by Ethan Stewart
Longstanding rumors came true last week when locally based surf industry giant Channel Islands Surfboards (CI) was bought out by an East Coast snowboard company. Living in the tenuous times of the post-Clark Foam shutdown, Al Merrick — the mastermind behind arguably the most famous surfboards in the world — announced last Thursday afternoon that his privately held multi-million- dollar international business is now owned by Vermont native Jake Burton and his equally world-renowned snowboard company, Burton. The merger marked a somewhat unprecedented development in the constantly growing sports board industry, as it binds together two of the most recognizable and successful hard-goods manufacturers in a relationship wherein the snowboard company — a direct descendant of surfing — now owns the more historic and longer-running surf company.
Shock, confusion, concern, and excitement seemed to be the range of responses from surfers and industry pundits alike following the announcement. Pointing to the fact that Burton has a distribution deal with über chain The Sports Authority — the largest sporting goods chain in the country — naysayers are calling the deal the ultimate form of “selling out,” speculating that it will inevitably lead to a lesser quality product. But that just isn’t the case according to CI General Manager Scott Anderson. “If anything, I think this makes us more hardcore. We have no intention to change our distribution. CI will stay CI. It won’t become Burton. This allows us to stay here and to continue crafting the highest quality boards right here in Santa Barbara.” For his part, Burton Snowboards owner Jake, who considers Merrick a friend regardless of business mergers, saw the deal as a perfect combination of two like-minded businesses and businesspeople. “Our identical philosophies on product development are what make this relationship so natural. As we learn more from each other, Channel Islands and Burton can only get better.”
All parties involved maintain that CI — with its factory on Yanonali Street, storefront on Anacapa Street, and some 30 local employees — will stay in town and that business will only improve with the influx of Burton cash. According to Anderson, preliminary plans are underway for a new factory location complete with state-of-the-art computer and shaping equipment. Despite the assurances, concern still remains regarding the fate of Channel Islands, as an anonymous former factory worker observed after hearing about the deal: “What?! Is there even an ocean in Vermont?”