Vans’ Kevin Casillo On Upping Surf Activations For 2019: 2 Stab Highs, 4 Duct Tapes & Renewed Focus On US Open

Vans have re-positioned their surf category this year and in doing so are ramping up their marketing activations and surf events accordingly. We sat down with Vans Senior Global Marketing Manager, Surf & Snow Kevin Casillo at the brand’s Duct Tape Festival in Portugal to hear how 2019 will see them execute two Stab High events, another four Duct Tapes and are upping their emphasis on surf at the US Open & Triple Crown to illustrate their new mantra “cultural progression through radical experimentation.” Words and imagery by SOURCE Editor, Harry Mitchell Thompson.

Stay tuned to SOURCE for an in depth surf strategy interview with Scott Sisamis (Vans Global Director Action Sports, Surf & Snow) where he unpacks their new mantra through their four pillars; art, sport, music, street culture and how simply listening has led the brand to success.  

Make sure to check out our One Eyed Monster gallery from the Vans Duct Tape Festival in Ericeira, Portugal.

Kevin Casillo - Sr. Global Marketing Manager, Surf & Snow. Photo HMT.

Kevin Casillo – Sr. Global Marketing Manager, Surf & Snow. Photo HMT.

What new marketing activations are you working on for this summer?
It’s going to be a busy summer. This event is really kicking things off for us here, which is the first Duct Tape of the year, here in Portugal. But then coming up we’re going to be working closely with Stab, on the Stab High, which happened last year for the first time ever in Waco, Texas.

Did you work with Stab on that event last year?
We came in and worked with them a little bit on it, bringing in our team riders Jett Schilling and Nathan Fletcher. We worked with them around Nathan and this idea of Nathan doing acid drops, him being the godfather of acid drops in surfing being inspired by Jay Adams in skating, etc. So we did this whole Vans/Nathan Fletcher/acid drop intermission between heats, which was super rad. Nathan did commentary for it. We saw Stab’s approach to their idea on wave pools and their point of view, which we really align with. Especially with our new surf positioning and how we’re starting to look at things. We really see the Stab High as progressing surf culture, progressing aerial manoeuvres in pools and on waves. So it actually laddered up pretty perfectly onto just thinking differently and wanting to just take that different approach.

We’re super excited to work with Stab this year and there’s going to be one coming up on June 28th in Waco again, and then a second one actually this year down in Melbourne (AUS) in September. Lots of great surfers are going to be there for us: Harry Bryant, Tanner Gudauskas, Nathan Florence and Jett Schilling. Nathan has been pushing his air campaign and really showing how well rounded of a surfer he is, so we thought it would be a great place for him to bring that and also bring his good character and the positivity he has. He just won Red Bull Cape Fear, so were are super excited to have him there. It’s a cool different range of crew.

What will you be doing with the viewing model for the event? Last time round it was pay-per-view with Stab…
It’s going to continue to be a pay-to-view model. Stab actually saw great numbers for their debut event last year as a surf pay-to-view and there were some viewing parties that organically happened. Alex Knost had a viewing party with his whole crew at his house and it’s these rad different things that people want to see; a really different approach when looking at wave pools compared to other real wave events. These organic things happening is really what we want. We want to be inclusive, we want to see people getting together to celebrate surfing and celebrate the culture. We’re working to do a couple of these with some of our partners, such as The Flower Shop in New York (hype pub and restaurant co-owned by Tony Hawk). We’re looking into different ways with this pay-to-view model, that we can do cool activations around that as well.

The Duct Tape Invitational stepped up in size the last couple of years…
For us this is really our flag-in-the-ground point of view on surf progression, surf culture, and how to really activate it. Bringing music, bringing art, these key pieces that are so vital and so in-rooted in the surf culture. As well as last year in Huntington, which was the stop after the Basque Country, we introduced the full female lineup. We introduced the Duct Tape to Huntington last year and also hosted a Duct Tape in Hainan, China, which was the second event with both male/female. So it’s been great to have these 32 people come together and I think there’s something very cool about the longboarding world – they’re all very close friends, they celebrate each other, they encourage each other, and they’re here for a good time. That competitive side is there, but it’s there in a good way.

Do you have more plans for more Duct Tapes this year?
Yes, we have four more, so after this we are going to host one at the US Open of Surfing in Huntington, and then in October we’re hosting one in New York City at Rockaway. And then after that we’re hosting one in Yokohama, Japan and then ending the series over on Oahu during the Triple Crown of Surf in Hawaii. So it’s definitely something you’re going to see us ramping up and really committing to, getting behind and growing.

A great example of that is two years ago we introduced the Duct Tape Festival, where we bring in four of our athletes to shape boards. Some of them have never shaped before and we give them a brief and it’s really about providing them a platform; where it’s create a surfboard for the wave where we’re holding the event at, but then there’s an opportunity to create something radically different too. “Radical experimentation” is what we try to push. And we bring those boards here with our shapers, they do panel discussions and talk about them, they’re on display, but also the community can come and try them, which is great.

11 Local shaper Manel Sousa (@LiveStoked) grafting.

Local shaper Manel Sousa (@LiveStoked) grafting.

And then you leave them behind as well, right?
Yes, then we leave them behind as a library for the community to be able to go and try them out and try different stuff, see different templates and different ways/craftsmanship of surfboards and hopefully inspire them to pick one up, try it, or just maybe they’ve been riding a thruster their whole life and all of a sudden they’re intrigued or inspired to ride a twin fin. Really showcasing the huge spectrum of what surf culture is. Especially on the craftsmanship side.

What other plans are there for the US Open this year?
For the US Open, this will be the first time we’ve had a Duct Tape festival there. At the invitational we’ll have the 32 invitees (as last year) as well as a full festival, which is awesome. But really this year for the US Open we’re shifting our focus. We sat down and we asked ourselves some tough questions, and we realized we needed to focus on surf a little more. We started getting credit for the Duct Tape as a surf event, and we are really ramping up the surf aspect of the US Open too. We actually removed Vans Park Series from the event so there won’t be a VPS there this year, or a Vans BMX Pro Cup. It’s going to be an even bigger surf focus for us. We are still going to have a skate element and obviously BMX, it’s who we are at Vans. We are going to do a cool little Downtown Showdown-esque street course and then we’re going to have some cool BMX activations as well. So keeping action sports as the key focal point, but like I said just styling up the surf portion. We’re also going to be hosting a Stoke-O-Rama as well, which is the Gudauskas brothers’ philanthropic event run through their charity foundation Positive Vibe Warrior to give back to the kids and raise money for kids to learn about water safety, junior guards and generally give back to the community.

Vans have made a really big push in surf the last couple years…
Yeah I think the surf side of things was a key thing, all the way back to the start of Vans with Duke (Kahanamoku). It’s always been a focus, but I think about two and a half years ago when we sat down to discuss the surf category, it was time to dig in and reposition, which we launched in February. We’ve seen good learnings there, good and bad, some hard truths on where we were in the surf landscape, but those are the things in life I think that inspire you to push forward and fuel you. So what you’re seeing with our new repositioning of the category, the new products that actually ladder up to that bigger thinking and mindset of the positioning, such as the Surf Boot and the Surf Trunk, are really being created as performance driven products, to really provide that great experience for a surfer.

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