In a long, impassioned letter on his Facebook page, Kelly Slater announced yesterday that he's leaving Quiksilver, his sponsor for the past 23 years. Although there has been much Internet skepticism over the timing of the letter—why make such a big announcement so close to April 1?—his publicists at Fresh and Clean Media have confirmed the move.
The 42-year-old Slater will be starting his own apparel brand, one that focuses on "clean living, responsibility, and style." To do that, he'll partner with the Kering Group, a luxury goods company that owns Gucci and Saint Laurent, among others, and recently began acquiring sports brands such as Puma, Volcom, and Electric.
"The partnership will be a multilayered relationship," said a Kering spokesperson, "with Kering supporting Kelly Slater in the launch and the development of his own apparel brand ... [and] Slater being an ambassador for Kering and involved with certain initiatives at the Group, notably related to sustainability, and some of its brands."
Slater's move can be looked at as another step in professional surfing's march toward the mainstream. In the past few years, other nonendemic brands such as Target and Nike have sponsored elite surfers (though Nike recently shrugged its surf team onto its subsidiary Hurley); ZoSea Media, a company headed by a former NFL exec, bought the Association of Surfing Professionals; and a media rights deal allowed for contest highlights to be broadcast on ESPN. No matter what happens to professional surfing in the next few years, it's likely safe to say that Slater will be leading the way, in and out of the water.
Here's the full text of Slater's announcement:
There is little I can say that would give the credit due or cover the debt of gratitude I feel on a personal and professional level to Quiksilver. As a brand and on a human level, they have been a part of my life, career, and personal relationships for more than 23 years now, well over half my life. They’ve supported me through good times and bad, personal hardships and competitive triumphs, and never wavered in backing my choices and desires in all that time.
Under the tutelage of Bob McKnight, Bruce Raymond, Alan Green, Pierre Agnes, and Danny Kwock (and many others), Quiksilver signed me to a 100% sponsorship deal in 1990, finishing up my amateur career and guiding me into my professional life and adulthood. Having their support group around the world allowed me to create a life I only dreamt of as a child … making a documentary (Kelly Slater in Black and White) about the start of my professional career, going on boat trips and small charter planes to remote locations I’d likely never see, taking long car rides and promo tours to places I’d otherwise never visit, doing film trips to tropical islands few people have ever seen, etc. There could have been no better partner for me to have than Quiksilver.
The memories I have of joining the team and becoming like brothers with my heroes and team riders Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones and making lifelong friendships with Stephen Bell and others has fulfilled my life exponentially. There aren’t enough pages or words to express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation for the experiences that have come from this relationship we’ve shared together. So it is with a heavy heart and a lifetime of positive memories that I move in a new chapter of my life.
As I contemplate the amazing opportunities I’ve had in life and the amount of good fortune I’ve encountered along the way, I’m excited to announce today that I’m embarking on a new journey. For years I’ve dreamt of developing a brand that combines my love of clean living, responsibility, and style. The inspiration for this brand comes from the people and cultures I encounter in my constant global travels and this is my opportunity to build something the way I have always wanted to.
So I am excited to tell you that I’ve chosen the Kering Group as a partner. They share my values and have the ability to support me in all of my endeavors. I look forward to exploring all of the new opportunities this partnership will provide, but this hasn’t happened by chance, nor has it happened without an incredible amount of work by a few key individuals. As I embark on this new journey, I am sticking to my gut instincts and the belief that your dreams can become reality with the right intentions. I look forward to sharing more about it soon …
Update; April 2, 2014:
In a post-heat interview yesterday at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, the second stop on the ASP World Tour, Slater explained the timing of the announcement:
"My contract was signed April 1 five years ago, and that's why it ran out on that day, so that was why there was funny timing. I wasn't trying to mess with anybody. It just was the way it was. And I was going to surf this contest without logos, that's why we had to talk about it on that day."