Can the coolness of surfing rub off on Suzuki?

If you're old enough and native Californian enough to remember the days when simply putting surf racks on a car made you an instant "cool dude," you can also appreciate that the best surfer car can potentially be any old car.

As car owners, surfers have historically been known to put the search for the ultimate wave before all other people, responsibilities and earning potential. Rarely are surfers thought of as a new car-buying audience. However, the cache they bring to a beloved brand is priceless. Think woodies, VW buses, FJ Cruisers and Jeep Wranglers.

This is the very cache that carmaker American Suzuki Motor Corporation has hitched its surf wagon to. The company has been spending promotional dollars to support the sport, movies and causes of surfing, hoping that some of that "cool" will rub off on their brand. Since 2005, Suzuki has signed up for sponsorships of the Surfer Poll Video Awards, the USA Surf Team, Surfrider Foundation and now is a key sponsor and product provider for an upcoming IMAX surf movie featuring surfing champ Kelly Slater. Buzz for these epic surf documentaries starts early. The movie, not out in theatres until the fall of 2009, began a grass-roots video promotion on YouTube to whet the appetite of its cult following. Suzuki products will literally be all over the movie in every form, ranging from cars and SUVs to motorcycles, ATVs and outboard marine engines.

Marketing chief Gene Brown, vice president of marketing for American Suzuki Automotive Operations, believes the partnership fits like a wetsuit. "The Suzuki 'Way of Life' is all about confidently exploring the outside world and discovering one's ability to live life to the fullest, and few activities personify this brand attitude better than surfing," he said. "We think this film provides an authentic expression of the outlook and excitement that our customers embody and embrace."

Suzuki has dabbled with surf-themed concept cars such as the Suzuki Sea shown in Anaheim at the 2005 California Auto Show and the Suzuki Makai, which launched at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show. Although neither of these vehicles is planned for production, the spirit behind the surfing message was intentional.

So does the Suzuki Grand Vitara stand a chance of going down in history as the next woodie? Based on surf car lore, it may need to log several thousand miles before that legend is fully realized.