Sharp, Bill


Tireless bottle-blond jack-of-all-trades from Newport Beach, California; Surfing magazine editor in 1989 and 1990; co-owner of Kanvas by Katin beachwear from 1991 to 1997; founder of Surf News magazine, and creator of the K2 Big-Wave Challenge (later the XXL Big Wave Awards), as well as the Billabong Odyssey. "Bill Sharp," in the words of fellow surf scribe Sam George, "is the man who gets surfing noticed."

Sharp was born (1961) in Novato, California, the son of an Air Force fighter pilot, raised in Newport, and began surfing in 1974. As National Scholastic Surfing Association's top-rated kneeboarder in 1982, he was invited to that year's World Amateur Championships, where he placed fourth. Sharp began an internship at Surfing in 1983, just after earning a B.A. in business administration from San Diego State University; in 1987 he became managing editor, and two years later was promoted to editor. Surfing, which grew to produce 200-plus-page issues during the late '80s, was animated and flashy under Sharp's watch, full of exclamation points, bikini-clad girls, and neon boldface cover blurbs. Sharp himself provided some of the magazine's most incisive and well-crafted articles.

After leaving Surfing in 1991, Sharp became co-owner of Kanvas by Katin, a popular surf trunk line in the '60s that had lay moribund since the early '80s; in 1997 the company did $4 million in wholesale business. That same year, Sharp began working for ski equipment giant K2, for which he developed the K2 Big-Wave Challenge, a provocative first-of-its-kind competition offering $50,000 to the surfer photographed riding the largest wave of the winter season. Critics portrayed the much-hyped event as demeaning and potentially dangerous, saying the cash prize might cloud a rider's judgment. Sharp and K2 ignored such remarks, and hit the marketing jackpot, as the Big-Wave Challenge—won by San Diego surfer Taylor Knox, for a 50-footer he caught at Mexico's Todos Santos—was covered by the Los Angeles Times, CNN, Time, and Sports Illustrated.

Sharp left K2 in 1998, and the following year launched Surf News. Although filled with cheeky headlines such as "Are Pro Surfers All Overpaid Kooks?" and "Chow Time! Shark Attack at Maverick's," Surf News' coverage of the Southern California surf scene, particularly the surf industry, was always more timely and often more pointed than that produced by Surfer and Surfing magazines.

In early 2001, Sharp helped Surfing photographer Larry Moore organize a group of tow-in surfers for a one-day visit to Cortes Bank, an eerie open-ocean reef located 100 miles west of San Diego, where Mike Parsons caught and rode a 60-foot-plus wave. Later that year Sharp developed the Odyssey, a three-year international hunt sponsored by surfwear giant Billabong in search of a ridable 100-foot wave.