IN THE KNOW with Nick Russell of Rip Curl

January 18, 2022 | KNOWSHOW

Growing up on the Northern beaches of Sydney and receiving his first Rip Curl wetsuit for his 9th birthday, Nick always had a strong connection to the Rip Curl brand.

Starting his career in the Media & Advertising Industry, Nick worked with brands such as Qantas, Nestlé, L'Oréal, and 20th Century Fox.  After being introduced to snowboarding at the ripe old age of 22, Nick packed his bags and headed to Canada to do a season at Big White. One season turned into seven. During his time at Big White he was tasked with opening, managing, and buying for the first snowboard shop at the resort.

After returning to Australia and another stint in the Advertising industry, Nick started with Rip Curl in 2004, taking on the Marketing Manager role at Global Head Office in Torquay. In 2009 Rip Curl reacquired the Canadian license and brought Canada back into the Global group, providing the opportunity for a long-desired return to Canada. 

Now coming up to his 17th year working with Rip Curl, Nick has been managing the Canadian business for 12 years and has recently been given the opportunity to launch the Kathmandu brand into the Canadian market. 

Rip Curl - The Ultimate Surfing Company


In March of 1969 two surfing friends Doug "Claw" Warbrick and Brian "Sing Ding" Singer bumped into each other in Gilbert Street, Torquay. Claw had just finished a summer shaping stint with Fred Pyke and Brian was a science teacher. As the conversation progressed, and no doubt thinking about how they could stay surfing Bells in the pumping months ahead, Claw posed the question that started something great..."Do you want to start making surfboards together?" he asked. Brian immediately figured this would mean a lot more time surfing, so on the spot said, “Yes!” and resigned from teaching a couple of days later.  The timing was perfect and just like that... Rip Curl was born...

Rip Curl is a company for, and about, the crew on The Search. The Search is the driving force that led to the creation of Rip Curl, and it lives in the spirit of everything the Rip Curl crew do. It's what makes Rip Curl unique. It defines who we are. The products we make, the events we run, the riders we support and the people we reach globally, are all a part of that Search that Rip Curl is on.

We sat down with Canadian VP of Sales & Marketing to catch up on all things Rip Curl and what it means to be getting back to in-person events.

Rip Curl Pro Crew: from left to right: Nick Russell, Mathea Olin, Noah Cohen, Reed Platenius, Eric Eichberger. Photo credit: Bryanna Bradley

Hey Nick, a happy New Year to you!  How are you!?
Doing well thanks Scott.  Holidays were good, a little quieter than usually due to covid rearing its head once again but managed some quality family time and time on the mountain, so no complaints. 

Good to hear.  What’s happening at Rip Curl right now?
There is plenty going on. 

Just wrapping up a successful fall season, it’s a bummer that we weren’t all able to get together at KnowShow last week but given the circumstances you guys made the right call.

From a product standpoint, an increased focus on our cold weather offering has been received really well from our wholesale partners. 

We recently signed on as an Industry Alliance Member for the 2022 Natural Selection Tour, hoping for another epic performance from our key Global Athlete, Chris Rasman.

Under the guidance of our new owners, B Corp certified Kathmandu, there is a strong focus on environmental social governance initiatives across all areas of the business.

Like everyone we are working hard to navigate the supply chain challenges that are being thrown at us and supporting our wholesale partners to the best of our ability. 

With the launch of the Kathmandu brand in the Canadian market, this has provided the opportunity to review our structure and increase support to our accounts and reps. Stay tuned for developments in that area. 

Nick Russell in action at the Surf Ranch

Yeah, was a bummer to have to cancel the Winter show, but the right call as you say. How was the Rip Curl Pro Nationals in Tofino last Summer given that we were in the midst of the pandemic?
It was so amazing, after over two years since the last event it was just great to have competitive surfing back. To score all time conditions was great – picking three days on a calendar, months in advance, certainly puts you at the whim of surf gods.  In 15 years of the event, I do not recall having the quality of waves of the entire competition period that we had this year.

The icing on the cake was to have our marquee athletes, Mathea Olin and Reed Platenius, take out the Women’s and Men’s Pro divisions.  They actually both won multiple titles, Reed won the Pro and u/18 divisions, and Mathea taking out Women’s Pro, u/18 and longboard – all in the space of a couple hours, it was so impressive to witness.

The dates for the 2022 Rip Curl Pro Nationals will be announced shortly.

Looking back at the business over these pandemic months, what has been the biggest challenge for Rip Curl?
As I touched on earlier the biggest challenge is Supply chain without a doubt.
There are pressure points at every step of the process, from factory, to transit, and then delays once the goods reach Canada.  One of my good friends drives tugboats and he has never seen the congestion of boats off the coast in his twenty years doing the job.

Luckily, we have a world class Operations and Planning team, based at North American HQ in San Clemente, who have been quick to adapt and implement strategies to address these ongoing issues. Our recent transition of 3PL partners to NRI distribution was super smooth and we’re appreciative of their efforts over what has been a tough period for logistics.

With so many categories, how has it been pivoting to a virtual setting for showing the line? What works best in your mind?
That’s always a tough one, even in a showroom or tradeshow environment, but zoom fatigue is a reality that we have all had to adapt to.

You definitely need to be more focused and organized, so understanding your accounts business and focusing on what is driving that business is an important factor.  Providing additional tools to support sell in, to showcase key styles, emerging trends and marketing initiatives.

As I mentioned, zoom fatigue is a reality, so not trying to do too much on one sitting is important. A lot of our accounts have separate buyers for different categories so that naturally happens in a lot of instances. By design, we have different booking deadlines for different categories, so that also helps spread things out.

We have a very experienced rep force and wholesale partners that we have been working with for a long time, that brings a level of trust, so leaning on the reps and taking advantage of their knowledge and depth of understanding of our partners business has never been more important.

Nick Russell soaring over Vancouver at Seymour Mountain

What do you see as far as any lasting changes for brands due to the pandemic? Has production timing and cost of delivering goods changed the overall business long term?
I’m not sure if there will be sweeping permanent changes. 

Deadlines may adjust slightly to cater for increases in production lead-times, this has been slowly happening for years. When I started at Rip Curl Canada the Spring tradeshows were in September, now they are in June.

Pricing adjustments have been made to address increasing costs, but again this is nothing new, especially in a market like ours that has always needed to react to the strength of the Canadian dollar.

If anything, I think the ability to problem solve, adapt and be decisive in implementing strategies is what has been tested over the pandemic. While there is no immediate end in sight of the current supply chain challenges, we have already implemented strategies to address these key issues and we will continue to do so as they arise.

Call me optimistic but I do believe that we will see a return to a level of normality in the not-too-distant future, whether it will be back to exactly where we were is yet to be seen, but that is ultimately the ongoing evolution of the industry, it has just been more exaggerated over the pandemic.

Nothing wrong with being optimistic, speaking of which. Has there been any positives to come out of the last year or so? If so, what are they?
Absolutely there has been, we have seen a significant increase in participation in surfing, snowboarding and all outdoor activities that has created unprecedented demand for the products associated with that.

How many people do you know that have done a surf trip to the Island, or got back on the mountain, over the past twenty months? I know a ton.

That increased customer base, and that genuine stoke on being outdoors, is what has me really excited about the future of the industry.  

What are you most looking forward to about a return to in-person buying and tradeshow season this summer?

Well firstly, it will signal a return to normality which will be very welcomed by everyone. No more fist or elbow bumps, back to hugs and high fives.

There are a lot of things I am looking forward to, but really it is the people, this industry is full of so many great, like minded people, from accounts to reps to brand managers, even our tradeshow partners, haha. I really miss that interaction and I look forward to reconnecting with everyone, hopefully far sooner than later.

Great chatting Nick, we’re looking forward to seeing you again and having Rip Curl back at KNOWSHOW in the Summer!

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