Thursday, October 2, 2008

Oakley: Who's wearing what in Kona?

I'm not in Kona until Tuesday, but am already learning what's going on in the way of product there.

Greg Welch, the 1994 Hawaii Ironman World Champ and current Oakley triathlon marketing man-of-the-world came by the Triathlete offices yesterday. I'm working on a cool-as-hell feature about the history of Oakley in triathlon for Slowtwitch, and Welchy took me on a tour of Oakley HQ in Foothill Ranch, Calif. several weeks ago. I have to say, I was enlightened and bewildered by the sheer magnitude of the place and staff. There is so much creative brainpower there, it's no wonder they are so dominant in sport, and come out with some of the best-looking designs in sunnies. Even the building itself has a raw industrial vibe. The seating in the lobby: a row of pilot ejection seats, straight from some fighters. With all the snowboards, dragsters, bikes, motos and other accoutrements around, It's Disneyland for active adults.

And that's before you get to see the skunkworks. I even managed to go up some back stairs, down a grey hall, through some air conditioning hardware outside, then back in to an alcove of exposed piping, to get into a room that serves as a mental decompression chamber, complete with beer taps and nice, coooold beer. I'll be revealing shots of this amazing room soon (those that enter must sign the wall). It was fun to go around and search the sigs.... saw Conrad Stoltz's autograph up there.

The fact that my visit was also Welchy's first visit? When he does spend a lot of time roaming the halls in the aero position in the original Eyeshades. But that does tell you how underground this secret room is, even to those employees. We had to get clearance from the top Oakley brass to even get in there. I was honored to enjoy a beer with Blick, while Welchy—and I kid you not on this—threw two dead-center bullseyes in about three tosses at the dartboard.

Note the brass placard on the door. I had to leave my Glock 9mm 19 and Beretta .22 snub with the tip-up nose with the doorman. They don't play.

There was a lot I was not permitted to photograph... in fact, Welchy asked to hold my camera a few times, to assuage fears that I might see something and go rogue. And there's stuff that wont see the light of day, at least not next weekend. Like the custom helmet paintjob they had lined up for Samantha McGlone. It was cool, in pure Oakley style, and that's all I can say. I'm sure we'll all see it next year. Sam will be champing at the bit.

After seeing what Welchy's colleague Steve Blick did for the Oakley athletes at the Tour de France, I have wondered what Greg had up his sleeve for his athletes for next Saturday's race. Many Oakley athletes have a national motif in their eyewear, some just go for the basics. But a few of the high-profile athletes have something special we can all look out for.

Welchy said Aussie Craig Alexander will be wearing a green and yellow Radar, representing his Aussie colors. Reigning womens world champ Chrissie Wellington? She'll be wearing the new Enduring (which Welchy helped design) in pink, which follows a breast cancer initiative Oakley is promoting with that limited-edition version.

And Danish bike power Torbjorn Sindballe? He will be just the third pro Oakley athlete to be wearing the new Racing Jacket (Thor Hushovd and George Hincape were the others at the Tour this July). This one hasn't hit the market yet, but Torbjorn will be wearing the black and yellow Livestrong version of the Racing Jacket as he tears down the Queen K. I got to check out Thor and Hincapie's race prototypes, and they were waaaay raw prototypes they raced in. While the lens is fully encased, it has an ingenous method of releasing (through the nosepiece) to open a hinge, allowing the lens free for swap. Thunderbear clearly won't be easy to miss.

On the left is Steve Blick, the road marketing manager with George Hincapie's Racing Jacket, with Andy McSorley with , the eyewear brand manager in center holding Cadel Evans' purple Radar. And of course there's Welchy, holding his baby, the Enduring women's optic.

Many other Oakley athletes will have color combos that Welchy put custom assembled for the athletes. But in fact, the custom element isn't that unique to just the pros; Oakley just launched a full custom program online, where you can design your own glasses, from frame to earsock to "O" icon color to frame etching message, all to your taste. I understand Oakley will have it's rolling optics lab in Kona around the race as well.

I'l have more as I get on the ground next week, but for now, the news is filtering in, little by little. Stay tuned...

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