A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By Malcolm Gault-Williams
This Chapter Updated: 13 July 2003
Volume 3, Chapter 24
Aloha! And welcome to LEGENDARY SURFERS! In this chapter, we cover Surf Wear -- so to speak:
surf trunks or surftrunks:
n. A swimsuit designed especially for surfing; made of heavy-duty fabric,
double stitched, with a pocket for a bar of wax in the rear.
jams: n. Very colorful swim trunks, almost knee-length and usually loose to the point of bagginess. Dave Rochlen started the jams trend in the early 1960s with the original Surf Line Jams, which were brightly colored Hawaiian-print trunks, cut just above the knee; every surfer wore them (GN).
baggies or baggys: n. Large, over-sized, loose-fitting, boxer-type swim trunks that are considerably longer in the legs than regular surf shorts and are worn by surfers for a show or comfort; usually made of Hawaiian print (IDSM).
I have a FREE newletter called the LEGENDARY SURFERS LOG. It contains updates on what's new, what's been added to the site, what's been archived, current projects, answers to most frequently asked questions, links to other recommended sites, and other info helpful to you in your on-line and in-water surfing. If you'd like to be on the distribution list for this FREE monthly email newsletter, please click: LOG Subscription . You can unsubscribe at any time and the list is never shared with a third party.
If you'd like to see what the newsletter is all about, check-out the premier issue, click: LSLog001 .
Wear image courtesy of Reef
FROM NUDITY TO SKIRTS
FROM WOOLENS TO CUTOFFS
M. NII, H. MIURA TRUNKS
DA BULL’S STRIPED TRUNKS
DAVE ROCHLEN INVENTS JAMS/BAGGIES
MIKE DOYLE & COMMERCIAL SURF TRUNKS
A VIEW FROM SAN DIEGO
SURFWEAR INDUSTRY, 1970S TO PRESENT
There’s this line from an old 1960s advertisement
for surf trunks -- “The sport’s seminal piece of tribal garb, a ritual
costume that has singularly defined a culture.” -- “It calls surf
trunks the last thing you think about and the first thing you grab,” recalled
Kanvas by Katin‘s Rick Lohr. “It’s still that way. And the trunks really
haven’t changed that much. Colors may come in and go out of style. The
fit might change a little bit. But the bottom line is... Next to our surfboards,
they are the closest thing to surfing that we own.”
From Nudity to Skirts
Although surf wear is now a multi-million dollar business within an industry in large part fueled by the sale of clothes for surfers and those who want to look like surfers, surfing attire has not always been around. Believe it or not, when surf wear first began, its implementation was controversial. The evolution of surf trunks, particularly, was a gradual thing -- just like the evolution of surfboards themselves; highly responsive to the particular needs of the surfing lifestyle.
In pre-missionary Hawai`i and Polynesia, there was no such thing as clothing to wrap the surfer in. Ancient surfers -- men, women and children -- surfed in the nude. Sometime between 1830 and the late 1880s, “probably due to missionary influence, early surf trunks took the form of loin cloths“ in Hawaii. By the turn of the century, wrote 1960s surfing champion Nat Young, “In Australia, where the life saving movement was just beginning, tank tops were popular.”
The issue of nudity being the first controversy over surfing attire, or lack thereof, the second one occurred in Australia, in 1907, at Waverly, Randwick and Manly beaches. Although stand-up board surfing was yet to arrive, Australians were getting serious about body surfing. The mayors of these communities issued “a directive that all bathers, irrespective of sex, had to wear skirts!” Marveled Nat Young in his History of Surfing. “This was provoked by the fact that men were lying on the beach wearing V trunks and women were wearing light, gauzy material which when wet clung too closely to be ‘decent!’ The councils decreed that surfers should wear a costume which consisted of ‘a guernsey with trouser legs, reaching from the elbow to the bend of the knee, together with a skirt, not unsightly, attached to the garment, covering the figure from hips to knees’... both sexes had to be covered apron-fashion.
“Needless to say, the bathing public would
have none of this. In order to mock the regulations the bathers organised
a march from Bondi to the city, with a dead seagull on a stick as a banner.
Many men wore petticoats, some with yards of lace and embroidery trailing
in the dust behind. Some wore red flannels; others decorated themselves
with ballet frills around their bulging bellies. A few wore chaff bags
with the ends lopped off or kitchen curtains. It was a hilarious occasion,
with the law flaunted once again; after that the Australian authorities
fell in with what was being worn in Europe and America, and local surfers
wore woolen neck-to-knee costumes.”
From Woolens to Cutoffs
After this, the 1900s was relatively quiet
when it came to swim suits -- that is, if you discount the arrivals of
the bikini, in the early 1960s, and the butt thong in the 1980s!
In the early 1900s, Malahini (tourist) surfers sported woolen tank-suit styles popular at Waikiki. Around 1935, at Waikiki, “Bathing-style” trunks were popularized by surfing pioneer and innovator Tom Blake and Olympic champion Johnny Weismuller. Narrow, rigid waistband and two-inch inseams were the features of these early precursors of the modern surf trunk. In the 1940s, surf trunks were featured on the cover of Vogue magazine in an action shot from Hawai`i. Duke Kahanamoku, “The Father of Surfing,” traded his older style Olympic swim suits for short trunks, some of which were beginning to be sewn with drawstrings attached, to aid the wearer in turbulent surf conditions.
According to big wave surfer Greg “Da Bull” Noll, the late 1940s was when the true surf trunk was worn, first at the Manhattan Beach Surf Club, Manhattan Beach, California. “The long boardshorts or baggies that surfers wear today probably can be attributed to coming out of a contest that Dale Velzy, Barney Briggs and a couple of other guys decided to hold,” Noll recalls. “They’d go to the Salvation Army shop, buy white sailor pants and cut them off just below the knees. They lived in these pants. By nature, anyone living the kind of bohemian lifestyle that Velzy and the others did would be pretty scroungy and dirty. Being in the water so much, they actually stayed pretty clean.
“The rule governing this contest was that you
had to live in these cutoffs day after day, surfing, dating, whatever.
You could only unzip them in the presence of your girlfriend or to go to
the bathroom. Then the pants could come down to your knees. Otherwise,
they had to stay on your body. I think the contest went on for about
a month before Barney gave up and Velzy was finally declared the winner.”
M. Nii, H. Miura Trunks
In the early 1950s, H. Miura General Store began selling surfers school gym shorts with stripes down the leg in school colors. Red and white Wailua High colors were considered “very cool.”
1960s champion surfer Mike Doyle remembered, “The first modern-style surf trunks I ever saw were made by a little Filipino who had a tailor shop at Waianae, south of Makaha. His name was M. Nii. The surfers at Makaha were always going in there to get their torn trunks mended, and this fellow realized there was a market for a better surf trunk. So he started making his own. In the island tradition of colorful silk shirts, he started experimenting around with bright and exotic colors, different panels in varying colors, a wax pocket in back, and surfer stripes down the sides. Before long the M. Nii trunks became famous. Every surfer who went to Hawaii had to have a pair of M. Nii trunks, and more often than not, he had a whole list of orders for M. Nii trunks from his friends back home.”
By 1952, most California surfing transplants
were buying custom-made surfing trunks from M. Nii’s in Waianae. Nii’s
“Makaha Drowner“ is considered by many to be the first, true surf trunk.
Greg Noll confirmed the value of M. Nii surf trunks. “When we first went
to the Islands, these pants [M. Nii’s custom-made surftrunks] were kind
of a trendy deal. You see us wearing them in a lot of the old pictures.
Eventually, we started going to M. Nii’s in Wainae and having white shorts
made with stripes down the side and a pocket for our board wax. That was
a big deal, to go to Hawaii and have M. Nii make your surftrunks. They
caught on everywhere we went and were prized on the Mainland. We’d bring
M. Nii’s trunks back to our friends.”
Back on 1950s Mainland USA, there were no commercial surf trunks. As Mike Doyle continued, “When I first started surfing there was no such thing as surf trunks. We used to wear boxer shorts. We thought it was really cool to buy them about ten-inches too big in the waist so when we stood on the nose of the board, our shorts would fill up with air like big balloons. I don’t know why we thought that was cool, but the point was we were making our own fashion statement. When I was a kid surfing at Malibu, my mother made my surf trunks out of awning canvas. They were nearly indestructible and way ahead of their time: purple and black, with diamonds down the side, or quarter panels in different colors. Other surfers were always asking me, ‘Where’d you get your trunks?’
“Years later Steve Pezman, who was the publisher of Surfer magazine, told me, ‘You know, OP made millions of dollars selling surf trunks, and all they did was copy the trunks your mother made for you on her little treadle machine.’“
About the same time as the first commercial polyurethane foam boards became commercially available (1957), more and more beach mothers took to sewing their sons custom trunks -- not only Mrs. Doyle, but Mrs. Takayama, Plaudette Reed and Nancy Katin, among others.
Plaudette Reed was the wife of Bob Reed, City of Newport Beach Lifeguard Chief. They lived in an oceanfront house right on the strand in Newport. If you had a pair of custom trunks from one of the mothers, “it put you on another level from the guys with cut-off Levi’s or a pair of their dad’s plaid baggies (however, these were close).” Newport Beach gremmies would go over to Mrs. Reed’s, she’d measure waist, inseam, etc. Young surfers would select fabric and color. A few weeks later, she’d have them cut out and pinned together “and she’d make you put ‘em on and correct the fit so they were perfect. You could custom design your own trunks any way you wanted.”
“I remember Bob Beadle divided his legs and waistband into quarter panels of alternating red and green canvas,” said Allan Seymour. “My deal was to have my trunks made from solid navy blue material with the inside of my wax flap and inside waistband bright orange. Were we cool or what?” The trunks were generally made of a sturdy canvas duck material that started out real stiff, but over time, softened to just perfect. This being way before velcro was invented, they featured lace closures on the waistband that could be left insolently untied and hanging open, and covered button flys. The wax pocket came with a button-down flap to hold your paraffin. To make each pair of Mrs. Reed‘s trunks truly custom, she would embroider your name on a patch inside the pocket flap.
“In the Spring of 1961,” recalled Seymour,
“the surf cultures of San Clemente and Newport Beach were at the opposite
ends of the economic spectrum. Someone once said that if your dad had a
steady job in San Clemente he was an overachiever. In contrast, the Velzy-Jacobs
shops in San Clemente did a thriving business. A large part of the clientele
were rich kids from Newport Beach. They drove Porsches, wore new Pendleton’s
and real Levi’s. We San Clemente kids thought they got the leather shoes
they wore at bowling alleys, when actually they were very expensive elk
hide yachting shoes. But the Mrs. Reed custom trunks were what really made
the best surfers from Newport special.”
Nancy Katin was the most famous of all the beach moms who sewed surf trunks. Mike Doyle tells her story: “Across the street from Corky [Carroll] lived Nancy and Walt Katin, who had a business making boat covers out of heavy-duty industrial canvas. Walt was a classic boat guy. He was short, robust, and wore powder-blue jumpsuits zipped up to the neck. He had a big salt-and-pepper beard and always wore a captain’s hat with a gold anchor on the black plastic brim. And he was happy all the time. Nancy was a little eighty-nine-pound lady who chain-smoked -- very nervous and excitable, but clear as a bell and the sweetest woman I ever met. Like her husband, she was happy all the time.
“The Katins had no children of their own, but they loved kids, and they always made Corky feel welcome at their place. One day Corky asked Nancy if she would make him a pair of surf trunks out of boat canvas. He explained that swim trunks wouldn’t hold up to the stress of surfing -- usually they would just rip out in the seat or the crotch.
“Nancy had heavy-duty sewing machines and used hundred-pound-test, waxed-nylon thread. She knew how to sew things that would last. So she said, ‘Sure, Corky, let’s give it a try.’
“Nancy sewed him a pair of red trunks out of sixteen-ounce drill canvas. She sewed them the same way she sewed her boat covers: with zigzag stitching, double and even triple seams. Corky loved them, but they were so stiff that every time he took them off, he just stood them up in the corner of his room. He wore them for two years before they broke in enough that they wouldn’t stand up by themselves. And after three years, he was still wearing them.
“Before long, hundreds of local surfers were coming to Nancy Katin and asking her if she would make them a pair of surf trunks just like Corky’s. The Katins’ boat cover business was rapidly turning into a surf trunk business. It was all word of mouth, no advertising, a walk-in business, no mail order. They called it Kanvas by Katin, and there wasn’t anything else like it in California. Over the next four years, Nancy and the two Japanese ladies who worked for her made thousands of pairs of surf trunks. For surfers, Kanvas by Katin was legendary.”
Later on, in the mid-1960s, Catalina sportswear bought-out the Katin business. Mike Doyle revealed that, “Back at the time when Catalina bought out Kanvas by Katin, I considered that deal to be a good thing. It gave Nancy Katin a good retirement after years of hard work, and it helped the Catalina label, too, by associating it with a quality product. Eventually, though, I realized that Catalina wanted the Katin name for the same reason they wanted my name: as a marketing gimmick. Right away they started making junky trunks and putting the Kanvas by Katin label on them. To surfers everywhere, Katin had meant quality, and almost overnight Catalina trashed the Katin name.
“Nancy Katin was heartbroken when she realized
what had happened. Her husband was gone, her business was gone, the kids
who had come to her from the beach were gone. Even her name was gone. She
had nothing left. But that gutsy little woman surprised us all. She paid
Catalina double what they’d paid her, just to get her name back. Then she
went back to making quality trunks. Before long the kids started coming
back, she had her extended family again, and she was happy.”
Following fast upon the heels of the Katins
going commercial in 1959 was Birdwell Beach Britches, also manufacturing
trunks in Southern California out of sail cloth. Yet, even as late as 1961,
many surfers were still opting for “home-made” trunks over the brands that
were established and those in the process of establishing themselves.
Da Bull’s Striped Trunks
The most famous single pair of surf trunks
from this era was undoubtedly those black and white striped trunks worn
by Greg Noll. Da Bull had had them made as “a gag” and they caught on,
becoming Noll’s trademark of the period.
In 1962, Duke Boyd
and Doris Moore formed the Hang Ten label, in Long Beach, California. Some
innovations followed, including the first use of nylon fabrics. The same
year, Ricky Grigg became the first surfer to secure an endorsement deal
with a surf trunk manufacturer, signing a sponsorship agreement with Jantzen.
Dave Rochlen Invents Jams/Baggies
Jams, or Baggies, were a later development that began in 1963. Mike Doyle recalls that, “In December of 1963, I was back in Hawaii again, getting ready for that year’s Makaha. The morning of the contest, I was surfing at a little beach break at Pokai Bay (south of Makaha), just warming up before heading over to the contest. As I came out of the water, Dave Rochlen came walking down the beach. Dave, who was about fifteen years older than I was, had been a lifeguard at Santa Monica, was a respected big-wave rider and somebody I’d always looked up to. He’d been kind of a playboy in his younger days (he dated Marilyn Monroe before she became a famous movie star), but when he went to the islands he fell in love with a Hawaiian woman. I remember him telling me that when he saw her surfing one day, he just knew he had to have her. He ended up marrying the woman, having kids and settling down there in the islands.
“Anyway, what really caught my attention on this particular day was that Rochlen was wearing these great big, floral-patterned surf trunks, like big baggy sacks with a draw string. They were like a cross between a Hawaiian muumuu, and extra-large boxer shorts. I liked them right away -- they really made me laugh. So I called out to him, ‘Dave, what the hell are you wearing?’
“Rochlen looked at me, then down at his baggies. He had a funny way of talking with gestures -- rolling his head, squishing his neck, tilting his shoulders -- like he had to feel every word before he could let it out. ‘These are my new jams!’
“I’d never heard the word before -- jams. ‘Well, those are really cool,’ I said.
“Dave acted surprised. ‘You really think so?’ He stripped them off right there -- he had a pair of briefs on underneath -- and handed them to me. ‘Here, they’re yours. First pair I ever made.’
“I wore Rochlen’s jams around for a long time. They were comfortable, and they were so wild they made an anti-fashion statement, which I believe was the beginning of surf fashion.
“Not long after that, Dave created one of the first surfwear companies, and called it Surf Line Hawaii. He registered the trademark, Jams, and came out with an entire line of his floral baggies.”
Greg Noll also remembered Dave Rochlen starting
“the Jams trend. Jams were –– and still are –– brightly colored,
Hawaiian-print trunks, cut just above the knee. Every surfer wore them.
Rochlen’s company, Surf Line Hawaii, originally started out as a surf shop
in Honolulu that was owned by Dick Metz. Now it’s a big international clothing
company. The original Surf Line Jams came on strong again a few years ago
with the surfing crowd.” Noll was quick to remind everyone, however, that
“the first surfwear trend started with the cutoff sailor pants worn by
Velzy and his cohorts at the Manhattan Beach Surf Club.”
Mike Doyle & Commercial Surf Trunks
Mike Doyle was intimately involved with the beginning commercialization of surf trunks. He put it this way: “The first mass-manufactured surf trunk was made by Hang Ten, started by Duke Boyd, an advertising man who was one of the first to realize that the whole surf trend had marketing power. He advertised his first trunks in Surfer Magazine, and I was one of the models.
“Hang Ten started out selling their clothes in the surf shops until they’d established an identity in the surf community; then they expanded to bigger clothing stores and, finally, to the major retailers. Hang Ten became a very big company by springboarding off the surfer image.
“Of course, surfers were into anti-fashion, and as soon as Hang Ten became popular with non-surfers, surfers stopped wearing their trunks. But Hang Ten didn’t care. They came out with matching tops and bottoms, which surfers wouldn’t be caught dead in, and used their surfing image to market a whole line of clothes in the Midwest and the East.
“After that, surf trunk manufacturers started popping up all over the place...”
Meanwhile, in 1964, The Endless Summer was released, its day-glo poster demonstrating both the proper style of wearing surf trunks and establishing them as a new social statement.
But, “the surfing image wasn’t always the path to riches,” reminds Mike Doyle. “Some beachwear companies failed miserably at trying to capitalize on it, and for several years I worked for one of them.
“Catalina Swimwear was an old, established
company that had been into casual clothing for years. Their market had
always been the older, East Coast, mom-and-pop crowd. They had what they
called a cruise line, which was the kind of thing retired people would
wear on a two-week cruise through the Caribbean. Catalina realized early
on the potential that the surf trend had in the clothing industry, and
they were determined to try to stay with the times, which meant designing
for younger people.
“Catalina got their foot in the door of the surf trend when they sponsored the Long Beach Surf Club at the Peruvian International. After that, Catalina started looking for a surfer to promote their swimwear, and they eventually chose me. Right away they started making Mike Doyle-model surf trunks. At first I had no say in the design process -- I just wrote a little blurb for the hang tag and signed my name to it.
“In the spring of 1965... Catalina sent me on a promotional tour called ‘Make It with Catalina.’ They put me on a fat salary with an expense account and hired Bruce Brown, the maker of Endless Summer, to create a seven-minute promo film. I spent the next four months traveling through California, the Midwest, Texas, Florida, and the East Coast, bird-dogging for Catalina...”
While on the promotional, Doyle discovered that the Catalina surf trunks weren’t worth a shit. His subsequent experience with corporate sportswear giant Catalina became a wake-up call. Doyle remembered, “As soon as I got back... I called up the president of Catalina, Chuck Trowbridge, and told him I didn’t think Catalina’s surf trunks were any good. I told him they were using cheap zippers and flimsy nylon, and the seams wouldn’t hold up to the stress of knee paddling. I told him it was a lousy product that would rip out in the ass every time. And I tried to explain to him how their sense of design was killing them with surfers -- that only kooks would wear matching trunks and shirts.
“... Trowbridge called a meeting of the Catalina board of directors to hear what I had to say. I told them everything I’d already told Trowbridge, then I said, ‘I know you can make a strong pair of surf trunks, because Nancy Katin is doing it right now.’
“Later on, Trowbridge drove down to see Nancy Katin. Not long before, Walt Katin had passed away and Nancy had been devastated. Nancy survived the loss of her husband because the young surfers who came to see her every day had become her children, her extended family. Anyway, when Chuck Trowbridge saw what Nancy Katin had done with her business, he liked it so much he offered to buy her out. And Nancy, perhaps thinking it was time for her to retire, agreed to sell Kanvas by Katin to Catalina.”
After the First Duke Invitational, Doyle went to Catalina a second time. “That spring I did the Catalina East Coast promo tour again... After I got back... I talked to Chuck Trowbridge again and explained how I thought Catalina could improve their line of swimwear to appeal to young people. He seemed interested in my comments, and that summer he hired me to help Catalina design their swimwear...
“I found out right away how frustrating it could be. One day I went in to see Catalina’s pattern maker. I took along a pair of M. Nii surf trunks because I wanted him to see how well they fit. The M. Niis were patterned after what’s called a ‘young man’s fit,’ meaning the front of the waistband is about an inch and a half lower than the back, like a pair of jeans. But the pattern maker was sort of an Old World tailor who had been doing the same gentleman’s cut for so long he couldn’t change. I’m sure he understood what I was talking about, he just wasn’t willing to consider doing things any differently. Swimwear had to have a waistband like a pair of baggy trousers. It was my first lesson in corporate paralysis.”
Although nylon has endured as a viable fabric for surf trunks, early editions of the nylon trunk were nowhere near what they are, today. Doyle recalled, “I didn’t like the idea of surf trunks made of nylon, which was what Catalina was using at the time. Nylon might have looked like a space-age fabric, but surfers knew it felt awful in the water. So I found some great industrial-grade canvas. It was made of 100 percent cotton, had a nice texture, and felt comfortable wet. Best of all, it was so strong you could make a pair of surf trunks that would last forever.
“When I showed the fabric to Chuck Trowbridge, his response was, ‘How much does it cost?’
“‘Forty cents a yard.’
“‘We don’t buy that cheap,’ he said. ‘We usually spend four times that much.’
“‘But if it’s better quality, why not buy cheaper?’
“‘We just don’t do things that way.’
“That was my second lesson in corporate paralysis.
“I had more success getting Catalina to beef up their stitching. But I had no luck trying to explain why surfers would never buy matching trunks and nylon jackets. I wrote a twenty-page analysis of where the youth movement was going and how that would affect the clothing market, how young people were wearing natural fibers because cotton looked and felt real, while nylon had something phony about it.
“Trowbridge told me, ‘But, Mike, our matching nylon trunks and jackets are selling in the Midwest.’
“‘But surfers are just a little bit ahead of them,’ I said. ‘Believe me, the Midwest is going to like cotton trunks, too.’
“‘Uh-huh... Well, thank you, Mike. We’ll talk it over, and let you know what we think.’
“By this time I’d begun to see that Catalina didn’t really want me involved in the design of their swimwear. What they wanted was to be able to say they had a real surfer involved in their design. It was just a marketing angle. The problem was that I really did become involved. I got interested in the fabrics and the design process and the quality control and the marketing -- I craved the creativity. And I felt an obligation to help deliver an honest product to the surf community.
“After several months of work, I went before the Catalina review panel to show them the line I’d designed. They were all sitting there smoking cigars... I showed them how I’d changed the cut on the trunks for a younger man. I showed them how I’d double-stitched the seat and used overlocking stitching in the crotch. I showed them how I’d switched from nylon to cotton.
“They all gave me a screwy look, then Chuck said, ‘Gee, Mike. It looks a little wild.’
“I took a deep breath and began pleading my case. ‘Surfers are open to new ideas,’ I said. ‘They don’t care what middle-aged men in New York or Miami are wearing. They’re going their own way.’
“Then Chuck Trowbridge spoke the words that ended my corporate career. ‘Mike,’ he said, ‘there’s something you have to understand. We aren’t really selling to surfers. That’s not our market. What we’re doing is selling the surfer image.’
“I knew then it was hopeless. Not only did they fail to understand what I was trying to tell them, that the surf market would lead them to the future of their industry, but they were using my name to promote an inferior product. I said, ‘Well, you’ve got the wrong guy then, because all this time I’ve been trying to design a real product for real surfers.’
“And I walked away. A lot of people in the
surf industry thought I was a fool for leaving Catalina. It was a pretty
sweet job for a young man just twenty-four years old, and if I’d milked
it for ten years or so, I might have become fairly wealthy... Catalina
swimwear, which had been a giant in the industry, went out of business
eventually. When authentic surfwear companies started popping up out of
garages all over Southern California, pushing tough, creative, innovative
beachwear, Catalina got eaten alive.”
A View From San Diego
In 1998, Bill Andrews sent me the following email about the early days of the surfwear industry from a San Diego perspective:
“I grew up at La Jolla Shores. Had to suffer the abuse of being a Shores Guy, while attending La Jolla Junior Senior High School, class of ‘62. Actually have a photo of my first wave (‘58 La Jolla Shores, taken by Tom Clark’s mother ), worked for Gordon and Smith, Surfer Mag, Nat Norfleet... The real surfers at ‘The High School’ (La Jolla Jr. -- Sr. High) were turned on to a tailor in Pacific Beach, next to PB Jr. High, who made canvas trunks. Must have been about 1960. All trunks were custom made, pick your own fabric. My mother drove us there. We prayed we wouldn’t run into Butch or any of the other WindanSea crowd. The same story as ‘Up North.’ Stripes, etc. I can not remember how we closed them. Certainly not velcro.
“We Shores Guys, (The Burro, Magoo, The Grub, Bull Neck) had to get the best. The Grub, who had an older ‘big wave rider’ brother, said our trunks had to be really sturdy, because that’s what the Hawaiians wore. Our canvas trunks were made out of the super awning canvas. 4,000 wearings and were still stiff as a board. Crotch rot or not, we had to wear them.”
“Another caveat to those who want to become big shots in the ‘hard core surf biz”:
“Back, late 60’s early 70’s, my store -- The Pacific Beach Surf Shop – was the largest single store customer for Ocean Pacific. Since I had been in ‘surf’ retail long before the rise and fall of Hang Ten, (and by the way, Gary Bates sure got screwed by them) I was fully prepared to take a wait and see attitude with OP.
“[Later on, after I stocked OP sportswear,] I heard a rumor that OP was going into the Broadway Stores in SoCal. I told JJ and Henry, that the day OP sold to Broadway, was the day their stuff went out into the street. I said I’d rather let the Hell’s Angels (including Shorty), and the other derelicts that hung around the foot of PB Drive, have the stuff than sell a ‘surf trunk’ that was also sold in Broadway. The day the full page OP/Broadway ads hit, was the day the OP stuff went out into the rain.”
About Catalina surf trunks being no good:
“The trunks were worse than that,” recalled Bill Andrews – who sold the stuff, “but, memory please don’t fail me now, weren’t our first WindanSea Surf Club jackets ‘Catalina-Martin’... correcto??
“Pretty complete history of the surf trunk, BUT:
“Before ‘Balsa Bill’ Yerkes started Sundek on the East Coast, Yerkes and Larry Gordon, with a touch of Floyd Smith (and the Maine babe), designed and made the finest surf wear ever sold on the West Coast: TURTLE KING and WAVE WEAR. The names said it all.
“Pacific Beach Surf Shop became the Beta Test
Site...maybe JJ was even a sales rep for Yerkes? And then Yerkes bailed,
OP began. Yerkes became a billionaire East Coast Sundeker. Great fun then,
and what a learning experience... right??? Bill Andrews”
Surfwear Industry, 1970s to Present
After the success of commercial surf trunks became evident, Mike Doyle recollected, “surf trunk manufacturers started popping up all over the place -- Ocean Pacific (or OP), Surf Line Hawaii, Quiksilver, Gotcha, Instinct, Maui and Sons -- and eventually dominated the casual clothing industry. You can go to any beach resort in the world now and see men in their seventies wearing baggy, neon-green surf trunks with bright floral patterns. Before surf trunks caught on, grown men wouldn’t be seen in something like that.”
From the mid-1960s, surf trunks spread further and deeper into American life. In 1969, Sundek, in Florida, became the first major surf trunk manufacturer on the East Coast. 1971 was an important year, with “Hawaiian Soul“ type trunks as well as Golden Breed popular. Jim Jenks, formerly with Hansen Surfboards, started Op Sunwear and, marketed around the brilliant surfing of Pipeline legend Gerry Lopez, the Lightning Bolt label was born the same year.
In 1976, Jeff Hakman and Bob McKnight began manufacturing Quiksilver “boardshorts,” featuring the scallop-leg and two-snap velcro closure in California, setting the standard that, minus the scallop-leg, endures to present day.
In 1978, South African surfer Michael Tomson
found Gotcha, which, along with Quicksilver, became the style leader in
the post 1970s surf trunk era.
Notable events in the 1980s include Quiksilver rider Dan Kwock‘s introduction of neon polka-dot trunks, beginning the Echo Beach line and ushering in what was called the New Wave fashion swell. In 1984, Jeff Yokoyama of Maui and Sons incorporated day-glo colors into his sweatshirt and trunk line. And, in 1986, Op first brought out the lycra short, patterned off sleek triathlon racing suits. World champion surfer Tom Curren was the model.
In 1987, Billabong joined Gotcha and Quicksilver in a triad of imported labels that dominated the American market.
In 1988, 26 years after Ricky Grigg struck
his deal with Jantzen, Quicksilver signed the first-ever million dollar
contract with 2-time world champion Tom Carroll.
By 1991, styles tended to go more toward the baggie type. Lycra-neoprene suits haven’t really caught on. Although the neoprene-lycra trunks are efficient in the water, “Nobody wants to hang out on the beach all day in Lycra,” said Bob Hurley of Billabong.
“I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why people all over the world want to dress like surfers,” concluded Mike Doyle. “Some sociologist could probably write a doctoral thesis on that subject. But I think the basic reason is pretty simple: Surfing is fun, and surfwear helps remind people of all ages that life is supposed to be fun.”
More than funwear, “Trunks are a piece of vital
surfing equipment,” emphasized Bob Hurley, “the thing about trunks is that
a surfer will wear them all day long... Surf trunks are something a surfer
basically lives in.”
Sources Used In This Chapter:
Allan Seymour ~ Bill Andrews ~ Greg Noll ~ Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum ~ Mike Doyle ~ Nat Young ~ Surfer Magazine ~ The Surfer's Journal
Back to the TOP of "Surf Wear"
Comments, suggestions, questions, subscription info, history to add, etc.? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 1996-2003 by Malcolm Gault-Williams . All Rights Reserved.