Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Surfing [Print without images]

Monday, May 18, 2009
Updated: June 15, 1:06 PM ET
Merger Talks


So, I know there's a bit of a rumor going around the youth culture/action sports/industry insider/shred dog circles that sportswear mogul, Nike, is going to buy Burton Snowboards.

As it turns out, this is not true. But more on that later.

What I am interested in here is not only that an until-recently-non-endemic company is looking to buy a boardsports company, but that there is yet another buyout in the air. Let's remember that in February of 2006, Burton bought Channel Islands.

Jake Burton Carpenter, snowboarder, surfer, business man.

Back then, Al Merrick, who shapes boards for the best surfers in the world had this to say, "I'm very excited about this venture and what we can do together to advance surf technology and lead surfing into the future. Channel Islands' goal will continue to be focusing on producing the best surfboards in the world. Both Jake and I have a real passion for staying at the forefront of technology, innovation and design. In the future, I will continue to work in the same capacity that I have always worked in, designing and shaping surfboards."

That's sound; (and Jake has put those Merricks to good use on boat trips) one self-made business man making a deal with another and staying on for quality control. In all fairness, Burton has always made quality gear — high performance stuff that lasts. And it doesn't seem that Merrick has slipped at all in the last three years. The average thruster is still not as durable as it should be considering our collective environmental ethos as surfers, but that's shapers across the board, not just C.I.

Burton already has R.E.D., Anon, Alien Workshop, and Gravis. Keep in mind that in 2002, Nike bought Hurley. They also own Converse. If Nike were to buy Burton, they would then own Channel Islands. Does anyone else find this weird that through Burton and Channel Islands, Shaun White and Kelly would essentially be on the same payroll?

Could Kelly, Shaun White and Rob Drydeck all be on the same payroll?

I'm not saying there's anything fishy or ethically wrong with it. It's common knowledge that O'Neill, Lost, Metal Mulisha, and Rusty are all owned by The La Jolla Group. Bong owns Nixon, Element, VZ and Dakine. Volcom bought Electric. Matix and DVS are under the same roof of ownership and Quiksilver has a laundry list of smaller companies in its roster from skateboards to golf wear (golf is still lame.)

I'm not disrespecting Nike here. Since 6.0 came on the scene, they have been amazingly supportive of all branches of surfing. The recent Lowers Pro was a fantastic event by all accounts.

Don't think the irony of buyout talk coming from this medium is lost on me. We don't publish ESPN Surfing from a dorm room. We are part of ESPN Action Sports, run by ESPN and owned by Disney, who has New Line Cinema and ABC (the list goes on) But I can say that for surfing content, we add another outlet and additional perspective, as do the 58,000 independent surf news sites that have popped up this decade.

Burton? Nike? Is there enough Air under the same roof for both?

But is this conglomerating of the industry a sign of a weird future? What happens when Nike buys a company that owns three brands and (hypothetically) Reebok grabs Vans and its stable of companies? For one, it's going to make things more generic.

There will never be any lack of creative minds for product. Don't worry about that. You can always commission artists and hire design hipsters. You will still be able to get unique limited edition kicks with the emblazoned Velcro strap.

But the way in which they operate will come down to one or two models — neither of which resembles dudes hand-cutting Astrodeck pads out the back of Herbie Fletcher's shop.

Think about it. How difficult is it going to be for a grassroots garage company to get in the game? Was Action Sports Group (and now Source Interlink) owning both Surfer and Surfing Mags the best move for print surf media? Do you think bank mergers are good for small businesses? Wouldn't you like a third or fourth party running for president?

Think about it.

And to quell the rumors, Nike did not buy Burton. Apparently, the Swoosh didn't offer Jake the 150 gazillion and signature Jordans he wanted. But what does he care? He still has a quiver of Merricks and he's waiting for summer swell on Montauk.