Tom Curren, logoed at Rincon while his son observes.
After 11 faithful years of sponsorship with OP and Rip Curl, their logos constantly displayed on his surfboards, Tom Curren appeared in Hawai’i in November 1991 with a stickerless 7’3” Maurice Cole thruster on which he proceeded to blow minds and ultimately win his first Hawai’ian event, the Wyland Galleries Hawai’ian Pro at Haleiwa.
“It said a lot about where Tom was in his life at the time,” said David Pu’u, Curren’s lifelong friend, who was there at Haleiwa. “He was definitely headed in a different direction.”
So, wait: no logos on his board? The reigning world champion? On the high-profile North Shore, no less, and at the first contest of the Triple Crown?
“If you think about it long enough, it’s pretty strange to have corporate logos on a board…when the surf industry tries to stop the shaper from having a logo on his board,” Curren told journalist Derek Hynd shortly after the contest. “The shaper in general gets a raw deal, and it shouldn’t be that way.
“What professionalism is now is advertising space on a surfboard. I want to utilize the power of suggestion rather than a billboard style, and that’s what I’m trying to get across. I now see my promo value for OP and Rip Curl in surf movie footage, and we’re looking forward to it. If that happens, then you don’t want to see a billboard constantly in your face. You want to express escapism—getting away. You want to make the message more subtle, without constant reminders of who’s paying for it.”
OP’s CEO and founder Jim Jenks was having none of Curren’s rhetoric, as explained in a letter he had published in a surf magazine shortly thereafter:
“We never ask a surfer to delete or omit his shaper’s logo…we do ask, though, that he live up to the terms of his contract…A pro athlete cannot expect to take money for something like logoing a board, and then decide mid-stream that he doesn’t want to hold up his end of the bargain….Our return can’t be via the mere ‘power of suggestion’…and it is time for the handful of ‘pro’ surfers who are embarrassed to be pros to just say no to the endorsement checks and prize money and stop trying to live off an industry they so disdain.”
Interestingly, a few weeks after the contest, Curren went exclusive with Rip Curl, creating the richest contract in surfing at that time: a five-year, $2 million deal. He committed himself promotionally to Rip Curl’s “The Search” campaign, the ensuing films and articles showcasing the enigmatic Curren surfing masterfully in far-flung, exotic places.
But never on a logoless board, of course.