THE LAST WAVE
For Quiksilver’s CEO, Lost at Sea, the Search Has Ended—But Hope Endures
The French chief executive of the iconic global surfing brand knew the waters off his native Capbreton very well, but even so, they may have killed him.
The search for the French CEO of the iconic surfer brand Quiksilver in the chilly, choppy Atlantic off his beloved Capbreton, France, has been called off. But the anguished son of Pierre Agnes says he will never stop looking for him.
“I love you! I love you! You are the best father in the world so I will continue to search for you until the day I die,” wrote his teenage son, Mathieu Agnes, on Instagram, next to a photo of him and his father on the family boat when he was a little boy.
Agnes, 54, was a former surfing champion who joined Quiksilver in 1998 and took over as chief executive of Boardriders, its parent company, in 2015.
He has been missing since his 36-foot motor boat washed ashore Tuesday, empty and upside down. Officials suspended what had been a massive search Wednesday but are still patrolling the beaches for clues as to what might have happened to him. Agnes is a native of the region and knew its waters extremely well, but the sea is big there, and can be very treacherous.
“We will be surveying the area, but the main search has been called off,” a police lieutenant in the town of Hossegor, where Agnes set off Tuesday morning at 7:30, told The Daily Beast. “It’s sad but there is not much more we can do.”
Agnes’ boat, Masaret III, washed ashore near the World Surf League Tour site at Hossegor. The area, about 40 miles north of Biarritz and not far from the Spanish border, is considered one of the best surfing locales in the world. It resembles, in landscape and ambiance, the surf capital of Huntington Beach, California, where Quiksilver has its headquarters.
Local news reported rough seas with light wind and clear visibility when he left. Local maritime officials said he called in and said he would be late coming back in due to thick fog.
“Early this morning, our CEO, Pierre Agnes, did what he did many mornings and went fishing on his beloved boat to start his day,” Boardriders said in a statement Tuesday. “Later in the morning his boat was recovered on the beach near his hometown and Pierre has not been heard from since.”
One longtime local surfer speculated to French media that “on the way back, he likely tried to get to Capbreton using GPS but found himself at low-tide at [Hossegor] La Graviere. So the boat got rolled and he was lost.”
Agnes ran the California company from Quiksilver’s European headquarters in Saint-Jean-de-Luz. He was known to be demanding and intimidating in business but respected as a loyal, generous friend and family man.
Agnes’ daughter Manon posted a black and white photo showing her cutting her father’s hair.
“You always wanted to believe in me,” she wrote on Instagram. “Even when I cut your hair when you had a meeting the next day and no hairdressers were open to catch up with the disastrous haircut I had made you. We will never forget you.”
“I love this man,” wrote Kelly Slater, an 11-time world champion and former longtime Quiksilver rider, on Instagram. “I’m praying for a miracle but it’s just starting to hit me what a profound effect this man had on my life and the surf community at large. He loved his morning fishing trips, family, Quiksilver, surfing, friends, motorbikes, Capbreton… I’m not even sure how to let it sink in.”
Agnes had lived in the Capbreton area his whole life. American writer Mara Wolford wrote about meeting him when she was just 17 and Australian surfer Bryce Ellis took her to southwest France. Agnes had just graduated from the University of Pau and had started working at Quiksilver.
“Pierre drove us back to his mother’s beautiful villa on the quais of Capbreton harbor. The home was classic, elegant, and full of soul. His mother that we never called anything else other than Madame Agnes was the quintessential model of subdued French capability, knowledge, intelligence, feminism, and chic,” Wolford wrote.
“I will never forget Pierre’s silent cheek-puff, suffering side-mouth-exhale while twinkling blue eyes laughed silently and that meant to say everything all the while saying nothing at all. He taught me to hide my game… de cacher mon jeux. A young, naive American, I felt so blessed to have crossed the paths of people so rooted, so classy and honorable.”
Harry Hodge, the founder of Quiksilver Europe, told Surfline about spotting Agnes’ potential early on. “Pierre is a great example of how a young surfer can join a surf brand in a menial position and go on to become one of the captains of the industry. I had always envisaged that Pierre would lead the company, and felt great pride when he took over the role of CEO of Quiksilver globally a few years ago. The pupil had become the teacher.”
Agnes was named CEO of Boardriders (the name was changed after Quiksilver had to filed for bankruptcy) after the two-year reign of former Disney executive Andrew Mooney, during whose tenure Kelly Slater had left the company.
The heyday of Quiksilver, along with the other big surf brands, Rip Curl and Billabong, peaked in the 1990s. Quiksilver, along with the others, have faced rising competition, particularly in the U.S.
Recently, Boardriders agreed to buy Australia’s Billabong International in a deal that valued the company at about $160 million, The Guardian reported.