When you think of Swatch, you think of plastic fashion watches, first and foremost. And if you’re a WIS – or if you read our History of the Swatch Group – you maybe think of the company that helped save the Swiss watch industry.
But do you think lifestyle? Do you think of mountains and skiing? Does sun and surf occur to you? Bronzed athletic bodies performing amazing stunts while attached to boards sliding over water, frozen or liquid?
I spent a few days in southern California to find out what #swatchlife was all about.
Surfing, as you may know, is a lifestyle sport. And it’s an international sport like few others. Formula 1, golf, tennis – and a few others qualify. Unfortunately, they don’t take place in the gorgeous surroundings surfing does. Warm weather, green water, white sand, bikini-clad women. Yeah, surfing kinda scratches the itch.
And so it was that I found myself on San Onofre State Beach near San Clemente. The ASP Women’s Pro Tour joined the Men at the fabled surf spot known as Trestles – specifically Lower Trestles, or Lowers – for the first ever Swatch Women’s Pro Trestles surfing competition.
In addition to sponsoring the Women’s Pro Trestles event, Swatch sponsors two women pro surfers, Coco Ho and Courtney Conlogue. Unfortunately, Courtney got eliminated early in her first competition after a serious leg/ ankle injury. Coco on the other hand, made a serious run at winning the event, getting beaten by less than a point in the semi-finals by eventual winner Stephanie Gilmore.
The men were at Trestles too. 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater, perhaps the best known surfer in the world these days, at least to the general public, was struggling a bit. He’s currently ranked #2 in the world. He wasn’t able to summon his late-round magic and lost out in the semi-finals to John John Florence, who in turn, bowed to Jordy Smith in the final.
While that was ultimately the surfing story, the competition got off to a slow start. Good for us, Michael Zucconi of Swatch USA is the consummate host. He put on a great time for his guests. While the Association of Professional Surfers (ASP, the sanctioning body) kept calling lay days while they waited for better surf, Mike was lining up surfing lessons, lunches and dinners in great local restaurants, and shopping sprees at the beachside surf shops up the coast in Huntington Beach.
Speaking of surfing lessons, this flatlander from fly-over country had never tried it, but I’ve been a fan and an armchair surfer for years. So…
The long story is embarrassing and the short story is I sucked (well… that’s embarrassing too). After swallowing what felt like three gallons of salt water, I called it a lesson and planted myself on a bench overlooking the action in the waves.
Of course, next in line for lessons was a nine year old girl. After some beach coaching, her instructor took her out in the surf. After her third or fourth attempt, she was standing up like a little surfer-girl. After the tenth, she was a little pro. No doubt, I was witnessing a future star on the Women’s Tour. Almost made me wish I was a nine-year-old girl myself.
I tried again a couple of days later, this time with marginally better results. My instructor was a sun-baked Brazilian without an ounce of body fat. He smiled at me, shook my hand, and said, “My name is Neco. Let’s go!”
So Neco took me out in the surf and helped me get the feel of boogie boarding. Apparently my board was too small for me to get up. The problem was either my frame, or my lack of coordination. Like I said… embarrassing. But I had fun, and didn’t even have to drink very much more seawater.
Neco, I found out later, was none other than Neco Padaratz, a multiple winner of the WQS (World Qualifying Series) championship a decade ago. If I’d known at the time that I had one of the best surfers in the world for an instructor, I’d have tried harder.
But, besides surfing, I was there for the watches – and I saw numerous examples of Swatch’s latest. Indeed, there was one in my welcome kit. Now, nearly all Swatch timepieces are quartz (a current exception is the Sistem51), but that doesn’t keep Swatch designers from skeletonizing and colorizing some of these pieces with their own unique design esthetic. Gears, levers, and plates might be pink, yellow, or pastel blue. Even the odd electrical component was tinted to play in the color scheme. All contrast in rainbow bursts with case parts and straps.
I caught Christine Bibbo Herr of NYCPretty.com wearing two on the same wrist. Nicole Fineo, an accessories editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine was there too, sporting hers in the midst of a stack of bracelets.
Does that mean Swatch is a women’s only watch? Of course not! I did my best to blend mine with my Tyvek bracelets – event pass, VIP, and the important one, Over 21 and legal for beer-drinking. (You can take the kid out of flyover country, but you can’t take flyover country out of the kid.) Plenty of other guys were sporting their bright Swatches too, although most were a bit more camera shy.
One interesting development happened during my trip: the Apple Watch dropped. Reactions were mixed, but one Swatch staffer is betting people will tire of the gadget aspect of so-called smartwatches. But they will have gotten used to looking at their wrist for the time (instead of their phone), and a fashionable piece like Swatch will be patiently waiting to install itself as the timepiece of choice for that particular demographic.