The U.S. surf/skate industry saw $6.07 Billion in retail sales for all channels in 2012. Results from the 2012 Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) Specialty Retail Distribution Study, a third-party research study conducted by the Leisure Trends Group (LTG) and commissioned by SIMA, show core product categories holding strong as specialty retailers remain optimistic about the future.

The 2012 SIMA Specialty Retail Distribution Study focuses on a detailed look at the core surf and skate specialty retail market. This core channel captured $1.46 Billion in sales in 2012, with specialty retailers driving surf and skate sales across the country.

“The overall goal of the 2012 SIMA Specialty Retail Distribution Study is to present a multi-dimensional picture of the U.S. surf/skate retail industry, individually and collectively, so that SIMA member companies can objectively evaluate their categories, develop strategies for future sales and product development, and understand where opportunities exist,” said Doug Palladini, SIMA President and Vice President & General Manager, Americas, for Vans. “We pushed the reset button this year with the study to better refine the methodology used in qualifying surveyed stores, so the 2012 study will serve as a new benchmark for future studies as SIMA continues to strive to be an important source of trending data for its members. Conducting industry research is one of the most valuable roles of a trade association, and we encourage our members to utilize SIMA’s reports in their businesses.”

While the release of the 2012 SIMA Specialty Retail Distribution Study marks the publication of SIMA’s fifth report, a slight change in the methodology this year precludes comparisons and trending between the 2012 report and previous studies. The change in methodology was made to better focus on the core specialty channel exclusively, raising the threshold of surf/skate sales for independent retailers and eliminating chain stores from the survey. To qualify for the study in 2012, all stores had to have at least 50% of their overall operation’s sales come from surf and/or skate products to qualify. The study will also now be conducted annually, providing valuable data on sales and trends to the surf industry on a more regular basis.

While data cannot be directly compared to SIMA’s previous studies, one overriding theme remained consistent: the surf/skate industry is a lifestyle driven by passion, not a passing trend. Dedicated surfers and skaters loyal to these sports continue to purchase at specialty retail, even in tougher times. Industry sales in 2012 were led by surf/skate equipment sales (contributing $439 Million combined); surf/skate men’s apparel ($202.5 Million) including boardshorts; and surf/skate footwear ($225 Million) including men’s and women’s shoes and sandals.

“The passion for the surf culture is as strong as ever,” continued Palladini. “Even in more challenging times, core surfers and skaters continue to frequent specialty retail for items crucial to participation, such as surf/skate equipment, apparel, boardshorts, and footwear. The desire to be part of the surf lifestyle continues to help drive sales.

In the surfboard category, stand up paddleboard (SUP) sales made a strong showing. Stand up paddleboards account for 22% of surfboard dollar sales in 2012, higher than hybrids at 21% (i.e. fish, eggs, fun boards), but with shortboards (31%) and longboards (26%) accounting for the most surfboard dollar sales.

“The strong showing of SUP sales illustrates the expanding influence of surf into river and lake communities and other new demographics,” said Shea Weber, Chairman of the SIMA Board Builders Committee and President of Dewey Weber International. “It will be interesting to chart the growth of this category in future SIMA studies, as well as keep an eye on the dozens of other new shapes and technologies emerging in the board building industry.”

The 2012 SIMA Specialty Retail Distribution Study cites that on average specialty retailers have been in business for 17 years.  Data also shows that 73% of all surveyed specialty retailers use a point of sale system, and 35% have also taken to the web by currently offering catalog or Internet sales to customers.

(Graphs, photos and interviews available upon request.)