When you think of the brand Billabong what springs to mind? For many of us it is technical boardshorts and wetsuits, or massive billboards showing Joel Parkinson in a barrel along with the slogan “I surf because…”.
Many associate Billabong with hardcore chargers – Parko represented style, Taj represented performance and Andy represented attitude. Billabong was the nemesis to Kelly Slater’s clean-cut Quiksilver image. Their crew were errant wave warriors, more likely to be drinking beers on a boat trip in Indo than taking life too seriously.
As surf brands began to feel the pinch in the last two decades, things changed at Billabong. With the passing of Andy and global economic volatility, the brand, along with many others, began to stutter. But Billabong is still with us today. The focus has shifted and they’ve forged unlikely partnerships with everyone from Dr Seuss to Metallica. Surf photographer Chris Burkard is now one of their leading ambassadors.
Billabong may be different and they may have been absorbed into a super-conglomerate that includes their arch-enemy Quiksilver – but they remain one of the most loved and respected brands in surfing.
Table of Contents
History of Billabong
Billabong International started at the kitchen table in Gordon and Rena Merchant’s small, rented apartment on the Gold Coast of Australia. In 1973, the husband and wife team began to sew and sell knee length Board shorts designed for the rigors of surfing. The Merchants sold their Board shorts to surfing shops on the Gold Coast on consignment for A$4.50 per pair, selling A$5,000 in merchandise the first year in business.
The immediate success of the product and retailer demand persuaded the Merchants to give a name to their company and to add labels inside the Board shorts in 1974. They chose the name “Billabong” because of its uniqueness to Australia, being the aboriginal word often used to mean “oasis.” They developed the Wave device logo to create a recognizable representation of the business.
The business continued to grow and Billabong opened its first factory, a 1,000 square-foot space in 1975. By 1977, annual sales reached A$100,000. That year the company failed to get a business loan, but the following year Billabong obtained its first bank loan of A$7,500, allowing the company to relocate to a larger, 7,500 square-foot production facility. With continued innovation and new products designed for the needs of surfers and beachcombers throughout Australia, Billabong reached the milestone of A$1 million in annual sales in 1981.
Billabong International Limited (Billabong) is an Australia-based wholesaler and retailer of apparel, accessories and sport goods primarily in board sports sector. The company, through its subsidiaries, sells its products in Australia and overseas from directly operated and franchised stores, and proprietary websites.
Billabong offers its products under several brands, including Billabong, Element, Surf Dive, Rush, Amazon, Honolua, Quiet Flight, and Two Seasons. The company sells its products through directly operated and franchised stores around the world. It operates in Europe, North America, and Asia-Pacific. Billabong is headquartered in Burleigh Heads, Australia 2. Board riders and wannabes can buy the firm’s gear at specialty sport stores and at Billabong stores in more than 100 countries.
Driven By a surfer’s Desire
The iconic Australian surf and lifestyle brand Billabong was started in humble beginnings by Gordon Merchant. The name Billabong is derived from the Wiradjuri word bilabaŋ, which translates to ‘creek that runs only during the rainy season,’ and captures Gordon’s early days where he was found chasing the waves. Throughout his time as a surfer, Gordon created breakthrough inventions that helped shape the everyday surfer.
Gordon not only developed a surfboard that featured a tucked-under edge, a detail that helped Michael Peterson and Rabbit Bartholomew become surfing champions, but also developed the first leg-rope.
Following this, in 1973, Gordon and his then-partner Rena started producing handmade boardshorts. Making use of a unique triple-stitching technique designed to withstand even the toughest elements, this durable garment was an instant hit amongst the locals.
Gordon steadily established and built the brand until his home became too small to contain the success. He moved into a modern factory and warehouse in West Burleigh, and the Australian Surfing Industry took note of his ‘desire to produce the highest quality, best-cut boardshort on the market.
Billabong was first exported abroad to California, Japan, Europe, and New Zealand in the ’80s. Gordon established international licenses for Billabong that were up to his tough standards, and surrounded himself with experts in the surfing industry. With surfers such as Wayne Bartholomew, Joe Engel, Taj Burrows, and Ronnie Burns wearing the brand, Billabong enhanced its credibility and worldwide reach.
Important milestones in Billabong’s history
In January, the company was bought by Quicksilver for US$155 million.
In April, the company renewed its long-term partnership with SurfAid to launch the SurfAid September.
In May, The John Frieda Beach Blonde hair care team collaborated with Billabong to create ultimate summer beach life.
In June, the company expanded its brand presence in core surf sector in the US.
In June, Billabong sold its Sector 9 to Bravo Sports, a company of Transom Capital Group, valued at $12 million.
In June, Billabong was named both Men’s and Women’s Brand of the Year for the second successive year at the Australian Surf Industry Awards.
In March, Billabong International raised USD17.03 million through private placement of shares.
The company entered into a binding documentation to sell its 51% stake in SurfStitch and entire ownership of Swell.com to a consortium of investors.
In January, Billabong received a second takeover proposal from a U.S. private equity and retail consortium that matches an AUD556m bid by its U.S. boss Paul Naude.
In February, the company entered into definitive agreement with Trilantic Capital Partners (TCP) to establish a joint venture to accelerate the growth of the Nixon brand globally.
In April, the company sold 51.5% of Nixon, a leader in the premium watch and accessories action sports market. The company now holds the remaining 48.5% in the brand.
In September, Billabong completed the acquisition of Sydney-based retailer Surfection, a business previously operated under a joint venture between the Billabong Group and interests associated with retailer Chris Athas.
In July, the company acquired progressive apparel brand RVCA.
In November, Billabong completed the acquisition of the assets of Queensland-based retailer Rush Surf.
In November, Billabong completed the acquisition of the Sydney-based Surf Dive ‘n’ Ski and Jetty Surf retail stores.
The company acquired portfolio of Australian retail assets from the General Pants Group and associated parties.
In June, the company entered into a definitive acquisition agreement with West 49 Inc., a leading Canadian specialty retailer of apparel, footwear, accessories and equipment related to the youth action sports lifestyle.
In May, Billabong entered into an agreement to acquire the Southern California surf retailer Becker Surf and Sport.
The company acquired shares in swell.com and surfstitch.com online businesses.
The company acquired Sector 9, a premium Southern California-based skateboard brand.
The company acquired the retail operations of Quiet Flight, which was one of the key retail partners of the company in the US.
The company acquired the US-based DaKine premium boardsport accessories brand.
The company acquired the US based wetsuit and water-sport accessories brand, Xcel and Tigerlily.
Billabong acquired California-based premium watch and accessories boardsports company Nixon.
The company acquired New Zealand’s largest surf retailer, Amazon surf retail chain.
Billabong entered into a joint venture with airport-based surfwear retailer Beachculture.
Billabong acquired the Honolua Surf Company and Kustom surf shoes.
Billabong acquired skate-clothing manufacturer Element and brand Von Zipper.
The company entered into the South American market.
The company was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
The company expanded its operations and entered into the European markets.
The company started its international operations.
Billabong was established.
Source: GlobalData, 2018
Notable people involved in Billabong
President – The Americas Operations, Director
Chief Executive Officer, Managing Director, Director
Director, None – Company Secretary
General Manager – Asia Pacific
General Manager – Europe
Chief Financial Officer – Group
President – Element Skateboards, Billabong USA
Non Executive Board
Non Executive Board
Non Executive Board
Non Executive Board
Non Executive Board
Non Executive Board
Non Executive Board
Non Executive Board
Source: Canadean, 2014
Company mission, vision and values
What does the company believe in?
Billabong used to have a unique Australian twist on a belief that if you had a board in your life, it was better; whether that was a surfboard or a skateboard or a snowboard didn’t matter, but if you had a board in your life, it was a better life. And I don’t see that coming through everything that they do anymore.
The Company Today
Who is the CEO?
Boardriders Inc., the parent of Quiksilver, Billabong, Roxy, DC Shoes, RVCA, Element, and VonZipper brands, announced that Arne Arens will be joining the company as its incoming CEO, effective March 2021. Before the acquisition by Boardriders Inc in 2018, since 2013 Billabong had appointed Neil Fiske as its CEO.
Billabong’s Financial Summary
2018 Sales (Actual)
Total Employee (Headquarter)
Billabong’s ofice is still just down the road on the Gold Coast, Australia, where it all began. Now, with major operations also in Irvine, California and Hossegor, France the Group’s brands are available across 100 countries and our team con- sists of over 4,000 people globally.
Billabong USA: 5600 Argosy Circle, Bldg 100, Huntington Beach, CA 92649
Do they have a foundation / non-for-profit arm?
The Billabong Foundation
The billabong Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to benefiting and enhancing the quality of life for communities of boardriders across the world by supporting environmental, educational, health and youth-related projects. The Foundation commenced activities as a 501(c)(3) private foundation in October of 2004. With offices in Europe, Australia and America, billabong has the capability of touching people worldwide. billabong has the vision of making a difference to community and environment through the billabong Foundation.
The billabong Foundation has a commitment to improving the quality of all our lives. Local communities, including schools, churches and local charities through support and outreach programs; major special projects and organizations sharing our focus on children, education, science, oceans and the environment. For nearly three decades, billabong has been a leader in providing charitable support that has enabled boardriders’ communities around the world to benefit education, the environment, scientific research and a variety of related causes.
Today, the billabong Foundation has been formed to continue the charitable endeavors of the company throughout the world. From its office at billabong’s Headquarters in Huntington Beach, California, the billabong Foundation is in coordination with the company’s global offices in Asia, Australia, Europe and across the world.
Billabong has been a proud partner of the Surfrider Foundation for over a decade. We have worked with them to move our mission of protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches forward. A reflection of our partnership was the Recycler boardshort collaboration series, 87% of the boardshort was made from recycled polyester and every Billabong product shipped with a hangtag describing Surfrider’s mission statement. Millions of people have seen our mission as a result and we look forward to bringing the partnership heritage into new heights through the Surf Industry Coastal Defenders program.
The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches, for all people, through a powerful activist network.
Which products do they specialize in?
Billabong offers a wide range of clothing and accessories for men, women, and children designed for surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding. Its major offerings include eyewear, wetsuits and hardgoods for surfing, skating and snowboarding. The apparel and accessories include boardshorts, filthy habits t-shirts, t-shirts, walkshorts, singlets, polos, shirts, walkshorts, denims, fleece, bags, footwear, headwear, goggles, wallets and other related products. The company sells products through its ecommerce site, www.billabong.com. It distributes products through specialized boardsports retailers and through the company’s own branded retail outlets. It markets products association with high profile professional athletes, junior athletes and events.
In the News
Any mainstream news articles referencing the brand?
Beachwear buyout: Quiksilver is merging with Billabong (CNN, 2018)
Chris Burkard is an award-winning photographer/director and new Billabong Ambassador in 2020. He has 3.6 million followers on Instagram, while Billabong official Instagram account has 2.1 million followers.
Any interesting quotes from executives or ambassadors?
If I had to say my entire life goal in one sentence, it would be to tell meaningful stories.
Chris Burkard – Billabong’s Ambassador
Do they produce any eco-friendly products or have a sustainability focus?
In 2020, Billabong released a new range of wetsuits, all lined with the breakthrough (and Nobel-prize winning) material graphene, AND made with “Recycler” tech — meaning the graphene is infused with 100% P.E.T. recycled fibers. On every suit in the range, from the Furnace to the Revolution to the Absolute. Scott Boot – longtime Global Director at Billabong Wetsuits – claimed that the new range were infusing the liner of the suit with graphene, with some really nice improved foams on the inside. All of this comes together, and it’s a much cleaner product than we’ve ever had — without any sort of performance decrease.
Billabong’s new Furnace Natural, for instance, is the most sustainable wetsuit they make, and, perhaps, the most environmentally friendly suit on the planet. Made with CICLO® fibers (which reduces plastic microfiber pollution and accumulation in landfills), new and improved YULEX natural rubbers (sourced from FSC certified farms), and infused with 100% recycled fibers, The Natural has surely set a new benchmark in wetsuit ethics.
The Furnace Natural suits have CICLO-technology built into them. And what CICLO-technology is, is an enzyme that’s added to the jerseys of the suit inside and outside. Because of the enzyme, when you bury one in a landfill, it will degrade. It’s a world’s first. There’s never been a wetsuit that’s had this in it before. So, essentially, the suit won’t degrade on your body as you’re wearing it. It’s only when you bury it in landfill, that those enzymes act like natural fibers and start to break down. We’ve had some tests, down in some little pods for about 18 months, and we’ve seen about 83% degradation.
Chris Burkard x Billabong Adventure Division: Arctic Collection
Chris Burkard x Billabong Adventure Division: Desert Collection
GULUUN GARAALA (Rain In the Cloud) | Billabong Gallery x Otis Carey
Introducing the Furnace Natural | Billabong Wetsuits
Campaigns and Partnerships
Are they doing anything interesting in terms of campaigns or partnerships?
Campaign – Billabong held Billabong’s Fourth Annual Wetsuit Weartest. The newest line has been sent to select testers around the world, who’ll be documenting the various suits’ performance in all kinds of cold water, from pretty chilly to downright frigid. Billabong will present their findings in January 2021.
Partnership – Metallica x Billabong collaboration in 2019: Thrash metal titans Metallica have now expanded their clothing collaboration with surf brand Billabong LAB, drawing inspiration from more of their biggest albums, including 1991’s Metallica (the Black Album). A version of the clothing range was launched in March, focusing on design work from 1986 classic Master Of Puppets, but now the expanded range includes a Black Album Wetsuit and Ride The Lightning Board Shorts, among other sick Metallica pieces. Metallica first joined forces with Billabong LAB back in 2007, with a later 2019 collaboration focusing on clothing and accessories inspired by artwork from the band’s early albums, plus original concept art by Brian Schroeder (aka Pushead).
Partnership – Billabong was celebrating the grand reopening of its flagship store at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach on December 1, 2018. In addition, Billabong is partnering with the Hawaiian-owned, Moniz Family Surf School, which will operate out of the new location. This new business endeavor demonstrates how global brands can work together with local businesses to provide authentic experiential retail experiences for its customers while also benefitting the communities they operate in.
Partnership – Billabong x Sincerely Jules: Highlights Influencer Power. For anyone questioning the power of influencer marketing, Billabong’s collaboration with Sincerely Jules blogger Julie Sarinana serves as a good case study. The Irvine surfwear-inspired brand, part of Huntington Beach-based Boardriders Inc., revealed its first collaboration collection with the blogger last year (2019) and it proved a hit. It turned out to be the most successful collaboration in Billabong Women’s history, notching a 50% sell-through online in its first week of sales.