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Heralded Katin Surf Wear President Quits

December 30, 1998|LESLIE EARNEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bill Sharp, who helped transform Katin Inc. surf wear from a storefront operation into a multimillion-dollar business, said Tuesday that he has resigned as president of the Costa Mesa-based company, a title he has held since 1990.

He declined to say why he left Katin, which was purchased last year by Los Angeles-based ski and snowboard maker K2 Inc. "I am going to be pursuing other opportunities," he said.

Bonnie Crail, K2's vice president of global marketing, also declined to comment about Sharp's Dec. 4 departure or who will replace him.

She did say, however, that Katin is moving to a new location in Costa Mesa and merging another K2-owned company, Atlas Distribution, a Vista-based seller of surf wear and skateboards.

"All of the brands remain intact," she said.

Sharp, 37, who has a high profile in the surf world, was heralded earlier this year as the brains behind the K2 Big Wave Challenge, which offered $50,000 to the surfer who could catch last winter's biggest wave.

The marketing campaign, timed to coincide with K2's foray into surf wear, captivated surfers and caught the attention of mainstream media, including CNN and Time and Newsweek magazines.

"That was probably the single greatest marketing coup in the history of the sport," Surfer magazine editor Steve Hawk said Tuesday. "He got so much free press out of that, it was ridiculous."

The photograph of contest winner Taylor Knox riding a nearly 50-foot wave off the coast at Ensenada made the cover of both major surf magazines, Hawk said.

Sharp, who was also formerly editor of Surfing magazine, is hoping the Big Wave experience will help propel him into a new career.

"It showed that the right idea at the right time can go far beyond what everyone is used to, whatever industry it is," he said.

But the contest also drew the wrath of some surfers who accused K2 of trying to buy its way into the industry. And it upstaged the annual Eddie Aikau competition at Waimea Bay in Hawaii, sponsored by Costa Mesa-based industry heavyweight Quiksilver Inc.

If K2 hit some resistance moving into the closed surf-wear industry, Katin has been part of the California surf scene for decades. In 1958, Walter and Nancy Katin, who sold boat covers at their Surfside shop between Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, began making canvas surf trunks that were a hit with surfers.

Walter Katin died in 1967 and Nancy Katin, who continued their Kanvas by Katin shop, died in 1986. Since they had no children, Nancy Katin left the business to her seamstress, Sato Hughes, who had worked for the Hughes family since 1961.

Hughes and her son Glenn continued to operate the store.

Sharp and partner Rick Lohr became the sole licensees of the Katin brand in 1990 and set about expanding the business.

Hawk said he initially had doubts about Sharp's decision to leave Surfing magazine to get into surf wear.

"I thought, 'Katin, that's retro, that's old, no one's going to go for that,' " Hawk said. "I have nothing but admiration for Bill's marketing skills."

Glenn Hughes said Tuesday that he felt sad when he learned earlier that Sharp was suddenly out of the business.

"The day it happened, it was kind of a small little death of a dream," he said.

When K2 bought the company for an undisclosed amount last year, Sharp and Lohr retained their titles as president and vice president. Lohr remains with the company.

Sharp said Tuesday that he has also resigned as general manager of K2 Surf.

Sharp, meanwhile, has distributed fliers with a picture of his disembodied head floating above the sand at the beach, the word "available" painted in red across the forehead.

Before considering his options, Sharp said, he will go surfing in Fiji and then await the birth of his second child.

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