Billabong was founded on Australia's Gold Coast in 1973 by surfer and surfboard shaper Gordon Merchant and his partner. Those early days were rather inauspicious, with the pair designing boardshorts at home, cutting them out on the kitchen table and then carting the finished product around to the local surf shop to sell.
The business found immediate traction, with surfers drawn to the superior functionality of the Billabong boardshorts. They were also far more durable courtesy of the unique triple-stitching technique developed by Gordon.
The next step for the fledgling brand was to introduce the better local surfers to Billabong and incorporate them in the marketing of the brand. Company-sponsored contests and special events would later follow.
By the 1980s, Billabong had firmly established its place in Australian surf culture and was ready for international expansion. The initial focus was on the large North American market and, again, the brand enjoyed success. Sales began to grow in other offshore markets, licenses were granted in a number of territories including New Zealand, Japan and South Africa, and in the late 1980s a new beachhead was established in Europe.
Through the 1990s the surf industry grew exponentially and professional surfing gained a newfound respectability. The company also followed its core customers into other boardsports markets, including skate and snow, where it replicated its proven business model. By the close of the decade, Billabong had been restructured to capitalise on the growing global opportunities in the boardsports sector.
The restructure set the foundation for an initial public offering in Australia in mid 2000. The move saw the company's shares publicly listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in August of that year. This gave the company greater impetus and the financial capacity to grow the business.
Some seven months after the public float the company demonstrated its growth plans with the acquisitions of the Von Zipper sunglasses brand and, four months later, the emerging Element Skateboards brand. The successful integration of those businesses saw the company add to its stable of brands in following years, with Honolua Surf Company acquired in January 2004, Kustom footwear and Palmers Surf in September 2004, a controlling interest in the beachculture airport-retail business in November 2005 and Nixon watches and accessories in January 2006. Other businesses were also established, including the Element footwear range, the California-based Beachworks retail business and various branded concept stores around the world.