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Boardriders Rising: Q&A with Bob McKnight

Bob McKnight, co-founder and former CEO of Quiksilver, joined the Rising Tide Summit for a question and answer session on the early stages of building the Quiksilver brand and the process of pioneering key environmental initiatives. Quiksilver is now launching the Boardriders Foundation as a way to give back to communities that are involved with surfing.

McKnight grew up in Pasadena, California, which is a completely landlocked area of the country. The first time he saw the ocean, when he was about 6 years old, he says he fell immediately in love with it.

“I fell in love with surfing and the whole deal,” he said. “As soon as my sister got her license, she drove us out there and I sort of taught myself how to surf.”

McKnight attended USC and spent a semester at sea, where he traveled to Bali and met Jeff Hackman, a famous surfer. Hackman introduced McKnight to shorts from Australia, called Quiksilver, which were very specific to surfing. Hackman and McKnight decided to partner with Quiksilver in 1976 and sell the shorts along the West Coast as a side project while McKnight finished college. The company has been in business ever since and now includes brands such as Billabong, DC Shoes, and Roxy, and is now known as Boardriders.

During the session, McKnight talked about conservation from the brand side of things, especially the responsibility the company felt to take care of the ocean. He cited 1991 as a critical period for conservation due to severe shark attacks along the West Coast, holes in the ozone layer, and reports that showed concerning levels of toxic runoff into the oceans.

“We thought it was time that we give back and look after our own playgrounds, and our playgrounds are the beach, the ocean, the lakes, the river, and the mountains,” he said.

Thus, the Quiksilver Foundation was formed with the goal of ocean conversation, education and wellness on both local and global scales.

“I really believe it is all about educating kids; they can start working on the plastics and the consumption and the runoff,” he said. “If we don’t get a hold of it, it’s going to be very, very tough.”

The company is working on making all of its products as sustainable as possible, McKnight said, even though it is impossible for all of their products to be made that way. This includes selection of fabrics, the washing and treating of fabrics, how the products are sewn and packaged, and even how the tags are made. One of the things they are working on is eliminating plastic bags from shipping packages.

“One of our major initiatives is to find a way to make these bags one hundred percent recyclable,” he said.

Now that Quiksilver and Billabong are part of the same company, they have created the Boardriders Foundation, which launched in 2019. The foundation distributes grants and supports grassroots organizations that focus on ocean cleanliness and conservation.

Watch the full conversation below.