Keith Curtain - Australian Surf Business Magazine

When and where did you first start surfing?

I started surfing around 7 years of age, hitching a ride with my best friends big brother in his old Kingswood to the Surf Coast (13th Beach, Torquay to Lorne). It was an interrupted 10 years of holidays at the beach, hitching rides on weekends until I finally got to Deakin University in Warrnambool and made surfing my full time occupation!

What is it that you love about surfing?

The anticipation of the next surf.

Do you have a session that stands out as your most memorable?

I don't have one; I have many for different reasons. The ones that stand out are usually not only characterized by an epic wave, but more who I’m surfing with and the surroundings.

What kind of education do you have?
A Bachelor of Arts from Deakin Uni majoring in surfing (see above) but also in Management Communication where I majored in Journalism and Social Research Methods (statistics) which I’ve somehow morphed into a career.

Tell us a little bit about your roles at Surfing Australia and Reef?
I was the National Development Officer at Surfing Australia for 6 years working alongside a passionate and dedicated team including Alan Atkins, Rabbit Bartholomew, Mandy McKinnon, Bushy Mitchell and Pete Whittaker (RIP) Part of that role was coordinating a bourgeoning surf school network, and now I run my own surf school in our little corner of the world. I ran the Australian Surfing Awards incorporating the Hall of Fame and now we’re involved with that as both a sponsor of the ASB Surfing Spirit Award and as a committee member. So it very much feels full circle and a way to give back to the organization that gave me a start.

At Reef I was Marketing Manager for a little over 5 years. That involved managing a team of 80+ athletes; the companies advertising campaign, catalogue and range release preparation as well as distributing Reef’s open to sell reports to surf shops... amongst other stuff.

I’m very grateful to Alan Atkins and Butch Barr (Reef) for giving me these opportunities at key turning points in my life…and career.

How did you find yourself moving from Marketing into Publishing?
The transition was pretty simple, I was producing catalogues, working with designers and printers each season, distributing the OTS reports to retailers and that's the essence of publishing…it’s not rocket science. The industry was transitioning more mainstream around 2000 when Billabong went public and I could sense the disparity between wholesalers and retailers was growing wider. There was an imbalance between large multi door retailers and the ma and pa stores. So we went about correcting that imbalance. All industry’s have a trade title, or trade association, so there was no light bulb moment, it was just servicing an ‘unfulfilled need’ within our industry. I used the NEIS scheme to help write a detailed business plan, but the big risk was putting our house on the line with the banks to fund our startup. Going from a great job, with a steady pay cheque into the unknown was a big risk at the time. Financially speaking.

Can you tell us a little bit about ASB and what your role there involves?
I said publishing isn’t rocket science and it isn’t. Running three businesses is another story. There’s staff and supplier relations plus quarterly BAS and accounting obligations, and a million other demands that all conspire to fill in your day. The actual magazine is the tip of the iceberg.

You're in your 10th year at ASB, what are some of the major changes that you have experienced within the Australian Surf Industry over that time?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and to be honest there’s so many. We published an article very early on called ‘Are We Killing the Golden Goose?’ which is as relevant today as it was back then. We heralded the arrival of online sales and particularly about SurfStitch almost 2 years before it really got going; the demise of leading retail chains like Brothers Neilsen etc. I didn't have a crystal ball back in 2004, I sensed the industry was changing, what I didn't anticipate was the rapid rate of change; take those at Billabong over the last 12 months as an example.

You're also running a surf school and Actionwatch; can you tell us more about those roles and how you manage your time?
Two business entities operate under one company, Australian Surf Business Pty Ltd also does business as GO Surf School a Surfing Australia licensed surf school that specializes in the delivery of the Vegemite SurfGroms program as well as Stand Up Paddleboarding. It operates 6-7 months of the year from October until May here in Victoria. So we make hay while the sun shines and it leaves me with Autumn and Winter when the real swell arrives to surf a lot more and also focus solely on ASB. On a day to day basis, I try to clear all my emails by 8am and then either set up or conduct lessons for the surf school by lunchtime, then clock onto the magazine until late.

Actionwatch Oz Pty Ltd is separate joint venture company we’ve formed here in Australia. Actionwatch is a POS tracking software and market research company that has been operating in the USA for over 9 years and has firmly established itself as the preeminent source of market research into the independent surf retail channel. Having assembled a first class retail panel in 2013, we’re in the process of pitching it to brands in Australia for FY15.

What is it that you love about your job?

I guess it’s that every waking moment I’m thinking about surfing in one shape or form. So it never get’s boring because work becomes play and vice a versa.

Will you be sticking around for another 10 years?
As long as there is a surf industry I think we’ll be around. ASB is arguably more relevant now than it was when we launched in 2004. Our readers read us cover to cover (and online or via our app) and the industry is undergoing rapid change, new brands are emerging, there’s been a consolidation of brands and stores and the shift mainstream has never been greater. Simultaneously there’s a parallel movement back to surfing’s roots, which is what makes surfing so great. In a macro business sense, ASB Pty Ltd is diversified enough that we’re not reliant on one product and that’s just good business. The key is to stay relevant, so we constantly rotate our cover series; we were the first to launch apps on iTunes with our Surf Store locator and our industry news and jobs app ASBMAG. To celebrate our ten years we’re overhauling our website, introducing new functionality to it and lots of other little surprises. The surf school had its busiest summer ever… kids are still surfing! Actionwatch Oz is really only just starting out now and I think we’re answering an ‘unfulfilled need’ in our market, so I’m optimistic it’ll be around for a while.

Where can we find you online? 



Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on April 3, 2014
Categories: Interviews