Dick Baker at the SIMA Surf Summit, photo by SIMA
Dick Baker, Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA), Chairman Emeritus and former President of OP, passed away April 14 from cancer. The surfing industry is in mourning as this very influential man, who made such a difference to the industry, is no longer with us.
When I first met Dick Baker 7 years ago, he was the Chairman of SIMA and President of OP, the famous and historic surf brand company. He asked me to speak at the SIMA summit that takes place in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico each year because I come from the action sports industry, and because I also work outside of it as co-founder of Label Networks covering global youth culture. He wanted me to talk about global youth culture trends from a macro perspective, funneling down to how it relates to the microcosm of surfing, and then surfing in America.
I was honestly impressed with this man because he was the first, in my experience, to see and work inside and outside of the box of action sports. His background with LaCoste and Tommy Hilfiger, among other brands, clearly gave him the experience to take OP into new directions, even though some in the industry thought it was going too mainstream. When we were working on developing the research and my presentation for SIMA, we often talked about why surfing had such problems with “core” brands vs. mainstream and what it all really meant. How you could take pieces from both sides, if there even were two sides, to create something that’s got credibility for the consumer. And how this new consumer was changing but that the surf industry, perhaps for the first time, had not quite kept up. He made it clear that some people would not like what I was going to be saying, but that I should continue to “expand their minds and get them thinking outside of their silo.” I thought this was impressive for the President of SIMA to say -start thinking like a non-surfer once in awhile.
I was quite fascinated by Dick’s business acumen in acknowledging the strength of businesses that made sense and the importance of the consumer in terms of determining one’s business strategy. He was the first person from the industry that I knew who agreed that you often have to look beyond the retailer data, the financial data, and track the consumer data the most. This is why he wanted us to come speak, he told me later, after my presentation.
I was lucky to get to spend more time with Dick at the summit and learned a great deal about business from our talks. Not only could he chat right along on the subjects of business and youth culture and surfing, but also about politics and the environment, which he engaged in with another presenter, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Dick Baker will be sourly missed for many reasons, but for me, it’s because I’d found someone who truly looked outside of the industry, at the bigger picture, towards making his favorite industry, surfing, the best it could be. I hope people remember his words and wisdom -it’s rare to come across a person so diversified and caring.