the nascent Professional Futsal League, according to owner Jeffrey Lenkov of downtown law firm Manning & Kass Ellrod Ramirez Trester. Lenkov, who is also a full-time practicing attorney, said the five-a-side, indoor soccerlike sport is “like a hockey game, but with a soccer ball.” Sanctioned through soccer’s international governing body, FIFA, the sport is played indoors on a hard surface that is roughly double the size of a basketball court.

“It’s a totally different experience than soccer,” Lenkov said. “There’s nonstop action the whole time.”

The sport is popular internationally both as a spectator sport and as a recreational activity played as an alternative to outdoor soccer. Started informally in South America in the 1930s, the Professional Futsal League estimates there are now 30 million futsal participants worldwide.

The league, which counts billionaire entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban among its co-founders, is still coming online with a slate of exhibition games being prepped for next year and a full season in 2018, according to Lenkov. The league also plans to hold a formal draft next year and Lenkov wants to bring on at least one female player for his squad, dubbed LAFutsalPFL.

“I’m not doing it without a female athlete on the team,” he said.

The experience has been thrilling so far, said Lenkov, who also commissioned a mockup of the team’s mascot, Goaliath.

“To see the league start at such an embryonic stage and to be a part of that is crazy,” he said.

Legal Landscape

Pasadena’s Long Law Group added veteran attorney and legal diversity consultant Cristina Hernandez as a partner to head up its newly formed litigation practice. … Eddy Klein has joined Santa Monica firm Murphy Rosen after 13 years at Westwood’s Liner. … Downtown-based Lim Ruger, one of the nation’s largest minority-owned firms, is rebranding as LimNexus on its 30th anniversary. Co-founder and Managing Partner John Lim cited the need to find a “balance of tradition and change” as the impetus for the firm’s name change.

Staff reporter Henry Meier can be reached at hmeier@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 221.

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