The 21 Most Iconic Surf Brands

Surfing is big money, position yourself as the new fashionable surf brand and you stand to make considerable money from surfing’s ever-growing following.

But it’s not quite that easy. There is a stable of surf brands that have been winning the gear and apparel race for decades and show no sign of slowing down despite some wobbles along the way.

So who are these monsters of surf? What are the best surf brands and what makes these iconic names so dominant in the world of surfing retail?

Let’s find out in our list of the 24 most iconic surf brands including a short explanation of how each brand changed the industry and where they are now.

The most iconic surf brands of all time

iconic global surf brands

In no particular order here are what we consider to be the most influential surfing brands that ever existed.

Rip Curl

The story of Rip Curl is one that is as much about surfing as it is about the Australian way of life. It all started in 1969 when Doug Warbrick and Brian Singer decided to start a surfboard company in Torquay, Victoria, Australia.

They produced high-quality surfboards and quickly gained a reputation for their craftsmanship.

In 1970, they began manufacturing wetsuits with the goal of taking traditional diving wetsuits into a wetsuit that would allow them to st surf.

Today they’re responsible for sponsoring some of the world’s best surfers with a roster of pros including Mick Fanning, Gabriel Medina, Mason Ho, Owen Wright and Morgan Cibilic.

*Interesting note – Alan Green the co-founder of Quicksilver was credited with producing the first-ever pair of board shorts at the Rip Curl factory in Torquay.

Check out their website here

Billabong

Starting way back in 1973, Gordon Merchant burst onto the surfing scene with his signature, triple stitched boardshorts and Billabong the surf brand was born.

Operating out of the surf-drenched Gold Coast of Australia Billabong quickly grew but by 1980 Gordon changed his focus to loftier goals.

Billabong began exporting to the international market considerably increasing its reach and power as a global surf brand.

Come to 2011 and Billabong hit some fairly stormy waters financially with looming debts and no obvious way out.

Head over to Billabong’s Wikipedia page to get the full scoop on the long financial troubles and their outcome.

Check out their website here

Quicksilver

As an employee of Rip Curl, Alan Green was perfectly placed as the man to first create the classic boardshorts we all love and know.

With his day job focused on creating wetsuits for the winter season at local classics like Bells Beach, he spent his own time developing a wonder short for the warmer summer months.

When 1970 arrived boardshorts got their first debut on the waves around Torquay, Australia. Local surfers quickly jumped on the new trend and Quicksilver was well and truly launched as a surf brand.

Perhaps Quicsilver’s boldest move was the creation of Roxy in 1990. A female-focused surf brand in an (at that time) male-dominated support.

But despite these challenges, Roxy was a success, boasting a roster of some of the world’s best female surfers and marking a huge success for Quicksilver.

With a recent change of name to ‘Boardriders’, Quicksilver has been looking for new ways to increase its market share with a noticeable drop in the number of pro surfers sporting the iconic logo on the noses of their surfboards.

Check out their website here

O’Neill

O’Neill as a surf brand began back in 1952 when founder Jack O’Neill started experimenting with neoprene before creating the first-ever wetsuit.

Working out of his garage located off the Great Highway in San Francisco he produced wetsuits for surfers, windsurfers and water skiers.

With a dab hand for anything he also produced surfboards to ride the waves in the local area. Now O’Neill makes some of the world’s best cold water wetsuits and sponsors well-known pros including the South African powerhouse Jordy Smith.

Check out their website here

Hurley

Coming out of South California, Hurley (known at the time as Hurley Surfboards//International Pro Designs) is the brainchild of Bob Hurley, Bob Rowland and Joe Knoernschild.

Initially known for producing high-quality surfboards, in 1983 they snapped up the rights to Billabong in the US.

After growing the company exponentially the choice was made to not renew the Billabong contract and in 1999 Hurley International was created.

Seeing three years of success drew the attention of Nike and after short negotiations, the surf brand was purchased for an undisclosed amount in 2002.

Now Hurley sponsors some of the best surfers in the world including arguably the best surfer in the world John John Florence, known for his powerful carves and amazing barrel riding skills.

Check out their website here

Volcom

Combining punk culture with surfing, Volcom had a distinctively different, more rebellious identity than surf brands that had come before it.

Volcom began its journey on a snowboarding trip with two close friends, Richard Woolcott and Tucker Hall.

With a love for surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding and after much discussion (and a few jobs quit) it only seemed right to start a board riding company.

Thus Volcom Stone was born. Volcom had one core philosophy that drove its initial branding and voice, “Youth Against Establishment” (edgy right).

In their first year of trading, they sold a whopping $2,600 of clothing from Richard’s bedroom in Newport Beach.

Growth quickly started to pick up though and now Volcom is a powerful surfing brand with the Volcom House sitting right on the shore at the iconic break of Pipeline in Hawaii.

With a whole team of well-known surfers from competition specialists to free surfers, this surf brand really captures the raw feel of surfing culture.

Check out their website here

Channel Islands (Al Merrick)

The Ferraris of surfing, Channel Islands surfboards have been under the feet of so many world champions it’s hard to count.

Surfers like Kelly Slater, Tom Curren and Dane Reynolds have all surfed with the Al Merrick logo emblazoned on their boards and for good reason too.

In 1965 the shortboard/thruster revolution started by Simon Anderson began to transform surfing, Al quickly took note and within a year he’d picked up a planer and started to craft his own surfboards.

His first world title win came in the shape of Shaun Tomson who rode a board Al had shaped all the way to his win in 1977.

But it wasn’t until he started shaping boards for a local grom called Tom Curren that Al Merrick would really start to see world fame.

Tom Curren burst onto the pro scene in 1982 and his amazing style and raw power made every surfer take note of the fibreglass under his feet.

Since then Channel Islands has become somewhat of a surfing dynasty with son Britt Merrick taking the reigns and continuing to develop surfboard technology while still respecting his dad’s iconic contribution to surfing.

Check out their website here

RVCA

RVCA was the brainchild of Pat Tenore and Conan Hayes. Starting in 1999 it combined the world of skate, surf, MMA and Brazillian Ju Jitsu to create a forward-thinking surf brand unlike any before it.

Alongside their involvement in sports, RVCA was one of the few surf brands to support street graffiti artists, sponsoring several prominent exhibitions.

In 2010 RVCA was purchased by Billabong International Limited. Sadly this didn’t seem to do the brand many favours and the initial homegrown surf brand attraction was lost.

In 2022 RVCA has focused on extreme sports fashion and still has a whole heap of amazing athletes signed to the brand.

Check out their website here

Outerknown

When it comes to surf brand ambassadors it doesn’t get much better than 11 times world champ Kelly Slater, owner of Outerknown.

This high-end surf fashion brand is definitely on the pricier side and for good reason.

Outerknown’s key goal is sustainability and the manufacturing and production processes used to make their clothes are some of the most forward-thinking in the world.

Unfortunately, this high price tag did alienate some of the surfing audience but nevertheless, Outerknown has carved out a spot in surfing culture for years to come.

Check out their website here

Lost

Created by Matt Biolos, Lost is all about high-performance surfing.

Initially created way back in 1985 as ‘team lost’ it started out as scribbles in school books and light graffiti before making its way onto t-shirts. and other items of clothing

But it wasn’t until 1987 that Matt Biolos decided to turn his hand to shaping surfboards. Starting in a competitive market most of his early work was spray jobs but this led him to build relationships with local pros like Christian Fletcher and Matt Archbold.

No doubt these relationships helped and guided Matt on his shaping journey and led him to the world-renowned status he holds today.

Matt and the surf brand Lost Surfboards are credited with creating some of the best performance shapes out there with the Round-Nosed Fish and the Lost Driver both carving out their place in surfing history.

Lots of pro surfers will opt for Lost boards even without sponsorship which is a real testament to the quality of Lost’s designs and shapes.

Check out their website here

Sex Wax

Sex Wax is one of the most universally recognised surf brands purely down to its amazing choice of name!

Surf wax isn’t the most exciting of products but Sex Wax managed to create a brand that embodied fun and adventure.

So how did Sex Wax become so well known?

Frederick Charles Herzog and Nate Skinner (chemistry wizz) were both passionate surfers out of Santa Barbara, California.

The pair were inspired by trying to solve the ongoing problem of traction on surfboard decks. The slippery surface was not conducive to performing manoeuvres and they needed a solution to help them stick to the board.

Using Nate’s chemistry skills they quickly developed a paraffin-based wax that added a layer of grip to their surfboards.

The two spoke to a good friend and artist Hank Pitcher who came up with the brand name ‘Sex Wax’ which quickly gained notoriety with local and eventually global surfers.

Vans

Vans is a global clothing and apparel brand with a history based on surfing and skating.

In 1966 Brothers Paul Van Doren and Jim Van Doren alongside their business partners Gordon Lee and Serge Delia open The Van Doren Rubber Company.

In 1976 Vans started to use the iconic ‘Off The Wall’ slogan to sell their surf/skate-inspired footwear.

Vans quickly grew and while their shoe line was successful they overreached and their other lines of products did not perform as expected leading Vans to file for bankruptcy in 1984.

After coming to an agreement in court Paul Van Doren took the reigns at Vans and decided to focus all of their efforts on footwear.

Vans’ biggest move as a surf brand came in 2011 when they created what many considered to be the dream team of surfing. The Gaudusakas brothers, John John Florence and Joel Tudor all joined the team.

Now Vans sits as one of the best-known surf brands around the world with their iconic striped footwear being worn by people all over the world.

Check out their website here

Oakley

When it comes to surfing and eyewear you can’t look much further than Oakley. Their signature wrap-around shades have been on the faces of surfers for decades and they don’t show any sign of slowing down.

Oakley was founded by Jim “The Mad Scientist” Jannard. With a passion for motorbikes and more specifically Moto X he wanted to improve the motorbikes grips he was currently using.

After pondering on the best brand name he settled on his trusty hound “Oakley’.

After a few years, he tackled motorbike goggles, and then ski goggles before eventually entering the world of shades.

Hurley went on to put their specs onto the faces of surfing world champs with the likes of Occy, Mick Fanning and Lisa Anderson all joining the Oakley team.

Check out their website here

VISSLA

Vissla founder Paul Naude grew up in Durban, South Africa surfing the long powerful waves found on Durban’s shoreline.

Forgoing college he opted to start work in a shaping house working on ding repairs and learning the craft. He made trips to the North Shore and even got a win at Sunset Beach one of Hawaii’s most notoriously challenging waves.

After returning to SA he would go on to start the well-known South African surf mag ZigZag. After a stint working for Billabong Naude wanted to return to what he loved about surfing, the core culture.

Early 2000’s he started Stoke House, an umbrella for a number of brands one of which being Vissla.

Naude wanted Vissla to be unapologetically surf. No skate or snow influence, just a surf brand, for surfers by surfers.

Now Vissla is on the cutting edge of wetsuit and boardshorts technology and their Seven Seas wetsuit range has been a major hit with surfers from all over the world.

Check out their website here

Patagonia

Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard first found his love of extreme sports when he began climbing back in 1953.

Yvonne went on to pursue his passion for climbing and started his own climbing apparel brand Chouinard Equipment in 1965.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Patagonia turned its gaze to surfing, initiated by the Malloy Brothers jumping on as brand ambassadors.

They decided to crack the wetsuit game and their merino wool-lined wetsuits combined with limestone neoprene (although rather pricy) were a hit.

Alongside their wetsuits, they started producing boardshorts as well. I personally own two pairs and they are the best boardshorts I’ve ever owned with literally no weight to them whatsoever!

Check out their website here

Reef

Reef is the creation of two brothers Fernando and Santiago Aguerre.

After moving from Argentina to La Jolla, San Diego they quickly began the surf brand Reef. Initially selling their well know sandals and thongs they eventually moved into surf clothing and apparel.

Perhaps one of Reef’s most notable creations was the sandal with a bottle opener on the sole. While questionable on the hygiene front these sandals were a massive hit and people were popping beers with their thongs for years to come.

Check out their website here

FCS

In 1995 there was a change going on in surfing that very few even knew about.

Brian A. Whitty in Elanora, Australia was designing and producing a revolutionary new system for surfboard fins.

Up until this point the majority of surfboards had glassed fins, meaning the fins were shaped into the board’s fibreglass making them a permanent addition to the underside of your board.

The FCS system allowed surfers to change their fins and even lose fins without the need to see the surfboard repair guy.

Perhaps even more exciting was the opportunity for everyday surfers to try different fins on the same board to see how they changed how the surfboard felt underfoot.

In 2003 FCS arrived with another new technology, FCS 2 which made entry and removal easier and could even retrofit the original FCS system.

While FCS has continued to go from strength to strength Futures (coming up soon on this list) and the Future Fin System was a serious hit to their market share and created a direct competitor for this previously unchallenged surf brand.

Check out their website here

Pyzel

What’s not to love? Amazing boards and an even more impressive roster of pro athletes on the team.

John Pyzel is a bit of a shaping genius. His boards have been firmly planted under the feet of JJF since he was knee-high to a grasshopper and the results speak for themselves.

Now surfboard models like the Phantom and the Ghost are a common sight at surf breaks all over the world as average joes all try to surf just a little bit more like JJF.

Check out their website here

Futures

Did someone say challenger brand? Futures arrived with a splash (no pun intended) with FCS dominating the fin market Futures were perfectly positioned to stir up the pot.

Their simple yet effective fin system was a major hit with surfers and in many opinions (including mine) was a step up from the FCS system.

Futures started in a small garage of all places. The Longo brothers were both aerospace engineers but in 1996 their love for surfing encouraged them to tackle a problem close to their heart, the fin system.

They set about simplifying the entry, exit and fastening o the fin to the embedded plug and after lots of research and trialling, Futures was born.

Since then Futures has gone on to create a wide range of fins for all manner of surfing craft and even developed their own system to grade fins called ‘Ride Number’.

Check out their website here

Animal

We couldn’t complete this list without shining a light on a UK surf brand.

Animal was born out of the southwest of England in a county called Cornwall.

Staring out with sturdy wrist straps for watches they quickly ventured into surf clothing and started sponsoring some of the UK’s best surfers.

Their stable includes Alan Stokes (UK champ for several years running) and now focuses on supporting up-and-coming talent with the likes of Alys Barton, Logan Nicol and Sam Hearn all joining the Animal surf team.

Check out their website here

Protest

Protest was started by a group of snowboarders out of Holland. They present themselves as a brand for core riders covering surf, skate and snow.

They had a short stint sponsoring surfers but since then they seem to have doubled down on their snowboarding offering.

Check out their website here