The Evolution of Surf Trunks from 1900 to $2 Billion
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS WOOL: 1901 -1920
Queen Victoria’s secret at the turn of the century was wool and lots of it.
2. TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: 1920 – 1930
One piece tanksuits were the go for men through the Roaring 20s.
3. GOING TOPLESS: 1930 – 1940
Style masters Tom Blake and Duke Kahanamoku help shed the wool.
4. FROM HERE TO HONOLULU: WORLD WAR II
World War II exposes hundreds of thousands to the secrets of the sea.
5. FROM THE FALL OF HITLER TO THE RISE OF GIDGET: 45 TO 59
How surfers traveling to California and back changed the swimwear world.
Greg Noll’s story on the Manhattan Beach Surf Club and M Nii
Walter Hoffman and Dick Metz on Hawaii from the 40s to the 50s
Nancy and Walter: Interview with Katin owner Glen Hughes
6. BEWARE THE SURF INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX: 1959 TO 1969
Everybody goes surfing, and a clever few sell them the trunks to do it.
Timing: An Interview with Duke Boyd on Hang Ten
Jamming: Hoffman and Metz on the origin of Jams.
Mike Doyle’s experience with Catalina.
Sunrise, Sundek: Interview with Bill Yerkes.
Take of Waikiki: Bill Yerkes’ tribute to Mrs. Take.
7. CORDUROY TO THE HORIZON: 1970 TO 1980
From the ashes of the 60s, the modern surf industry arises.
Interview with Jim Jenks about Ocean Pacific.
Gerry Lopez on the origin of Lightning Bolt
8. AUSTRALIA RISING: THE 80S TO NOW
From garages to a gazillion dollars, the surf industry hits the stratosphere.
1901: IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WAS WOOL
1837 – 1901 Her Majesty Alexandrina Victoria von Wettin, Queen of the United
Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and Empress of India was a prude and her modest
hand extended to every facet of the British Empire – and in effect, the civilized world. In
Victorian times, women were wheeled to the water’s edge in bathing machines, which
were changing rooms on wheels. Victorian men would line the rails of piers with
telescopes to get a glimpse of forbidden fruit in that brief transition from bathing machine
to water – not that there was much to see. The Victorian swimsuits were as revealing as
Muslim Haz Mat suits. When the suits were wet they absorbed pounds of water, which
made swimming difficult, however it also made them form fitting, which gave Victorian
men some jollies. Queen Victoria’s fashion reign extended to all of the British Empire
and in effect all of the civilized world, even to Hawaii, where noble savages set aside
their loincloths and malos, and strapped on the one-piece wool tanksuits. (174 words)
1901 Queen Victoria ended her sixty-three year reign and greeted the new century by
passing away at the age of 82. Victoria’s secret did not die with the Queen. At the turn of
the 19th Century into the 20th, wool was one of the cornerstones of the British economy,
and the British empire was the reigning super-power, and Victoria had ruled Britain for
decades with an iron, prudish hand. So Victoria’s secret for swimming and bathing was
lots of wool on men and women from head to toe, and Victoria’s secret ruled bathing
fashion well into the 20th Century. (101 words)
1906 In 1906, a Thomas Edison film crew went to the Hawaiian Islands to film an
“Actuality” documentary of life in the Polynesian territory. The very first shot is a
“Panoramic View, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu” a 360 degree view of 1906 Waikiki which
shows men in suits and white skimmers and the women in full battle dress – buttoned up
to the neck, the wrists and the ankles. There are shots of native Hawaiians throwing net in
malos, and there is a shot of a mass of kids playing King of the Hill on The Float – most
of them wearing tanksuits. The first moving pictures of surfers riding waves - Surf
Riders, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu – shows a minute of about a dozen surfers on alaia
boards in head-high, offshore surf at what is probably Canoes. These surfers are shot too
far away to detail what they were wearing, but they all appear to be in tanksuits as well.
1907 The Woman’s Home Companion published a short story by Jack London in which
he describes surfing the waves of Waikiki. Out in the frothing combers, London met a
23-year-old Irish-Hawaiian named George Freeth: “Shaking the water from my eyes as I
emerged from one wave and peered ahead to see what the next one looked like, I saw him
tearing in on the back of it, standing upright with his board, carelessly poised, a young
god bronzed with sunburn.” London got sunburned too, on the back of his legs but not his
back, because when he went surfing, he wore a tanksuit. (104 words)
1907 Jack London’s glowing description of George Freeth caught the attention of Henry
E. Huntington, the mogul behind the Pacific Electric Railway – aka the Red Car – a
network of electric trains that linked southern California from Pasadena to Newport
Beach. When Huntington found he was having trouble selling seats on the Los Angeles to
Redondo Beach route, Huntington paid for Freeth to come to California and give a
surfing demonstration at Redondo Beach. Freeth wowed them in the beachbreaks at
Redondo and then took the Red Car from Balboa to Palos Verdes giving surfing
demonstrations. In all his public appearances he was wearing a one-piece, wool tanksuit.
1907 London, Freeth and everyone else were wearing those tanksuits not just to cover
their chests, but other things. At the turn of the century, tanksuits also came with a sort of
skirt that, for lack of a better description, was designed to cover a man’s package from
public view. This fashion was true for England, America, Hawaii and all the way down in
Australia. In Nat Young’s History of Surfing, Nat explains how Australians weren’t
surfing in 1907, but bodysurfing was becoming popular along Sydney’s beaches. And
that inspired local authorities to pass: “a directive that all bathers, irrespective of sex, had
to wear skirts! 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
organized a march from Bondi to the city, with a dead seagull on a stick as a banner. 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.” (262 words)
1907 Australia spread a bit of rebellion to America in the form of Annette Kellerman,
who traveled as an “underwater ballerina” – an ancestor of synchronized swimming. Miss
Kellerman traveled to New York to star as The Diving Venus at the Hippodrome. What
she wore to swim in New York didn’t fly in prudish Boston though, and she was arrested
in 1907 for wearing a suit that would be considered General Issue to a million yogaddicts
a hundred years later. Once she got sprung, Kellerman modified the suit with longer arms
and legs and covered the neck, but the form-fit began to catch on. Only seven years later,
Kellerman was doing skinny-dipping scenes in a movie called Neptune’s Daughter,
telling the wildly-panting media: “I can’t swim wearing more stuff than you hang on a
clothesline.” Many years later Esther Williams starred in the story of Annette
Kellerman’s life. (149 words)
1910 Oregonians John and Roy Zehntbauer and Carl Jantzen founded the Portland
Knitting Company to produce a wool-knit suit for rowers that became popular with
swimmers. The suit became known as a “Jantzen” and in 1918 the company changed its
name to Jantzen Knitting Mills. (47 words)
1912 Duke Kahanamoku was born in 1890 and as a native Hawaiian, he was right at
home surfing in a malo - and probably surfed starkers when the mood hit him, and people
weren’t around. But by 1912, Duke was 22-years-old and one of the fastest swimmers in
the world. He set records in Hawaii that the rest of the world didn’t believe, but then
proved them all at the Olympic Games in Sweden. At the 1912 Olympics, Duke swam in
a customized one-piece suit that was skin-tight and didn’t have the “skirt effect.” Without
the skirt and the other effects, Duke’s suit was built for speed and helped him win the
Gold medal in the 100 yard freestyle. Duke was the toast of the Olympic games, along
with fellow American minority, redman Jim Thorpe. King Gustav met Duke personally
and if the world was outraged by any enormities exposed by Duke’s skintight suit, they
were more overwhelmed by the enormity of his swimming prowess. (167 words)
1917 In May of 1917, the American Association of Park Superintendents had their last
convention in New Orleans. The report of the Committee on Bathing Suit Regulations
suggested these regulations for all across America.
GENERAL No all-white or flesh-colored suits permitted, or suits that expose the
chest lower than a line drawn on a level with the armpits.
LADIES Blouse and bloomer suits may be worn, with or without stockings,
provided the blouse has quarter-arm sleeves or close-fitting arm holes, and
provided bloomers are full and not shorter than four inches above the knee.
Jersey knit suits may be worn, with or without stockings, provided the suit has a
skirt or skirt effect, with quarter-arm sleeves or close-fitting arm holes and trunks
not shorter than four inches above the knee, and the bottom of skirt must not be
shorter than two inches above the bottom of the trunks.
MEN Men's suits must have skirt or skirt effect, or shirt worn outside of trunks,
except when flannel knee pants with belt and fly front are used. Trunks must not
be shorter than four inches above the knee, and the skirt or shirt must not be
shorter than two inches above the bottom of trunks. (203 words)
THE 20S: TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
1920 During World War I, American soldiers saw European soldiers wearing
comfortable and lightweight cotton undershirts on summer days. Who knows what the
Europeans called them, but they caught on with the Americans who started calling them
“t shirts.” That word made it into Merriam-Webster’s dictionary in 1920, but t shirts were
considered underwear for several more decades. (60 words)
1920 Duke Kahanamoku continues to kick the world’s okole in the pool. At the 1920
Olympics in Antwerp, Duke won Gold in the 100 yard freestyle and the relay. At Paris in
1924, Duke took a silver in the 100 yard freestyle, the gold going to Johnny Weissmuller
and the bronze to Duke’s brother Sam. Duke and Weissmuller became fast friends, and
when Weissmuller came to Hawaii, Duke took him surfing. (73 words)
1920: Making the long trip back to Hawaii from the Belgian Olympics in 1920 – where
he medaled in the relay - Duke passed another sort of baton to a young swimmer he met
by chance in Detroit. In 1920, Tom Blake was a promising, 18-year-old water athlete
who’d grown up in Wisconsin. Blake had seen surfing in a newsreel when he was young
and was aware of the ocean, but had grown up swimming short distances in pool and long
distances in lakes and rivers. Blake and Duke crossed paths at a Detroit theater that was
showing a newsreel from the Antwerp Olympics. When Blake found himself next to an
Olympic hero, he put his hand out and Duke shook it. That handshake and Duke’s aloha
smile passed a message on to Blake that was a combination of: “Go west, young man,
and keep going!” and “Let’s go surfing soon.” (152 words)
1921 Jantzen Knitting Mills becomes Jantzen and the market leader in men’s swim suits.
Responding to the needs of a rowing club member who needed a suit that would move
with him, not against him, Jantzen patented “the rib stitch” which moved the functional
swimsuit into the modern era. Leading the way in swimwear marketing, Jantzen’s slogan
"the Suit that Changed Bathing to Swimming" is as ubiquitous as the red Diving Girl
which was as popular as a sticker on automobile windows as Roxy is now. (90 words)
1924 Four years of wandering from East to West and back takes Tom Blake all the way
to Hawaii, where he became a surfing and swimming friend of Duke and one of the
pioneers of the surfing lifestyle – and that included what he wore. Tom Blake wasn’t at
all camera shy. He was handsome, well-built and photogenic, and from 1920 on there are
lots of photos of Blake from bare-assed naked to Blake in the beach fashion of the time.
Through the ’20s, Blake seemed to be torn between convention and comfort. About half
of the photos of Blake on the beach or surfing show him wearing the one-piece tanksuits,
but there are an equal number of photos showing Blake bare-chested, wearing only shorts
and looking way ahead of his time. (133 words)
1924: The slow revolution in men’s and women’s swimwear through the first half of the
20th Century was moved forward by social conventions and morals, but also by materials.
Into the ’20s there was wool, cotton, silk and linen, but in 1924, Rayon became the first
manufactured fiber. The experimentation with a man-made fabric went back to France in
the 1890s and was originally called “artificial silk.” In 1924, the term Rayon was
officially adopted by the textile industry. Unlike most of the man-made fibers to come,
Rayon is not synthetic. It is made from wood pulp, a naturally-occurring, cellulose-based
raw material. As a result, Rayon’s properties were more similar to natural fibers like
cotton or linen. Rayon was expensive, time-consuming and resource-consuming to
produce at first, but it was the first of many man-made fibers to come, and it was the
beginning of the end for wool. (150 words)
1925 Swimwear began to loosen up in the Roaring ’20s with the invention of Lastex.
Developed by Dunlop Rubber, Lastex was a rubber core wound with rayon, nylon, silk,
or cotton thread. Lastex was stretchy and stylish - a giant step away from wool - and it
allowed designers to make clothing that was still legal, but more functional and
1928 A Burton Holmes Film Reel shot at Waikiki in 1928 shows tourists taking outrigger
canoe rides and a lot of guys out surfing. There is an equal mix of brown and white skin
and these guys are really surfing, taking off on finless alaia boards and cutting a nice
angle to the left with Diamond Head in the background. Most of the surfers are wearing
those one-piece tanksuits but a couple is surfing bare-chested, getting into the whole
Roaring ’20s thing and throwing convention to the offshore winds. In this footage there
are shots of women tandem surfing with the Kahanamoku brothers and other Beach Boys,
and these modern women are wearing considerably less than their ancestors at the turn of
the century. No bloomers or skirts, most of the women look like flappers, on the water.
THE 30S: GOING TOPLESS
1930 A famous photo of Tom Blake with his Hawaiian quiver of paddleboards and
surfboards shows Blake posing bare-chested, in a pair of belted swim trunks. It was still
considered indecent and even illegal for a man to bare his chest in public. (50 words)
1930 Founded in New York in 1876, B.V.D. manufactured men’s underwear that
featured front buttons and back flaps. B.V.D first became famous for its men’s “spiral
bustle” with long sleeves and legs made of heavy knitted fabric. In 1908, that bulky and
tight fitting garment was turned into a new kind of loose fitting underwear. B.V.D went
on to introduce a two-piece and the popular union suit.
Their products so dominated the marketplace that 'BVDs' became a general term used to
refer to any lightweight, one-piece long underwear for men. Through the ’20s, people
referred to underwear as BVDs the way later generations would call all jeans Levi’s or all
gelatin Jello or all sneeze rags Kleenex.
Over the years there have been a lot of guesses as to what B.V.D stood for: Butts Very
Dry, Boys' Ventilated Drawers, Back Vented Drawers and Body Vest Doodads.
The truth is, the name of the brand originated with the three men who started the
company in 1876: Bradley, Vorhees, and Day.
With all that experience in one-piece underwear and then boxers and briefs, B.V.D was a
natural to get into the swimsuit game. To promote sales during the Depression, B.V.D
began manufacturing what was at that time considered provocative swimwear. They
started a trend toward one-piece women's bathing suits with no skirt attached, and helped
start the trend of topless swimming trunks for men. The B.V.D. brand lasted for a century
before it was acquired by Fruit of the Loom in 1976, and it still exists as one of that
company's subsidiary brands. (265 words)
1931 Challenged in the marketplace by B.V.D, Gantner Wikie, Cole and others, Jantzen
catalogs featured Hollywood stars Loretta Young, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers and
Dick Powell and they ran a popular series of magazine ads illustrated by George Petty –
showing handsome men and shapely women in Jantzen. In 1931, Jantzen got downright
kinky when they introduced the “Shouldaire” for women – an internal drawstring above
the bustline which allowed the shoulder straps to be dropped for tanning. (76 words)
1931 Olympian Johnny Weissmuller - who had retired from amateur competition after
the 1928 Olympics - jumped ship from Jantzen to B.V.D to promote its swimwear line.
Weissmuller was paid $500 a week for five years – equal to $5000+ a week in 2005
dollars. He toured the country giving swimming exhibitions and promoting the product,
which had been improved and innovated by Weissmuller. The Olympic swimmer was
friends with Duke Kahanamoku and was just as interested in form as function.
Weissmuller asked for a lower cut on the arm hole, a natural waist and a fuller seat.
Weissmuller’s arrangement with BVD resulted in the first commercially available surf
trunks which weren’t connected to a chest-covering top. In the early ’30s this sort of
thing wasn’t acceptable still in America, so they were first sold in France. The American
version had to be dressed up with a false fly front and belts. (154 words)
1932 Johnny Weissmuller went Hollywood at the end of the ’20s. He was supposed to
appear as Adam – wearing a fig leaf for the finale of Glorifying the American Girl – but
B.V.D protested to Paramount and the scene was cut. Three years later, Weissmuller
starred in the first of the Tarzan series, Tarzan, the Ape Man in 1932. Not even the
censors could get Tarzan into a tanksuit, and the shirtless Olympian in a loin cloth in a
very popular movie series helped bare the way toward bare chests in public. (90 words)
1932 From www.gallimauphry.com: “The ‘Topper’ is a two-tone belted wool suit that
had a top which could be zippered to an athletic supporter in the suit or left off. By 1935,
jockey bathing trunks were introduced in France. The following year, ‘no shirt’ became a
hot topic in magazines. The United Press reported topless men banned from beaches at
Atlantic City, New Jersey, claiming the city officials wanted ‘no gorillas on our beaches.’
The final concession of 1937 was that the legs could be cut short, but the navel could not
1932 A 1937 Gantner Wikies magazine ad claims that “Gantner created the first trunk-
type suits for men and boys in 1932… copyrighted the name Wikies… patented the snug-
fitting waist… introduced them to the American public with a modest national
advertising campaign. A veritable tidal wave of approval greeted the new suit; a wave
that has never since receded!” Whether or not that claim is true, the Gantner Wikies for
1937 are still made of wool, with “self-adjusting Supporter… free-breathing belt…
streamline leg” and a cool belt buckle with a surfer on it. (92 words)
1934 Kodak introduced Kodacolor movie film for amateur cinematographers in 1928. In
the Bishop Museum there is a color movie made in 1934 by The Hawaii Tourist Bureau
called The Island Of Oahu: Territory of Hawaii, USA. The titles for the movie are laid
over a color image of men surfing Waikiki with Diamond Head in the background. None
of the men are wearing one-piece tanksuits, which suggests Hawaii was a little ahead of
the times, as it was still considered improper for a man to bare his chest in public on a
beach on the mainland. Further along in the movie there is a surfing shot as two young
hotshots angle left on a nice wave while two older guys paddle out in the foreground,
near the camera. The younger guys are wearing shorts only, while the older guys are
stroking along in tank suits. At the end of the wave, one of the younger guys looks over
his shoulder and seems to be yelling something at the two geezers paddling out. And
then there is another shot with a bunch of younger guys all riding waves bare-chested,
and one of them is wearing a loin-cloth. If this were a local kid, that would be explicable,
but the guy is haole, well-built and looks an awful lot like Tom Blake, as a matter of fact.
Maybe he was wearing the loin-cloth for the movie, or maybe he was making a statement
or maybe he just liked how they felt. If he had worn that sort of thing on the Mainland he
probably would have gone to jail. (267 words)
36 “Aloha Shirt” becomes a registered trademark the same year a surfer named Nat
Norfleet Sr. and his partner George Brangier opened an Aloha shirt company called
Kahala: “We began like nearly everybody else in the business, not with a pair of
shoestrings but with one shoestring between the two of us,” Norfleet Sr. said. “Red
McQueen had brought back from the 1932 Olympics in Japan some shirts made out of
silk kimono cloth. We copied them to produce our first aloha shirts. They were absolutely
horrible, but Elmer Lee had a stand in front of the old Outrigger Canoe Club where he
sold coconut milk and pineapple juice, and he sold our horrible shirts.”
1938 On October 27, 1938, Charles Stine, a vice president of E. I. du Pont de Nemours,
Inc., addressed three thousand women's club members at the New York Herald Tribune's
Eighth Annual Forum on Current Problems. Apparently, restrictive, uncomfortable
lingerie and swimwear was one of the world’s problems, but du Point had the solution in:
“To this audience . . . I am making the first announcement of a brand new chemical
textile fiber. This textile fiber is the first man-made organic textile fiber prepared wholly
from new materials from the mineral kingdom. I refer to the fiber produced from nylon. .
. . Though wholly fabricated from such common raw materials as coal, water, and air,
nylon can be fashioned into filaments as strong as steel, as fine as a spider's web, yet
more elastic than any of the common natural fibers.” The women were all jazzed at the
thought of more comfortable, tear-proof stockings, and by 1939, duPont began to show
and market “nylons” and made a gazillion dollars. But the love affair was short lived, as
World War II broke out within a year and all nylon production was diverted to wartime
use. Nylon stockings were available on the black market for $10 a pair – up from $1.25 a
pair before the war started. (217 words)
1939 Gantner Wikies gave surfers of the ’30s and ’40s the smooth comfort of Alpine
ribbed Zephyr wool, and also provided a De luxe non-chafe supporter with “4 point
suspension” that made a surfer “socially acceptable” as those four points assured “a
smooth, smart, non-bulging front.”
1939 The Don James photography book Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume 1936 – 1942,
begins the year that tanksuits ended so in all the surfing photos there is not one, one-piece
suit and a lot of brawny men showing off their chests in surf trunks that were closer to
Speedos or BVD’s – and would definitely start fights these days. In one photo taken at
San Onofre in 1939, the caption reads: “Peanuts Larson is modeling a pair of Doc Ball-
designed surf trunks. They afforded freedom of motion and were as durable as all get out.
The mass-produced ‘swimming trunks’ that were sold during the period could not
withstand the thrashing that surfers subjected them to. Ball showed us the pattern and we
all stitched them up.” (126 words)
WORLD WAR II: FROM HERE TO HONOLULU
1941 World War II started with a bang and ended with a boom that sent shock waves
around the world and back, and changed everything. Jean Louis was nominated for an
Oscar for Best Costume Design, Black-and-White for From Here to Eternity which
means he did a good job recreating the uniform and civilian clothing in Hawaii in 1941.
The movie shows a lot of restless soldiers bouncing off each other in the days before the
invasion of Pearl Harbor. When Private Maggio and Private Prewitt get dressed for
liberty, they wear “loose flowing sportshirts” made of aloha print silk and rayon, over
slacks. When Burt Lancaster risks 10 years in the brig to have an affair with the wife of
his commanding officer, he wears a pair of manly, brief swim trunks that leave little to
the imagination. If From Here to Eternity is accurate, the world was loose by 1941 but
getting looser. (154 words)
1942 The invention of polyurethane by William Hanford and Donald Holmes leads to a
lot of new materials, including Spandex. Segmented urethane is a man-made, elastomeric
fiber able to stretch at least 100% and snap back like natural rubber. It replaced the
rubber used in women's underwear. (47 words)
1942 to 1945 NEED MORE FROM THE WAR YEARS. WOODY.
DOC BALL AND DON JAMES BOOKS, ETC.
1944 A home movie from Waikiki in 1944 shows an Outrigger Canoe Club race for
women and a paddleboard race for men at Waikiki. The Outrigger Canoe race shows a lot
of very fit women wearing very fashionable, functional two-piece swimsuits that were
apparently made for racing. The women still are not showing their belly-buttons, but as
they lift and carry their canoes down to the water’s edge, they are watched by dozens of
appreciative eyes of uniformed soldiers and sailors – most of them hiding their inner
thoughts behind aviator glasses. By 1944, tanksuits were ancient history and the men are
all wearing those swimtrunks that are somewhere between Speedos, bunhuggers and
something else. This is wartime so a lot of those men’s fashions are probably General
Issue, combined with Hawaiian-made shorts from Take’s, Lynns and M Nii. There are no
baggies or jams in sight, but they are coming because the war is almost over, and all of
that exposure to Hawaii by all those young Americans is going to change fashion on the
mainland forever. (179 words)
1946 On July 1, 1946-almost a year after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on
Japan-the US continued its testing of atomic weapons with a pair of 23-kiloton devices on
Bikini Atoll-a small archipelago of twenty-six islands in the Marshall Islands. The two
bombs-dubbed Able and Baker-were detonated near a collection of ninety-five surplus
warships. The Baker blast sent a water column a mile high and tossed the aircraft carrier
Saratoga more than 800 yards.
“As soon as the war ended,” Bob Hope joked, “we located the one spot on earth that
hadn’t been touched by the war and blew it to hell.”
The shockwaves from the Bikini Atoll tests reverberated all the way to the garment
district of Paris. Five days later, two French designers-Jacques Heim and Louis Reard-
were nervously preparing to unveil their shocking new women’s swimsuits on the world.
Both ideas were a play on the material’s shortages that plagued the world during World
War II, as their suits offered maximum exposure with a minimal amount of material.
Heim and Reard were working separately and in competition, but they had similar ideas
on design and what modern marketing dingalings call “Branding.”
Heim called his suit, “The Atome,” and described it as “The world’s smallest bathing
suit.” Reard fired back, proclaiming his design was “Smaller than the world’s smallest
bathing suit,” and claimed the suit could be pulled through a wedding ring. Reard was
clever, and French. Looking around for a name, he took a clue from the explosion in the
tropical South Pacific. He thought “sun,” “heat” and “tropics” and called his new suit
“The Bikini.” Reard claimed the bikini would “reveal everything about a girl except her
mother’s maiden name.”
On July 5, 1946, Reard hired a nude dancer from the Casino de Paris to model the suit at
a public swimming pool called the Piscine Molitor, in Paris. Her name was Michelle
Bernardini and she was game. Together, Reard and Bernardini started a big sensation
with their Bikini, while the half-life of the Atome was short.
The Bikini was a War Baby and it was something old and something new, something
borrowed and, as the French would say, something bleu (as in, somewhat naughty). In the
timeline of beach and swim fashion, the Bikini was about as big as a nuclear bomb. It
was a scandal, at first, as the world was just recovering from the brutality of war and
wasn’t ready for any more dramatic social change. In 1951, bikinis were banned from
beauty pageants after the Miss World Contest. In 1953, Spain, Italy and Portugal banned
the bikini, while decency leagues pressured Hollywood to keep the suit out of movies.
Movie star Esther Williams declared: “A bikini is a thoughtless act.” (536 words)
40s From www.legendarysurfers.com 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.
1946 to 1959: FROM THE FALL OF HITLER TO THE RISE OF GIDGET
1948 After the war, the people of Europe had the leisure to do things like walk their dogs
and invent Velcro. That is what Swiss mountaineer George de Mestral did one summer
day. He took his dog for a walk, and they both came back covered in burrs. Nearly
blinded by a lightbulb as bright as a hundred suns, de Mestral set out to synthesize a two-
sided fiber that would imitate the gripping of nature’s hooked burrs, and fasten a hold on
the market dominated by zippers. Working with a weaver at a textile plant in France, they
somehow figured out that when nylon was sewn under infrared light, it formed hooks that
were as good as those burrs in the fields of Switzerland. De Mestral combined the words
“velour” and “crochet” to call his product Velcro, and patented in 1955 a synthetic fiber
that would produce hundreds of millions of dollars in sales, and millions of ripped-out
pubic hairs. (160 words)
1950: The O’Neill wetsuit dynasty began in the early ’50s. Jack O’Neill was originally
from Denver, Colorado, but ended up in San Francisco in 1949. He earned a living as a
commercial fisherman, then sold architectural aluminum, fire extinguishers and skylights.
He loved the ocean and sneaked away to it at every opportunity, even taking his lunch
breaks down at Ocean Beach, bodysurfing in bathing trunks in the briny cold, often alone
or with the odd diehard.
Jack began experimenting with materials that would prevent him from, quite literally,
freezing his balls off. He began by stuffing flexible polyvinyl chloride (PVC) into bathing
trunks “borrowed” from the Sutro Baths or Fleishacker Pool. But early wetsuit
technology took a huge step forward when O'Neill saw neoprene carpeting the aisle of a
DC-3 passenger jet.
In 1952, O'Neill opened one of California’s first surf shops, which he called “Surf Shop.”
He still has the original business license for that shop. If he wanted to get ornery, he
could go after every subsequent place that has called itself a surf shop, but he is a nice
guy. O'Neill’s first surf shop was in a garage on San Francisco's Great Highway, about a
hundred yards from his favorite bodysurfing spot. The shop offered balsa surfboards,
paraffin wax and the first crude neoprene vests. People told him he’d sell to the few surf
bums on the beach and a couple of tourists, and he would be out of business. O'Neill just
wanted to support his growing family. (282 words)
GREG NOLL ON M NII (783 words)
1952 Greg Noll was born in 1937, which made him a perfectly-timed teenager in
1950, just in time to enjoy a period of surfing that Miki Dora called The Golden Years.
From a young skinny gremmie hanging around the South Bay and causing trouble, by the
middle of the 50s, Greg Noll at 19 years old cemented his legend by leading the first surf
session at Waimea Bay. In the 60s, Noll became famous for charging the biggest waves
obtainable, wearing a pair of black and white striped “jailhouse trunks” he had custom
ordered in Hawaii.
This is Greg’s story about how those trunks came about: “You’re going to hear a lot of
BS from back in those days, some of it actual BS, some of it the truth, so you can mix
this in with all of them, but this is the way I remember it. Going back to when I was about
13 years old everybody was wearing plain old trunks from JC Penney’s or wherever you
bought trunks from in those days. I spent a lot of time at the Manhattan Beach Surf Club
under the pier. This was at the turn of the Grannis era, when surfers were guys like Don
James and Doc Ball, educated guys who went to church and didn’t swear and were polite.
Well I got involved when the whole thing was falling to shit and guys like Dale Velzy
and George Kapu got involved. Things turned and went the other way. There was a
pretty earthy group of guys at the Manhattan Pier who set the style for the South Bay and
that effected things all up and down the coast.
So what happened at Manhattan Beach is someone like Barney Briggs or Velzy started
going to the Salvation Army to buy their clothes, because you could get an overcoat or
Army surplus stuff for 25 cents. Well they started buying white sailor pants and cutting
them off above the knees and started surfing in them. And that caught on, and pretty soon
everyone was doing that. At some point somebody got the idea to see who could live in
those cutoff sailor pants the longest, without taking them off or washing them.
There were rules to this deal. You could only drop the shorts to your knees to take a crap,
or to your ankles to screw your girlfriend. Otherwise they stayed on and whoever kept
them on longest won. I think it was Velzy who won. He went over three weeks without
taking off his cutoff white sailor pants, and knowing Velzy they were down around his
ankles more than a few times.
Anyway these things got to be standard surf attire for the guys in the South Bay and when
some guys started going to Hawaii to surf Makaha they were still wearing their cutoff
On the west side of Oahu in Waianae there was a tailor named M Nii. He and his wife
were Japanese or Filipino and they made shorts for the Hawaiian surfers. At the time
some guys were wearing Outrigger Canoe Club shorts that had stripes down the side, but
those were a big deal to get. You had to know someone or be a part of the club or get
them underground somehow.
At some point we started going in there and looking at all the different-colored striping
material – red and gold and green and all kinds of colors.
I think it was Billy Ming who first got the idea to go to M Nii to get that colored striping
into their white shorts [Years earlier Walter Hoffman, Buzzy Trent, and Dave Mojas had
started getting their trunks from there, ever since they were turned onto M Nii by Henry
Preece and the Makaha locals]. The gaudier the better. One guy had red and another guy
got blue strips and some guys had trunks that looked like a clown suit. Well they wore
those trunks as hard at Makaha as they did at Manhattan Beach and by the end of the
winter they were so worn out, guys would go back to M Nii and get some more custom
tailoring done before they went back to the mainland.
Guys were pretty much living in those shorts so they evolved wax pockets and comb
pockets and wallet pockets and all this shit.
I went back to California with those white sailor cutoffs customized by M Nii and people
really liked them. So the next winter I went back to Hawaii with orders and
measurements from my friends and about $350, which was a lot of money back then. I
got custom trunks made for myself and friends and the rest is history, you know? I don’t
know what other guys will tell you but this all happened when I was 15, so that would
have been 1952. (783 words)
1949 FROM HERE TO HONOLULU
Walter Hoffman Goes to Hawaii (1951 words) Ben Marcus conducted an interview
in 2005 with big-wave pioneer and beachwear fabric supplier Walter Hoffman and
early world surf-traveler and surf industry vanguard Dick Metz.
BEN: The part of this that interests me too is how your exposure to Hawaii
transformed Hoffman Fabrics. Your father Rube was from the East Coast
Walter Hoffman: From New York. After World War II he came to the West Coast and
he married my mother. When he came to California he had no money, really and so he
had mainly woolens and he became one of the first converters on the West Coast. He
would go around to the different manufacturers and find out what colors weren’t selling.
He would take swatches and go to another customer, like a jobber. And he got into
converting, which was buying gray goods - which is not gray but a bleached, off-white
goods, woven cottons and rayons - and started dying them on the West Coast. And then
he started printing them.
That is what my father was doing in Los Angeles as we were growing up. My brother and
I started surfing here in 1945. In 1949 I got out of high school and with a friend of mine
we went to Hawaii on the Lurline.
I read a quote from you somewhere in which you said the first time you went to
Hawaii you took the Lurline, ate for three days and the minute you got off the boat
you went straight to Nat Norfleet for trunks and shirts.
Walter: That’s interesting because we only had shirts. Maybe they made trunks. What
happened is we’re on the Lurline for four, four and a half days and Ruben Goo picked us
up at the dock.
Dick: The Aloha Tower.
Walter: And on the way to Waikiki he would drop us by Nat Norfleet because my dad
knew old man Norfleet. And we got Hawaiian shirts but I don’t think we got trunks from
Norfleet. At the time there were three places making custom surf shorts: Linn’s were first
going back to the ’40s, Take’s were second and then there was M Nii on the West Side.
In California we were using Catalina, Jantzen and McGregor bathing suits, but in Hawaii
the big deal was the Lynns. They made all the suits for the Outrigger Canoe Club and all
the beach boys – with the stripes on the side. They made women’s bathing suits. The two
piece women’s bathing suits. A lot of it twill, weave. They were ply cotton, and you
could wear them forever.
There is a movie at the Bishop Museum shot in 1944 showing a women’s outrigger
canoe race. The women are wearing these two-piece suits that look really
comfortable and built for speed.
Walter: Stripes? Those are Lynns.
Dick: Those are all Lynns. Lynns made all those for the women and the men. Where ours
had a fly and a flap that came over here, the women had a flap and two buttons that went
down on both sides. They were tough, cotton twill weave.
Walter: They had the stripes on the sides. The Navy had white and red stripe.
Dick: You had three choices: You had red with blue and white, white with blue and then
red with the blue on top.
Walter: Anyway they had the button fly across, that was the trunk that everybody went
after - the surfers. That was the first that I know of a surf trunk per se, with the look.
Then after that we started going…
Dick: …To M Nii.
Walter: Well at the same time though Take’s opened up, because Lynn’s couldn’t keep
Was Lynn’s a haole company or a local company?
Walter: A Hawaiian company.
Dick: A local Hawaiian deal. It was just a store…
Walter: That custom made your bathing suits.
Dick: There weren’t that many guys, we’re talking about…
Walter: They did a hell of a business. Then Take’s came in and started making things in
Waikiki. In the winter we were going to Makaha and there was a little tailor called M
Dick: He was making suits. And pants. Corduroy pants. When the Portagees were having
a wedding or something he’d make them a full-blown suit. It was a little, one-room deal
up off the ground about four or five feet and he had one leg. He was on a crutch. I don’t
know how he lost his leg.
Was he Filipino or what was he?
Dick: He was Filipino, Chinese.
Dick: Little bitty guy. And he had a broomstick with all these different colors of ribbon
on it. And you could go in there… at Lynns you didn’t have that many choices. M Nii
had every choice. You could make black trunks with green stripes. He had all.. in
different widths… so you would pick out off these rollers what color you wanted and
he’d cut off a little end and put it on your little card.
That sounds really cool.
Dick: Oh it was great fun. At first when we’d go there, the trunks were shorter, and then
we got them making them longer, right down to the knee…
Walter: And they even had walk shorts made, because he did a big business in corduroy
walk shorts. And you always got them just before you were leaving Hawaii, too.
Dick: And M Nii started putting in wax pockets. That was the first wax pocket I ever saw
– he would put it on the long-legged ones – that was the first time you ever had a place to
put your wax.
… the long-legged ones?
Dick: What happened was, the long-legged ones would stay further down your knee and
when you were sitting on your board, the wax wouldn’t get in the hair of your leg.
Who talked him into doing trunks in the first place?
Dick: We all did.
Walter: The locals started getting trunks made there. The few local kids who were
surfing out there. So we started going there, in fact my first pair that I’ve still got was a
pair of denim. Just plain denim surf trunks.
Dick: In my recollection they only cost like three dollars.
Walter: Three or four bucks, yeah.
Dick: It wasn’t very much. Before you’d go home you’d order half a dozen pair. And it
took him forever. I mean he would take months and months. I remember my first trip
and I came over and left on the Lurline and I said “Mr. Nii, I am going to leave next
week” and he said “Well, I’ll have them done, don’t worry, don’t worry.” And so I’m
leaving on the Lurline at 4:00 and all of the Hawaiians from the Outrigger came down to
give me a big going away party. We’re on the boat and drinking and here comes M Nii
on his crutch, hobbling up the gangplank with four pair of my trunks. He drove all the
way from Waianae.
Walter: You’re kidding.
Dick: No, I couldn’t believe it. He came right aboard the Lurline with four pair of trunks.
He made good money doing that?
Dick: For those days, he did all right.
Walter: His shack was no bigger than this here (gesturing to a portion of the room). The
wood was falling down, it leaked. He had the electrical wires going up the wall.
Dick: And a light bulb hanging down.
Walter: A bulb hanging down. An old sewing machine. He and his wife would sit there
Dick: With an old Singer sewing machine that you would power with your foot.
Walter: He and his wife…. I went back to the Makaha contest, which my daughter Joyce
was in, and walked into M Nii to get a pair of trunks. And here’s his wife and she was on
crutches, and she was on his wooden leg.
Dick: She had lost a leg.
I’d heard those old Singer sewing machines were rough, but damn…
Walter: People said she had been electrocuted… From a wire… In the rain….
Dick: It was really weird because he had that one leg for years and he had a crutch, not
like we think of, but a piece of wood with a little cut out plate and he would hobble
around on that thing, and when we came back a few years later – here she is with only
one leg – so between them they had only two legs! That was really bizarre.
And you’d come back to California sporting a pair of M Nii’s and that meant…
Dick: That was like a badge. You’d been to the North Shore. You’ve been to Hawaii.
You’ve been to Makaha. Everybody wanted a pair, but you couldn’t send over or phone
and have anybody make them. That was impossible.
The Hoffman Fabrics story is it seems to go along with the history of beach fashion.
Your father Rube was a woolen salesmen and did well, and then he had two sons
who were in the right place at the right time to take the company into new lines of
business, with aloha prints and new fabrics.
Walter: After that first trip to Hawaii I came back during the summertime. I attended one
year at Los Angeles Community College, and then I went to USC where I joined their
swim team. Then the Korean War broke out. I got a draft notice, so I joined the Navy and
swam on the swimming team in San Diego. I had a choice between the UDT in Seoul and
the Honolulu Supply Center. In Hawaii I was in charge of the surfing team with George
Downing, who was in the Coast Guard.
What was your duty?
Walter: Pearl Harbor, Navy supply. I worked from 5:00 in the afternoon until 10:00 at
Walter: And got paid for living in Waikiki and surfing Makaha all the time…
Four years of that torture?
Walter: I spent four years over there doing that, got out and came back to work for my
father, and I hated it. I wanted to go back to Hawaii and live in Hawaii. So I took the
fabrics that he had to Hawaii, but there wasn’t much demand for woolens there. I figured
out pretty quick that I had to do prints if I was going to go back to Hawaii, so I started
doing Hawaiian prints and I could go back and forth and sell them to people over there.
Do you think your exposure to Hawaii transformed Hoffman Fabrics?
Walter: As far as Hawaiian prints yes. Printed fabrics and swimwear. Today we still do a
lot of the printed fabrics.
Dick: Well before you went over there, Rube wasn’t doing a lot of Hawaiian fabrics. So
you changed that.
Walter: Right. Right.
Dick: That’s where you got that idea. And the demand picked up at the same time so it
was perfect timing for you to get into Hawaiian fabrics.
What kind of fabric was it?
Walter: Rayons and cottons.
Did you deal in silk at all?
Walter: Sure, I dealt a lot in silk, but no one wanted silk then because it was too hot for
You think of those alohas being silk but they aren’t, are they?
Walter: They’re Rayon, which is cellulose. It’s made out of paper. Bark. Wood.
This is the middle ’50s.
Walter: This is the late ’50s, because I didn’t get out of the service until 1955. When I
came back, we sold to all the companies… they thought I was an authority on Hawaiian
print, so I sold to Catalina, Laguna Sportswear, Balboa Originals and Jantzen.
NEED AN ENDING FOR THIS
’50s Mike Doyle was born in 1941 and he remembers a time when there was a demand
for functional trunks for surfers that was not being met and some surfers turned to mom
for help. On the www.legendarysurfers.com website, Doyle remembered: “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?’” (169 words)
’50s In Newport Beach, Plaudette Reed was the wife of City of Newport Beach Lifeguard
Chief Bob Reed. They lived in an oceanfront house right on the strand in Newport.
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,” said surfing events promoter Allan Seymour. “You could custom design your
own trunks any way you wanted.” Seymour grew up around Newport Beach during the
’50s. He remembers Plaudette Reed’s custom surf shorts, and even remembers who wore
what: “I remember Bob Beadle divided his legs and waistband into quarter panels of
alternating red and green canvas,” Seymour was quoted on the LegendarySurfers.com
website. “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?”
Surfing historian Malcolm Gault-Williams continues, “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 before Velcro was generally available and used, 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.” (268 words)
’50s Charles “Corky” Carroll was born in 1947, grew up as a grom in Surfside, and
became a teenager at the turn of the ’60s: “I used to wear my dads big ol' swimming
trunks or a pair of white clam diggers that I cut off above the knees,” Corky said. “I had a
pair of “customs” from the Cotton Shop in Seal Beach. When I got older, I had both M
Nii’s and Take’s from Hawaii, but I would have to say that Katin was the first real solid
custom surf trunks company that I know of. I am glad I convinced Walter Katin to make
those first surf trunks... sure wish I had gotten a percentage for that..... ”
’50s From LegendarySurfers.com: “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
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.”
NANCY AND WALTER (2131 words, 9-5-2005, need glen to chime in)
Glen Hughes Remembers the Katins
On a summer day, Glen Hughes was at work in his office behind the Katin retail store
on Pacific Coast Highway in Sunset Beach, California. He lead a tour of the Katin retail
store and talked what about was and what would never be.
Could we go walk through there?
Sure. Start this way. This is where my mom now sews, in this backroom here off the
main retail floor. Her sewing machine was in a different area, where the retail is now.
This all used to be where the sewing machines were. There was a wall that was right
here. I can still see the line from it. My mom’s sewing machine was right here and this is
where she would sew and this whole area was filled with sewing machines at one time.
How many sewers did they employ at the most?
How many trunks a day do you think these women were doing each?
Probably the slow ones could make eight pair, the fast ones 12 to 14 and my mom would
do 19 to 20.
Is that a grommet puncher?
Yeah, Walter bought this used in ’64.
And it’s still in use?
Still in use.
Is that photo of the guy in the hat on the wall there Walter?
Everybody called him “Cap” because he loved boats.
And this is your mom?
That’s my mom. with Claude Codgen. This is in 1967, just a few months before Walter
How far back does Katin go as a business?
Katin started somewhere in the early to mid ’50s. It was Kanvas by Katin, but it was boat
covers and sails and canvas products.
Were they in this building, where you are now?
At that time it was another building down the way. My mom might know, but if I
remember correctly the postmaster over here at Surfside showed me a form from 1964 for
when Walter applied for the PO Box over there. So they probably moved here in 1964.
Where were they from?
Walter and Nancy Katin were from back east. Not sure where Walter came from. Nancy
was the businesswoman. Walter was the happy go lucky, nice guy who actually sewed.
Nancy never sewed. A lot of people think Nancy did the sewing – but she would do all
the measurements and handle the business end.
Corky Carroll claims that “surfer” who talked the Katins into making trunks was
none other than himself.
No comment. All I know is, in the mid-50s a surfer asked them to make a pair of trunks
out of heavy canvas. The canvas then was not like the canvas we wear now. It was really
stiff and hard. The thread they used was different – it was a nylon based thread – a thread
that would not rot in the ocean at all. So Nancy made a pattern and a pair of trunks, and
that guy told his buddies, and so on and so forth. In 1961 they hired a little Japanese
lady, Sato, just to make the custom trunks.
Where did your mom come from?
She came from Japan. My father was in the Air Force and they met in Japan. I was born
in 1959 on an Air Force Base. We were in Japan, then we moved to New Jersey. Later we
moved here to Seal Beach, because mom was the housekeeper to a Colonel, Mr. Winters.
Colonel Winters, who was stationed in Los Alamitos. We moved to 16th Street and she
got a little job at a drycleaners. Walter and Nancy Katin came in one day and started
talking with my mom. They liked her and hired her on the spot and she’s been working
here ever since.
She still works.
She still works. Today is her day off.
She’s got that Japanese work ethic.
Oh God yes. She just turned 77.
When did Katin first take off as a company?
It took off in the early seventies, before Quiksilver came on board. They were shipping
product all around the world… everywhere At one time she had up to 20 sewers.
Was Birdwell the same way?
I don’t know if Birdwell is handmade. I think they are producing with sewers, but
regardless, they make a great product
When did you and your mom take on the surf trunk business?
Walter passed away in 1967 of a heart attack. Nancy passed away in 1986. She was like
She was a tough little bird, wasn’t she?
Yes, and little she was.
Did your mom buy the company?
Nancy left it to my mom.
That’s a nice little gift.
They had no kids. The closest thing they had to a kid was me.
Did you go to college or study business?
I went to college a little bit, but it wasn’t my thing. I learned business at the feet of
“Nancy the Great”. I remember one time I was sitting in a chair that was right there. It
was summertime and I was 14. So it was like ’73/’74. And Nancy goes, ‘sit right there’,
so I sat there and this guy came in, in a nice suit and Nancy said, ‘Oh don’t mind him, he
won’t say a word.’ The guy in the suit was a buyer from May Company – they wanted to
buy Nancy’s shorts – and Nancy read him the riot act, ‘I ain’t ever going to sell to you.
You’re going to give me a good price now and next year you’ll knock it down a little bit
– until three or four years from now you’ll knock me so low and I’ll be so dependent on
you… so I don’t even want to start with this thing – so you get out of here and don’t
What year was this?
1974. She pointed a little bony finger at me and said, ‘Don’t you ever let this happen.’ So
she knew when I was 14 that I would one day be running this place.
Your mom ran it for a few years until you could take over?
For the last 8 or 9 years of her life, Nancy was incapacitated. She couldn’t move or do
anything but she would call in 8 or 10 times a day. My mom ran the shop. The shop was
completely different from the way it is now.
Mike Doyle wrote a story about Catalina buying Katin and he said it was a disaster.
It was a disaster. They were going to cheapen the product and Nancy saw that. She had a
clause in the contract saying that in six months if she didn’t like how they were running
Katin, she would buy it right back.
Did Catalina produce some trunks?
I think they did produce some trunks but not very many.
Was it called Katin by Catalina?
I have no idea how that worked.
Mike Doyle said Nancy Katin paid quite a bit to buy it back.
Let me tell you. I know the amount, it was $75,000 that Catalina paid to buy Katin. But
they didn’t have the building or anything, they just bought the name.
That was a significant amount of money in the ’60s. That would be what now? A
half a million?
Were the Katins consultants or were they out of the business completely?
Nancy was out of the business but my mom was the one showing them how to make
them. I remember my mom and I were living over the apartments here at the time and she
was sent to Utah, which is where the majority of the Catalina sewers were. She went back
for a full week to show them how she made the Katin trunks.
They said, ‘Well how long does it take you to make a pair of trunks?’
Mom said, ‘About 20 minutes.’
They didn’t believe her: ‘No way. Nobody can make a pair of those trunks in 20
My mom said later, ‘It was kind of hard because I was dressed in nice clothes and trying
to use a sewing machine I’d never used before,’ but she punched one out in like 21
So there was the Catalina deal in the ’60s that didn’t work, and then in the ’90s it
seems like there was another attempt to take Katin big again.
In 1991, Bill Sharp and Rick Lohr came to me and I signed a licensee deal. They started
building and everything was going really well until demand got too great and they
couldn’t finance the demand.
Jim Jenks calls that “crossing the street.”
So K2 came in and we reworked the license and then, like Nancy’s experience with
Catalina, I got a lesson in corporate America. I’m a meat and potatoes guy but I figured
out that the little changes they made were directly to cheat me and they knew that, they
knew what they were doing. We had a whole set of what we do and how we do it. And
the first chance they got to veer off of that, they did.
I told the CEO right to his face: ‘‘You’ll ruin this, you’ll destroy the company. It won’t
And he cussed me out and told me that I shouldn’t be telling a guy who runs a $700
million company how to do things.
I said, ‘Well do you want this to succeed?’ and he said, ‘Of course, everything I touch
Who is this?
This is Rich Ronstein. And I go, “Well if you’re doing this, you’re not going to succeed.”
What happened was, they bought Katin and they wanted to make K2 Surf, but K2 Surf
was never supposed to go into the surf market, the surf shops. K2 Surf was supposed to
go to Sport Mart, Big Five, Oshmans, and all these big companies. They were going to
make the same trunks but with different colors and different labeling. And at that time
they would get the numbers up for Katin, lower the price and make more profit. Great. At
the first trade show when the contracts were less than a month old they put Katin and K2
Surf in the same booth. I couldn’t believe they did that. It was totally against what we
talked about and it crumbled from there.
But Katin is a semi-thriving concern now, yes?
The retail shop does well. Everybody thinks I’m worth millions. I’m not.
Most aren’t. Well a couple are.
I don’t do this because I’m going to make a mint on it. I do it because I love the industry.
The surf shop seems to be doing well.
I’ve got Quiksilver in here now, Billabong, Volcom, Von Zipper eyewear.
Why has Katin never gone big?
I think it still has the possibility of going big, but how big is big? Do I want to be a
Quiksilver? No. Do I want to be a Billabong even? No, I don’t really want to. I want to be
able to service and stay with the hardcore local shops, all the time. I mean, what’s that in
volume, in dollars? In gross revenues, maybe $20 million a year.
Is Katin doing $20 million a year?
No, not even close. I do a good business here, but $20 million, that’s huge. That’s a
starting point for a lot of companies.
Is Katin importing anything from China?
I just re-signed my license and some of the stuff will come in from China, just because…
the prices. Everyone is going there. Quiksilver is going there, and the prices they are
paying for trunks are just laughable.
What do you think they pay for a pair of trunks?
Their cost landed is probably three or four bucks a pair.
And what are they selling them for, $40?
Well that’s retail so they’re probably wholesaling them for $20.
I can’t believe your mom is taking an entire day off. Is she lazy or something?
All my mom does right now is do custom sewing. The old-style trunks. The same trunks
as they have been making for years and years and years with the snap fly and the wax
pocket. That is the bulk of her work for the summer, she’ll get 10 or 12 pairs of trunks on
What is this fabric here?
It’s a poly-cotton blend. We’ve been using that fabric for years. This is what came after
the canvas. It was still stiff and strong…
But it wouldn’t rub you the wrong way.
Nothing that I would have in here that would compare to that original canvas.
Thank you for the tour.
’57 Men are now wearing swim trunks and some are wearing surf trunks, but the bikini is
still scandalous. Women are regularly wearing two piece suits, but exposing the belly-
button is still considered improper. In 1957 Modern Girl magazine sniffed: “It is hardly
necessary to waste words over the so-called bikini since it is inconceivable that any girl
with tact and decency would ever wear such a thing.” That same year, Brigitte Bardot
frolicked in a two-piece bikini in And God Created Woman. She may not have had
decency or tact, but she had everything else, and the bikini was off to the races (93
THE ’60S: BEWARE THE SURF-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX
’60: From Desoto Brown at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii: “I kept thinking I should
look this up for you, and I just did, in the 1960 business directory in our library. M. Nii
Tailor was run by Minoru and Florence Nii and was located at 85-786 Farrington
Highway in Waianae. Please note they were Japanese, not Filipino.”
Early ’60s: In the early ’60s, Dick Metz was a surfer living in Hawaii who was picked by
Hobie Alter to open the first Hobie Sports in Honolulu, which then lead to the change of
everything: “This was the first true surf retail shop,” Metz said (50 years and hundreds of
millions of dollars later). “And it changed the price structure of things. Surfboards then
sold for $85 directly from the manufacturer, and the board shaper made maybe $15. Now
that they were retail, the price of a board went up another $15. There has never been
much profit in boards, so the next thing we sold was Hobie stickers, and little surfboard
repair kits. That worked and then we began selling t-shirts with the Hobie logo. At first,
guys would buy a shirt when they bought a board. But then we put “Hobie Honolulu” on
the shirts, and people just began buying the shirts. We made so much money on shirts,
that was when Hobie began to branch off into Hobie Sportswear.”
Metz remembers that the price of a pair of surf trunks back then was about the same as
the price of a sirloin steak: “There was a place in Honolulu that was kind of a predecessor
of the Chart House,” Metz said. “A steak and salad bar place. Well, the price of a sirloin
steak back then was $2.50, and so was the price of a pair of surf trunks.” (238 words)
’60: The early surf trunk experience from down in La Jolla, as seen on the
LegendarySurfers.com website: 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. I 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.”
1961 “In the Spring of 1961,” Allan Seymour recalled in LegendarySurfers.com, “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.”
1960 The big-dollar, full scale battle that is surfwear marketing in the 21st Century began
with a whisper in the first issues of SURFER Magazine. Before there was Birdwell,
Katin, Hang Ten, Golden Breed, Ocean Pacific, Stubbies, Surf Line Hawaii, O’Neill,
Body Glove, Quiksilver, Gotcha, Instinct, Maui and Sons, Surf Fetish, there was
SandComber. There were more ads for neoprene surf jackets than clothing in the first
issue of The Surfer Magazine but in Volume 2, #1, there are no-less-than three ads for
surf trunks, all of them put up by a company called SandComber. A quarter-page ad on
page 14 and another quarter-page ad on page 18 pointed to page 30, where there was a
half-page SandComber ad touting “Dogger” and “Baggy” trunks. There was no
information on materials, price or where you could buy them. Surf trunks increased in
intensity from there and the sound and fury is still going. (153 words)
1961 Elvis Presley stars in Blue Hawaii, a musical set in Hawaii in 1961. The King
portrays Chad Gates, a kamaaina kid who returns to Hawaii after two years in the Army
and wants nothing more than to hang out at his beach shack at Haunama Bay, surf, play
guitar and chase girls. In the movie, Presley is believable as a guy who only wants to surf.
He wears a pair of white trunks with black piping down the sides that were the fashion of
SURFER Issue 3#1 The marketing of surf trunks begins to heat up with an ad for Hobie
surfer trunks. Made of rugged 10.10 ounce heavy duty canvas, a butter fly, wax pocket
and string tie. The trunks are available by mail order for $9.95, plus tax. There is also an
ad for SandCombers, and Surf Goodies by MF are offering SandComber trunks in one
size – huge – for $5.00.And then on the back page is the first serious salvo, the first in
many many many full-page ads in Surfer Magazine, in color and with serious branders,
slogan-masters and marketers pulling the strings. The full-page ad from Jantzen features
Pat Curren, who was sponsored by the company along with Hap Jacobs, Warren Miller,
Ricky Grigg and John Severson – the publisher of Surfer Magazine. Jantzen was the
ancestor of both Billabong and Abercrombie and Fitch, at the same time an outsider
company marketing within the surfing world, but also a company which used many
variations on “Only a surfer knows the feeling,” slogan in their ads, when Gordon
Merchant was in diapers, and billabong was a word in Waltzing Matlida. (190 words)
SURFER Issues 3#2 through 3#4: Jantzen was on the back cover of 3#2, 3#3 and 3#4
but now the Jantzen man was Ricky Grigg, the surfer/scholar who worked out a deal with
the company based on his surfing career, which helped to fund his day job: “My deal
with Jantzen lasted eight years,” Dr. Grigg said from Hawaii. “ It involved an unlimited
merchandise allowance, about $3,0000 a year and some travel perks to photo shoot
destinations. Basically, the extra income added to my scholarship, and got me through
Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I helped design the trunks but most of my ideas
were not used. Basically the trunk would have been a reinforced spandex flex fiber – not
too long on the leg – sort of like what Kelly Slater uses in contests today.” (134 words)
SURFER Issue 3#5: The first ad for Birdwell Beach Britches features custom-made,
Army duck canvas shorts out of Santa Ana, for $8.95. The Birdwell “Birdie” logo
appeared for the first time in issue 4#3, and Kanvas by Katin showed up in the next issue.
They used the same logo then that they use now, and offered “Surf trunks tailored to your
measure.” Jantzen was still on the back cover of 4#4, now using the slogan: “There are
some things that only a surfer knows.” (86 words)
’60 From LegendarySurfers.com: “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...”
TIMING (3581 words, 10-20-2005, Duke edits)
An Interview with Duke Boyd on The Genesis of Hang Ten
Before we go any further I would like to publicly thank Leroy Grannis who
through his photography introduced me to the pioneer surfers of the day and set
the stage for Hang Ten’s acceptance in the surfing world.
Duke Boyd at the Waikiki Elk’s Club 10-20-2005
Hanging Ten is all about timing, positioning, skill, and finesse. The company was all
about timing, and positioning, and the skill and the finesse came later. Hang Ten was the
first surf company to go big – to cause a big sensation from the surfing world to the
civilian world – and it was all about timing. One of the founders of Hang Ten, Duke
Boyd, was a surfer going to college in 1959, the year Gidget introduced the idea of the
surfer as more than a bum to the world. Gidget lit the fuse that caused the surf culture
explosion of the 60s. There was Gidget, then Frankie and Annette and the Beach Boys
and within a couple of years, everybody wanted an ocean, across the USA. And Hang Ten
was there to clothe the revolution, a company founded almost by accident, branded
perfectly as an afterthought, and the first company started by a surfer that went off the
richter and became an international sensation
Duke is kind of an unusual name for a surfer. Where did you get that name?
Well my real first name is Francis. I changed it because of the talking mule TV show. It
was just too much to go through the laughter each time I met someone new.
I was born in Kansas City, Kansas in 1939, but at the age of two we moved to California
and then at the age of 10 I moved to Hawaii. This was 1946 (I lived in the islands at
about the same time that Walter Hoffman was there). After the war there was a big need
for Civil Servants so my step-father put in the paperwork and they approved him and we
all jumped on a boat and sailed over there. I spent my youth barefooted and running
around the islands and doing all the different kinds of things that you do in Hawaii when
you’re a young kid.
That sounds like fun.
I went surfing at Waikiki in 1946. I wasn’t doing anything but laying down and holding
on tight, but that’s the beginning of my surfing life. I was hooked and it’s been rewarding
in so many ways.
Do you remember playing King of the Hill on a floating platform with a bunch of
kids in tanksuits?
I don’t remember that, it was a bit before my time, but a lot of things in Hawaii were
changing in 1946. They were taking the barbed wire off the beach and they were moving
POWs around in trucks. The aftermath of the war was still evident. I spent a lot of time
up the Makaha side and Yokohama, all the way up to Kaena Point.
Did you live at Honolulu?
No we lived at Pearl Harbor, or actually just outside the gate at Hickam Field. I attended
Pearl Harbor Intermediate and lived the life of a barefoot Hawaiian Tom Sawyer. I
jumped at Waimea Falls and camped at Pupukea. Life was very very good!
Do you remember what you wore into the water as a kid growing up in Hawaii?
Actually I wore what were called palaka trunks and Hawaiian flower bathing suits. These
were Hawaiian light cotton shorts that were very very flimsy and basically didn’t stand
up to a young kid’s energy. They all tore and all the rest of it but that was the thing you
would get from the Liberty House. The people that knew about surfing who were older
than me, they would go out to Makaha to get their trunks custom made by a guy named
M Nii. I’m not sure but I think he and his wife were Filipino, and they worked in an old
place with rats running around. But all the movie stars and the surfers who would go out
there would get “Makaha surf trunks,” which were a little high in the back and they came
around the middle at the belly button level. They were shorter and that was a move from
the old tank suits you see all the guys wearing in the old photos. (And the women were
wearing too). I never did understand wool. I still don’t.
Someone needs to be thanked for getting rid of wool.
Wool didn’t make much sense but you have to remember that we were coming from a
very conservative time. The war changed a lot of it because prior to that time you weren’t
even allowed to see the ankle of a woman, much less the leg.
You lived in Hawaii for how long?
I lived in Hawaii that time for about four years. We left there in 1949 and came back to
California. I attended Ventura Junior High in 1949 for about two years before moving to
Panama where I attended Balboa High School. From there I went on to Canal Zone
Junior College. That was 1954. I got a football scholarship for Utah State College and
went there for a quarter where I red-shirted. I 1955 when I turned 20 I left Utah State and
joined the Army, just in time to be a Korean Vet and get the GI Bill. I had run out of
money and everyone at that time had to serve their country. So this was the best move to
make at the time.
Where did you do your service?
I spent my first year of military time in Georgia and then I got transferred to Europe
where I served my country in Paris, France.
Was that Army?
Well, yeah. When I signed up I was gonna be in administration. A clerk. I figured I could
avoid being shot if I stayed away from guns. When I went to the Augusta base the
administration category was all filled up, so because I was a college athlete they taught
me how to do judo. I ended up a judo instructor for the Military Police. And I said thank
you very much. I wore sweat pants and tennis shoes my entire time in Augusta. It was a
lucky time in my life.
And then to Paris?
Oh well that’s another story. Paris was wonderful. I caught it when it had the remnants of
Hemingway so it was still extremely romantic, prostitutes were still allowed to run the
streets. It was kind a loose moral city and being a young man in Paris at that stage in life
it became something to remember.
Did they dislike Americans?
No no no no. We brought in bottles of four roses to the French taxi drivers and they
thought we were wonderful after that. Americans were the liberators still and we had not
run out our welcome yet.
How many years in the service?
About three. I got out early because they were getting rid of service personnel. I was a
private by the way, for the entire time. I finally came back to California in 1957 and that
is when I started surfing again. You’ve got to remember I’m not a part of the… well let’s
just call them the Heritage Group which is Walter Hoffman, Mickey Munoz and Bruce
Brown, Steve Pezman, Corky Carroll, Hobie Alter and all of those guys. I was a young
surfer going to college who loved to surf. I got my first board from the Velzy shop. He
basically rooked me on a junky board, took my money and laughed. As only Velzy could
Manhattan Beach Velzy shop?
No it was San Clemente. Most of my surfing was as a lone surfer. I wasn’t hanging
around with any of those guys. When I first began venturing into that world the guys who
ran the shops were the guys who shaped the boards. My first encounter with surfers was
when I went into the Ole Shop in Seal Beach and talked to Mickey Munoz, Steve Pezman
and Corky Carroll. These guys were core surfers involved in the soul of surfing and had
done all the pioneering and riding of big waves and all the rest of the exploring. I’ve
always been sort of like the waterboy in the legendary surf world. I’m basically an
average surfer for the most part who enjoyed it, loved it and got to hang with the elite
surfers of the world.
Where did you like to surf best back then, back in the late 50s.
For the most part I surfed in Huntington Beach and eventually I lived there surfed
Trestles a lot and a little bit of Seal Beach. I would go down to Mexico and surf, and also
up north to Rincon and all the other areas. I really surfed the California coast from Santa
Cruz to Baja for about 10 years.
Before you started making your own trunks, what were you wearing through the
California beach shorts made by Jantzen and Catalina. I wore Clam Diggers once.
You got out of the service in 1957 and you were surfing around California. Where
was the first glimmer of Hang Ten?
That was probably around 1959/1960. I was in college at Long Beach City College and
eventually Long Beach State. life was surfing and I was in school and that’s where my
head was at at the time but I also needed money. I was an Art minor so I thought I would
design a jacket for surfing. After the surf was over you would put on the jacket that was
line with flannel and it had three-quarter sleeves and big, boxy pockets with a big hood. It
was a pretty good thing for surfing and still is.
So it was jackets at first?
Yes and no. The trunks came first. After running around for quite a while I finally found
a manufacturer who would make them for me. I made an appointment to see this lady
named Doris Moore who was in Long Beach. I brought in my art work and showed it to
her and she said, “What about the trunks that you’d design underneath it?”
She pointed to my after-thought surf trunks.
And I said, “What about them?”
She said, “I won’t make the jacket right now but I would like to make the trunks.”
And I said, “Well okay, what does that mean?”
She said well you go and have the samples made and then I will price them out and you
will go off and sell them. And that’s what happened. I went off and did that. I sold
enough to show there was interest and it grew steadily from there.
But if I can back up a little bit, this is a short story. There was a retailer in Seal Beach - I
think he had a shop called Mr. B or something of that nature. I was told to go see him
first because he was a knowledgeable retailer. He said “Whatever you do, son, don’t get
into manufacturing.” And I had no idea what he was talking about but I knew right then
that was not what I was going to do – whatever it was. But when I got some samples
together I took them to this guy and he ordered every one of them. I said, “Hey this
business is going to be a good deal. I’m going to be rich.” So I took it back to Doris
Moore, and I said, “Here’s my order” And she looked at it and said, “Well we’ll cut this
order in half. He probably has poor credit anyway.” So my first brush with the rag
business and the surfing world business was a major disappointment because I didn’t
know what poor credit was. I through everyone had good credit. My life in the rag
business had begun.
So you stumbled into the rag trade basically because you were in college and you
needed some money.
Nothing more to it than that and it was a big stumble because I was heading towards
becoming a teacher. When I look at my surf/Hang Ten life and what it would have been
to be a teacher. I scored big time.
What do you think you were going to teach?
Probably History and Art and I hoped to eventually coach sports.
Were you working on a teaching credential at Long Beach State?
I was working on my Masters as I stumbled into Hang Ten. I was just designing to make
some money. Back then surfers would get their trunks from what were called cotton
shops that were up and down the coast. They were mothers who would make these trunks
to fit the surfers. They would ask how long the leg should be and the other details, like
wax pockets and stripes and fit them into their patterns. Those little mom cotton shops
were all established at that time I started so when I came in and worked on designing
trunks I basically just took what every surfer wanted and added a little of this and a little
of that. And ouila! Hang Ten surfers.
Jantzen and Catalina were making bunhuggers at that time and the only trunk that was
being produced for surfers was by a company called Sandcomber and they were really
not a real surf trunk. They were too short and they were a little too tight. The trunks I
designed had more of a rise in the back of the trunk which would give it a longer torso,
and it would fold over in the back of the waist and wouldn’t bind around the stomach.
The young people in those days - I guess like young people these days - they wanted to
wear their clothing low around the crack of their butt. In surfing that didn’t work as well
but by raising the back and lowering the front you still got the low sexy long torso look
that also functioned.
How did the named Hang Ten come about?
As our design and marketing progressed, Doris Moore asked what label we should put on
the trunks. And I didn’t know you had to have a label. That’s how naïve I was.
How many names did you go through before you decided on Hang Ten?
The first thought was Boyd Trunks but we didn’t ever make a label for that. I didn’t like
it. Doris didn’t like it. And then one day we were talking and Doris asked: “Well what is
the equivalent in surfing to a hole in one in golf?”
I said, “Well, obviously it’s hanging ten.”
And she said, “Well, that’s a good name.”
I agreed! Actually it was a very corny name. Not very cool. I knew it wasn’t cool and
also felt it was original and commercial.
By the way Doris Moore was a brilliant businesswoman. And if you want a little history
on her, she was a lady who made Dickies. Dickies were little fake collars that go on top
of sweaters. Mamie Eisenhower wore them, and every girl wore them in the 50s. But
when the Kennedy administration came in to office, Dickies were out. That was the time
I approached her about the jackets. I was just lucky she was not doing Dickies because
she was the queen of the Dickie business. And she would not have left a going concern to
take up the risky surf business
Good timing is good.
Yes, I was fortunate. Very very fortunate. When I came in to the surfing world, surfing
was pure, soulful and amateur. All the surfers who appeared in the first Hang Ten ads
basically were all amateur surfers: Phil Edwards, Bing Copeland, Greg Noll, David
Nuuhiwa were just surfing. Around 1970 began the end of the free surfing world and the
beginning of the professional surfing world.
Where did the seed money for Hang Ten come from?
Well it was partly from me. I didn’t have any money in the beginning because obviously
I was trying to make some money for college. But by going out and selling the trunks I
made money and I invested it back into the company and that went on for about 10 years,
as we developed the program. We didn’t spent too much time at the beginning level we
started at which was in a garage in Long Beach. We did that for a couple of years and
then we went into licensing. Hang Ten could never have grown out of the small facility
that we had. In 1963 we licensed to two gentlemen named Bob McAlister and Scott
Thompson. They owned a company called Don Rancho that was making trunks for boys,
(but not very well) at the time. By way of friends who knew each the Rancho
manufacturers we got introduced to them and we put together a 20-year licensing
program for them to make Hang Ten. They had the money and the facilities and that
allowed us to extend our surfing sales force to Hawaii and to Florida. As it turned out,
Florida was the key to our major financial success because it was a marketplace that was
wide open to new surfing ideas from California.
Do you remember the point where you realized it could be something substantial.
First of all you have to realize I didn’t come from a background that I do now of being
aware of fashion and manufacturing and business and all the rest of it. I had no
background in any of that. I had just gotten out of the service so getting into the rag biz
well I was a neophyte. I designed things strictly from my own understanding of the
surfing world, because I was a surfer and didn’t need a translator. And for three or four
years I couldn’t design anything that was not successful. Everything I did was successful.
I thought I was some sort of a genius or something and then later on as Hang Ten started
to expand I’d have a few failures and that’s when I started looking around and paying
attention to what other people in the fashion world were doing, and I adapted.
That’s when I started to develop my insight and knowledge about the surf business. For
the first four or five years there was steady growth and then it started to become a real
phenomenon. Hang Ten took on a life of its own. People were sending us photos of
tattoos with feet on their chest. And I was wondering why would anyone want to do that.
In retrospect I understand what happened and how timing was important and how lucky I
was but in the beginning, no. I just wanted to design jackets to earn some money for
You sound like Jack O’Neill and Zog and a lot of others: “Hey I was just doing this
to support my family. I didn’t know I was going to change the world and become a
What surfers brought to fashion was the concept that laying around the beach and going
surfing had a lifestyle value all its own. Because prior to that anybody who had a good
suntan was a bum. I mean seriously a bum and people looked down on them. The world
of working hard, pioneering the west was the culture. Clean, crew-cut hair, Ivy League,
three-button, 11 ½-sleeve were the dress of the era.
When you watch Gidget and Cliff Robertson admits, “Oh yeah I’m a surfer, a beach
bum,” it’s like admitting now that you’re homeless and mentally ill.
It was that concept in Gidget: “Wait a minute I want to follow the sun and the surf.”
That’s what Moondoggie was saying and it a change in how Flatlanders looked at people
on the beach. Hang Ten was based upon the fact that the girls loved the boys who went
surfing. So if you epitomized the boy, the golden surfer, the girls were soon to follow and
that took care of the summer sales.
If you leaf through SURFER Magazine from issue one, page one, there were a few
surf trunk companies before Hang Ten: SandComber and then Hobie had trunks,
then Birdwell and Katin. But Hang Ten was the first surf company to attempt to go
big, to go beyond just custom trunks and try to compete like Jantzen and other
Hang Ten was about something that was surfer authentic in the sense that there was a
connection between what the surfer wanted and what functioned for him. At the time
trunks were made of canvas and heavy twills and those materials were stiff and would
soak up water. They were better than wool, but hardly suitable for surfing. I began to
change that by thinking in nylon for quick drying, which wasn’t used before. Eventually
we got to a point where we moved into knit wear and then to yarn-died knits and t-shirts
and that ended up bringing more volume in our knit line than we did in our surf trunk line
because there were more people who could throw on a Hang Ten shirt than there were to
SURFER Issue 4#6 Jantzen all of a sudden got some serious competition when the first
Hang Ten ad appeared on the inside back cover of SURFER – essentially going head to
head with Jantzen. Hang Ten came out swinging, letting the surfing world know they
were a surfing company run by surfers for surfers, by featuring three of the best-known
names of the time, posing on the rocks with their wives: Bing Copeland is wearing shorts
made of 3.5 ounce, fast-drying nylon for $6.95. Dewey Weber is wearing “hi-style rice
bag” shorts that are “fully lined and guaranteed to fade. Apparently Hobie Alter had
given up on the idea of Hobie shorts because he is the third surfer in the first Hang Ten
ad, wearing denim shorts with Velcro closures “tested for 50,000 pulls equivalent to 100
years of wear. Hang Ten stands behind Velcro.” (144 words)
MIKE DOYLE ON JAMS
1963 On the LegendarySurfers.com website, Mike Doyle recalled: “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… 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
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 again 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
JAMMING (2810 words, 8-19-2005)
Dick Metz and Walter Hoffman on the Evolution of Jams and Surfline Hawaii
This interview was recorded with Dick Metz and Walter Hoffman at Walter’s place in
Capo Beach in the spring of 2005. Flippy was hovering around the edges and chiming in
now and then.
And what were Jams, was that something Hawaiian?
Dick: In my recollection, Dave Rochlen was working for the Navy and I had the Hobie
shop on Kapiolani Boulevard in Honolulu. He wanted to get out of wearing a suit to work
so he was trying to get me to hire him at the Hobie Shop. But we didn’t do enough
business to have more than one employee: me, I was it. And we didn’t sell anything but
surfboards, and wax, and a little resin to fix your board. So Rochlen was trying – he was
very creative – he was trying to come up with something that we could sell, to give us
more volume so he could go work. After he’d get off work around 4:00 we’d go surf and
then I’d go over to his house for dinner. And every night his wife Keanue was at a little
round table in the kitchen where we would eat every night. She would cook dinner and
she had a sewing machine and she took jams – a pair of pajamas – and cut them off at a
kind of kneelength. Dave started wearing them around the house because they were really
comfortable and he said, “Make me a pair in aloha print, instead of just stripes.” So we
went down to G Vonham, who was a competitor to Walter in wholesale fabric. You could
go down there and buy a yard or 10 yards or whatever you want.
Walter: They’re no longer in business.
Dick: Rochlen went down there and bought about 10 yards of a print that was called an
“open print” because anybody could buy it. At that time you had to buy 3000 yards to
have a confined print and so you kind of owned that print. We weren’t near that big
enough so Rochlen would buy one print and make a few units and we put them in the
Hobie Shop. The way we’re going to find out the year is it was the first year the Makaha
contest was on live TV.
Walter: I’ve got to believe it’s ’63.
Dick: The entire Hobie team flew over and we thought if we could get them in Jams,
we’ll make a big score if we can get it on TV. I believe it was Mickey Munoz, Corky
Carroll - no Corky wasn’t there that early - Joey Cabell probably, Mike Doyle. All those
guys came over and we only had like six pair. I said I want you guys to wear these things
in the Makaha contest. And they all looked at them and kind of laughed and said “Yeah,
they’ll be pretty bitchin’” So they wore them and it was film and live TV and a couple of
days later we got a call from Lord and Taylor in New York. They said they want an open
order and “what do you call them?” And Rochlen said, “I call them Jams.” And he went
on this big story that he hade seen in Life Magazine where Russians at the Baltic Sea
were wearing these kind of pajama-looking things. Rochlen was great about dreaming up
a big story when in truth Keanue had been sewing them up at the dinner table when we
were having dinner. She hadn’t made more than a dozen pair of them but she started
making more of them every night and I started selling them in the Hobie Shop. I’m sure it
was 1963 or ’64.
Go back a little on the Hobie shop in Hawaii?
Dick: The first was where Hobie made boards and sold them out of the Dana Point store,
but it really wasn’t a store. It was just a garage where he made surfboards. And that
opened in 1951 in Dana Point. So it was a surfboard shop like Velzy’s – with a room to
Back then I went all around the world and hitchhiked to Africa and all that. I came back
and I was patching boards for Hobie a little bit and I was tending bar in Laguna and
Hobie said, “Well what are you going to do?” And I said, “Well I’m going to tend bar
and patch boards some more and make some lobster traps for Kimo.”
And Hobie said, “No we’ve got to go to Hawaii.” He and I had both been there a lot but
Hobie was always more serious about everything he did. He was a focused, kind of
serious guy. So in the winter or spring of 1961 we flew to Hawaii. We took our and in
those days you could take the board on the plane and leave it on the aisle. When you’d
step out into the aisle to go get a drink or go to the head, you’d step over the board and
knock it down. And when the hostess came down the aisle to give you treats, she would
hit the fin and knock it over.
Are these DC 9s?
Dick: This was a DC 6 or maybe a DC 4 is what it was. And there were two seats on
either side and one aisle down the middle. And we had to fly to San Francisco to re-gas to
make it because you couldn’t fly from LA.
In Honolulu, Hobie’s agent was George Downing, who was selling and renting boards off
the beach at Waikiki, at Kuhio Beach. What Hobie what got him to do - or what he was
supposed to do - was write an order for a custom-made surfboard, send it to Hobie, and
Hobie would send the boards back to George. Then George would deliver the board to
the guy. All production was here in California and George got ten bucks for selling the
board. Well it didn’t take Downing long to figure out if he started making the boards
himself, he could make more than ten bucks. So Hobie wasn’t getting any orders and we
went over and Hobie was upset because he wasn’t getting any orders and he decided to
take over the dealership from Downing. And he said to me – I wasn’t planning on staying
– he said, “You’ve gotta stay over here and we’re going to open a shop.” And I said,
“Hobie I don’t know how to run a shop.” But I had had a liquor store and all that so he
figured I could figure it out. So I stayed and he went home and that’s a whole ‘nother
story about the Hobie shops I could talk all night about that.
I stayed over there and started selling surfboards. And at first all we had was surfboards.
This was at 1475 Kapiolani Boulevard, right in front of the Ala Moana Shopping Center.
It was at the entrance. That was where the Merry Go Round restaurant on the roof.
We only sold surfboards, decals and patching kits. In California Hobie sold t-shirts with
“Hobie Dana Point” on the beach and I asked Hobie if it would be okay to put
“Honolulu” on it. Because nobody wanted “Dana Point” in Hawaii. Hobie said sure, so I
went down to the Chinese silk-screener down in Honolulu and I got him to take the exact
logo off and got him to put “Honolulu” on.
That was the first clothing item we had in a retail store - and the store in Honolulu was
the first purely retail store. I bought the boards wholesale and marked them up and that’s
when the price of boards went from $85 to a hundred. Hobie could sell them to me for
$80 and I could make twenty bucks for selling them. We were selling a lot of surfboards
and it was really worth doing.
Who else was doing this at the time?
Dick: No one. There were other surfboard makers, even in Honolulu. There was Inter
Island but they were doing like Hobie, shaping surfboards in a garage and not a real retail
store. This was on a busy street and they were all lined up. You could come in and buy a
Walter: I disagree with you.
Dick: About what?
Walter: Snuffy Smith’s Sporting Goods Store in Westwood was the first retailer.
Dick: But it wasn’t… It sold other stuff. What Walter says is right, that Hobie started
having dealers here in Southern California that were sporting goods stores. But they were
selling skis and water skis. Neil’s in Santa Ana was a Sporting Goods store. Every little
town had a sporting good store where you would buy a basketball or a football and all
that kind of stuff and so Hobie did sell surfboards to a few. They would buy three or
something. But this was the first one that was a store that only had surfboards in it.
Walter: Okay, you’re right.
Dick: We had racks of maybe 20 or 30 boards; you could order a custom board for your
height, your size and your shape. The first clothing items were those t-shirts, and they
sold like hotcakes once I put “Honolulu Hawaii” on there. Everybody in Hawaii wanted
them and then everybody who came to Hawaii wanted to bring them back to the
mainland, because that was another badge that you had been to Hawaii. So that started
that and is what got Rochlen coming down thinking about the clothes. Then Keanue
started making the Jams and I had only six pair in there when the Makaha contest was on
TV. So we got that $10,000 order which was a lot of money back then.
That would be like a hundred thousand now?
Dick: Lord and Taylor were a big a department store in New York. They called us up and
we were sitting at the Outrigger… I don’t know how they found us, they tracked us down
somehow. I was at the Outrigger every day after work. They put me on the telephone and
said, “Hey, they’re looking for these Jams.” I started talking, and then I gave the phone to
Rochlen, who was such a bullshitter. He started raving about the big company we had,
this big company. And they asked, “Do you make women’s stuff?” And he said, “Oh,
we’ve got a full line of women’s stuff…” And we’d never made women’s anything. We
had one line, Jams, and that was really it.
Were Jams always aloha print?
Dick: Yeah, at that time Jams were a long trunk with a tie front and a little fly. Around
the same time we are filling this $10,000 order from Lord and Taylor, LIFE Magazine
sends a team of photographers over. We didn’t think they were really coming. We
cashed that $10,000 check at the Outrigger and we’re buying lots of “Henry’s Specials”,
which is a foamy kind of Polynesian drink with a lot of rum in it that would get you
drunk really easy. So we were buying everyone at the Outrigger cocktails with our
$10,000 check. So LIFE comes over, wanting to take pictures of the Jams and this big
company and Rochlen heads them off at the airport and takes them to the Outrigger right
We had no office. There was no nothing. We had Keanue sitting around a round table at
home, that was our office. Meanwhile Keanue has been up for three nights straight
making bikinis for that women’s line we were supposed to have. She made enough that
we had several cute little girls at the Outrigger, in bikinis and crop-tops and whatever
else, and then we had Paul Strauch, Joey Cabell and Freddie Hemmings all wearing Jams.
We had 10 pair of these things and we had them all at the Outrigger all at one time. And
they all went crazy and that is what started the whole company.
What did they have in LIFE?
Dick: We had a like a full page, full-color spread.
People now don’t realize what a big deal LIFE Magazine was back then.
Walter: LIFE Magazine was huge.
Dick: So Jams took off, but it all seemed like it happened simultaneously. Because it was
around then that Duke Boyd got going with the whole different look that was the surf
trunk, not the Jams.
Walter: Clothing companies made more money off Jams through the ’90s more than any
other single item. They got hot twice. But back in ’63, he created more innovative
surfwear lines than anyone back then; Jams trunks, Jams pants, Butt Cuts, T-Shorts and
then Jobbers. It went from a $3 million deal to $9 million in one year, which was huge
Dick: Yeah they sank once and then they took off again later. Dave was so creative; he
came up with the reversed print shirt. We took the Aloha shirt that had been selling – the
regular Aloha shirt – and turned it into a reverse print, I’ve still got all the first ones of
How wealthy did Dave Rochlen get?
Dick: Not very wealthy, and at first we almost went broke. I borrowed $50,000 from the
Bank of Hawaii and that is what financed the whole thing.
You must have done some pretty good talking to get that much.
Dick: Well I did. I had to hock the whole Hobie store and everything I had to get the 50
grand. And the clothing business – and Walter will tell you – you never get back the
money out of it. You keep plowing more back in because the more business you do, the
more money you need to buy inventory.
So with that $50,000 you got from the bank did you set up production and…
Dick: We went down to the garment district in Honolulu and found a Chinese
contractor… I don’t remember his name now.
So this was a bunch of little Asian women sitting in a shop somewhere?
Dick: Yeah, sewing stuff. And then we got enough orders that we couldn’t make them
fast enough. Rochlen went to Tijuana and had them make the tops for bikinis, and that’s
when that whole thing went crazy because he didn’t keep track of what we were making.
We were making bikini tops in Tijuana and bikini bottoms in Honolulu and we got way
too many tops, and the tops didn’t coordinate, the 8s and 10s and 12 tops didn’t match.
We had way too many tops, but that turned into another Rochlen masterstroke. We had
hundreds of bikini tops, so he put them in a big box, like a TV box, and sent them to
Johnny Carson. On the show, Johnny jumped in the box and he came out with all these
boob tops hanging on his ear and all over his face and everything. That was another big
marketing coup and we could never produce them fast enough. Rochlen out-
merchandised and out-marketed the supply. We couldn’t build them fast enough.
Johnny Carson and LIFE Magazine. These days that’s like getting plugged on
Oprah and Martha Stewart and Time.
Dick: That is when it really took off and Rochlen just went bananas. At the same time,
the parent company was called Surfline Hawaii and Jams was the product, and then he
came up with Butt Cuts and reverse shirts. But at the same time all this took off, all the
other surfboard dealers - Weber, Bing, Greg Noll, Hansen, and G & S – they all wanted
an outlet in Hawaii. I knew them all and they all wanted me to do it, but I couldn’t
because I was already the “Hobie guy” in Hawaii. When I realized they were going to get
other guys to be my competition, I came over to the mainland to see Bing and Hansen
and Weber and got their dealership. I went back to Honolulu and we opened a Surfline
Hawaiian retail store that then was the dealer for all the other surfboard makers.
You were still with Hobie?
Dick: I was still with Hobie but nobody knew, and this is when Rochlen quit the Navy to
run Surfline. But the clothing end of it got so big, that’s when we hired Walter’s friend
Freddy Schwarz from Santa Monica, to run the store and handle the surfboard side. I
owned Surfline Hawaii but nobody knew that, because they all thought I was the “Hobie
What did Hobie think about all this?
Dick: He didn’t care as long as I sold only Hobies out of the Hobie store. Hobie knew
that competition was going to happen, so it was better to have me own the competition
than have the other guys be competing against me. This way I ran both stores but no one
knew I ran it and I could compete with it better by owning it than not owning it.
MIKE DOYLE’S EXPERIENCE WITH CATALINA (1652 words)
1964/65 From the LegendarySurfers.com website: “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
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,’ Doyle said. ‘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 tour, 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.
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.
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
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
‘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
‘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.”
Bill Andrews ran the Pacific Beach Surf Shop at the time and sold Catalina and he
concurred on LegendarySurfers.com: “The trunks were worse than that but, memory
please don’t fail me now, weren’t our first WindanSea Surf Club jackets Catalina-
1966 Joyce Hoffman: “I think that was during the World Contest in San Diego in 1966.
They held three separate contests and the third and final one was at the Ocean Beach pier,
where I think this photo was from. I was wearing my “good luck” jams which I surfed in
regularly. I liked them because they were so practical - let me concentrate completely on
my surfing and not worry about my swim suit and its location. The longer legs also kept
the dreaded “wax rash” at bay. The wax/paraffin of the day could really do a job on the
inside of your thighs.
Besides my lucky jams, I had suits especially made for me out of nylon. This was to help
mitigate the dreaded under arm rash that tops made of heavier materials caused and the
nylon would dry so quickly. While men had trunks available in nylon, no one was
making women's suits out of similar materials. I had the bottoms designed similar to a
short, which I found much more comfortable for surfing. The top was capable of
withstanding a wipe out and still stay on.”
1968 American wetsuits weren’t easily available in Australia, so in 1968 Australian
surfer Alan Green took a wetsuit concept to Brian Singer and Doug Warbrick at Rip Curl
Surfboards in Torquay, Australia. Singer and Warbrick were having some success with
their surfboards but figured wetsuits would expand the market by creating more
customers. With a $2500 loan, the three started making Rip Curl Wetsuits in the winter of
1969. Alan Green and John Law were modern surfers chafing at the harsh materials and
restrictive design of surf trunks back then, and they invested their money and time into
new, functional board shorts for surfers called Quiksilver.
1968 SUNRISE, SUNDEK (1998 words, 8-31-2005)
Bill Yerkes on the East Coast Angle
By Bill Yerkes
How did you get involved in the surf trunk business?
I went to work for Larry Gordon and Floyd Smith selling G&S Surfboards in 1968. I was
their first sales rep and my territory was “the world.” I traveled the west coast, east coast,
Hawaii and Puerto Rico - the known surfing world at that time. My job was to “solve the
dealers’ problems” since production was usually sold up. Even though I was a sales rep, I
never really learned how to sell. At that time, most surf shops only sold boards and
“accessories:” wax, resin and cloth, maybe t-shirts with the shop or board builders’ logos
on them. A lot of them wanted to sell surf trunks but they were hard to get. Katin and
Birdwell were the well known, hard core companies but their distribution was limited for
various reasons: size, exclusivity or whatever. And Hang Ten wouldn’t sell to most of the
little surf shops, concentrating instead on department stores, men’s stores and only a few
of the biggest surf shops.
At that time, Jim Jenks, with Hansen Surfboards had put together a repping company to
sell accessories to their dealers. He sold the “Surf Research” trunks by Sandy Andraitas
(sp?) in Encinitas and he had a line called Sundek that was basically a resort line with a
couple of items that kind of looked like surf trunks.
Jenks and I would actually travel together to see the dealers. It was kind of a mini
traveling Surf Trade Show.
Well I couldn’t get a line of surf trunks to sell so I convinced Larry to let me manufacture
trunks. I came up with a basic design and found some cloth up in LA, a sewing contractor
and the “Wavewear” surf trunk company was born.
It was one nightmare after another. I wound up selling our first production run of 300
dozen three times because we kept missing the cancellation dates. First the cloth didn’t
get delivered on time and then there was an earthquake in LA that spring and it was just
one thing after another. And then they all fell apart because I insisted on the strongest
heaviest thread, not knowing that the thread was so strong that it ripped the fabric apart at
That was the end of Wavewear?
Well, not really. One thing about the surf business back in those days, they’d always give
you another chance. So I got involved with a guy named C. B. Vaughn in Vermont. He
was a world class skier who had set a downhill record in 1962: 106 mph on the snowy
slopes of Portillo, Chile. He wasn’t afraid of anything. He had a small skiwear company
and was kind of the Birdwell or Katin of the skiwear industry. He needed some off-
season production and I needed some surf trunks to sell. So CB Sports/Wavewear was
The product looked great. He was a fantastic colorist and the quality was second to none.
He had plenty of nylon inventory in a zillion colors.
I went on the road and sold the heck out of the stuff. We had “dating,” which meant if
you shipped in early you didn’t have to pay for it until the end of the season. Can you
imagine that, giving that kind of credit to surf shops? I told you he wasn’t afraid of
anything. Then we had the Baker’s Dozen program: Buy 12 dozen and you got a dozen
free. Everything was going great, except he never delivered. He never shipped the first 12
dozen, much less the free dozen.
So how did you get involved with Sundek?
Jenks had been repping Sundek and he got frustrated with them. They wouldn’t listen to
him and although the sales were good, they didn’t deliver that great and they wouldn’t
listen to his design ideas. So Jenks quit and started a company called OP. I think you’ve
heard of them.
A little history here: Sundek was started by a guy named Irv Levin who was a
contemporary of Rube Hoffman, Walter and Flippy’s Dad. Irv was also a pioneer in the
West Coast apparel business. In 1962, he came out of retirement to start a business for his
son, Stu who had just got out of the Navy. They decided to start a swimwear business
because Irv liked to go to Hawaii. They were buying prints from the Hoffmans and said
they wanted to make some surf trunks and they wanted to get some surfers to wear the
stuff. Walter fixed them up with some of his buddies to be on the Sundek Surf Team. The
team consisted of: Mickey Munoz, Miki Dora, Tubesteak and J. J. Moon. There first
meeting was dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel and Dora was in charge of ordering the
wine…but that’s another story. (Ask Munoz or Tube about this)
Anyway, after Jenks left to start OP, they were looking for a way to keep the thing going
and they called me. They’d heard about my “Baker’s Dozen” scheme and decided they
needed to talk to me. I was apprehensive. The principals in the company were now Stu
Levin and his partner Fred Liebrenz. They flew me to San Francisco and wined and dined
me at Fisherman’s Wharf and in Chinatown and tried to convince me to take the line.
So you went to work for Sundek?
Not at first, I still wanted to have more control over the product and they were going to
have to convince me that they were open to that.
By this time they were ready to listen. Jenks had been a big producer for them, even with
the line the way it was. At that time there just weren’t that many guys traveling the surf
shop circuit. It was a tiny industry. There weren’t many reps and there weren’t many
companies who could make the stuff. Neither of us had a whole lot of choices.
They gave me a big voice in the surf trunk designs, let me work with the sewing
contractors on construction and fit and let me produce some ads for the magazines.
We made big inroads in the surf shop market. We were going head to head against OP
and they were tough competitors. Their stuff looked really good. I figured the best way to
do this was to build the beast surf trunk the world had ever seen. Everyone up until then
had double-stitched the seams using the same type of double needle equipment that Levi
used to make their 501 jeans. I called the sewing contractor and said, “Hey, what would it
take to triple stitch the seams?”
“Well,” he said. “We could just thread up the middle needle.”
Thread up the middle needle! I couldn’t believe it. It was that easy. The contractor we
were using was an old company in the Midwest who’d been making overalls since the
1890’s. The equipment they were using was work clothes sewing machines modified to
handle the lighter weight double layer of Nylon.
Over the next few years we did really well, and although OP and Lightning Bolt and
Hang Ten owned the sportswear end of the business, we became known for having one of
the best surf trunks. It was the smallest part of the overall surf wear market but it gave us
something that had eluded the company for a long time: Image. Now, a lot of well-known
surfers were actually buying our trunks and paying retail for them because they
performed so well.
So you eventually owned the company?
In 1976, Stu, the majority stockholder and president of the company decided to retire. He
was getting fed up with the business and he was tired of his top producing salesmen
leaving to start their own companies: First Jenks, and then their Hawaiian rep, Gene
Suknot, left to start his own company. He figured I was next, so he offered me a deal to
take over the surf trunk and walk short part of the company. His partner Fred would keep
the shirt division in San Francisco.
I was living in Florida by this time and running the East Coast sales division from Cocoa
Beach: Surf City East, USA. I didn’t want to go back to San Diego, although it would
have been a good move commercially. I was loving Florida, the warm water and the laid
back lifestyle. So I rented a warehouse and started a distribution operation and cranked it
Stu showed me all the secrets of the garment business. It was like a college education. He
took me to New York to the major mills and fabric converters. We went to LA and met
all the textile people there.
And of course he introduced me to Walter Hoffman. Walter was a big influence on me
and a big part of our success. I used to love to go there and work up the prints for the new
line. We’d sit in Walter’s office with his 20-foot-long desk and all the wonderful art and
photos on the walls and the artists would bring in paintings and lay them out. Then we’d
take a break and go to the Japanese buffet. Then back to work to finish up the line. Then
we’d take a break and jam on our ukuleles then back to work. It was just classic.
It was a big thrill to go down to Baja with Walt and Flippy and get some waves and hang
out with these guys who were such legends in both the surfing world and the textile
I decided to run ads in every issue of every surfing magazine that existed. I sponsored the
ESA and the WSA. I gave Surfrider their first donation to get off the ground. If it had to
do with surfing I wanted in.
Through the late seventies and the early eighties we had a great run.
And then everyone who knew someone who owned a surfboard and had heard of a
sewing machine somewhere got into the surf apparel business. I call it the invasion of the
shoulder hoppers. By 1988 the market was so fragmented and the worst thing anyone
could say about you was that you were an “old company” that you been “around for a
long time.” I divested myself of my interest in the Sundek name in 1988 and went into
retirement for a while. In 1990 I got into the silkscreen t-shirt business. I always envied
the guys in that business. They didn’t have to manufacture the garments, just slap some
ink on them.
But you’re making surf trunks again. What happened?
About 1994 I went out to buy a pair of surf trunks. I couldn’t find anything decent.
Nothing I found was made for surfing. It was “gangwear,” not “surfwear.” It looked like
the major surf wear makers were trying to outfit their customers for a drive-by shooting,
not a surf trip.
I called Walter Hoffman and ordered some cotton Tahitian pareu prints and found a lady
to sew up a few pair to my specs. When I went to the beach with my balsa board and my
Tahitian print trunks all my friends were saying, “Hey Balsa Bill, where’d you get those
trunks?” And the next thing you know, I’m back in business.
Ten years later, I’m still making them. I make about as many pair a year now as I did in
one morning back in 1980. But I’m making them the way I want. Not the way some
buyer, or some road rep or some “team rider” thinks they ought to be. I sell them direct to
the customers over the internet and through our little store that sits right on the beach in
Satellite Beach, Florida.
Oh, yeah…and I surf a lot more now to.
TAKE OF WAIKIKI (535 words, 9-11-2005)
Bill Yerkes’ Tribute to one of the Godmothers of Surf Trunks
By Balsa Bill Yerkes
Probably the biggest influence on my surf trunk-making career has been Take of
The first time I ever saw a pair of Take’s was back in the early sixties when a surfer from
San Diego named Jerry Carter showed up at the beach one day. He was a real good surfer
and he’d lived in the Islands for a while. He has these really cool trunks: cotton aloha
print with contrast solid colored lining. He said they were Take’s and he’d had them
custom made. Now, Lavallette, New Jersey was a long way from Hawaii but I
immediately started thinking about how I could get a pair of Take’s.
“Just send her a letter and tell her your waist size and what you want and she’ll send ‘em
to you COD,” he said.
I guess this makes him one of the first surfwear sales reps. Since he didn’t know the exact
address, I just sent my order to Take, Kalakaua Blvd. Honolulu, Hawaii. It seemed like
forever, but actually it was just about three weeks later that the postman showed up at
Keller’s Surf Shop, where I lived and worked, with a COD package from Hawaii. The
amount was about $12 and change. The mailman actually waited around while I opened
the package because he just couldn’t imagine what would come all the way from Hawaii
and cost over twelve bucks.
I can still remember opening the package and the sight of my custom made Take’s. They
were made from a real rice bag and the print was classic. The fly closed with coconut
buttons and there was a side wax pocket with a flap, it too had a coconut button.
On my first trip to the islands a few years later, the first thing I did was go to Take’s and
get a pair of cord shorts. Over the years, no trip to the islands was complete without a
stop at Take’s. I collected quite a selection of Take wear, including print shirts and
trunks. In the early seventies I stopped in to get a new pair of rice bag trunks in the new
shorter style. They’re the ones in the picture.
My biggest thrill was after I took over the Sundek name and surftunk operation, and one
day my Hawaiian sales rep sent in an order from Take’s of Waikiki. On my next trip to
the islands I stopped in the see Mrs. Take and thank her for the business. She said that her
business had grown so much in her new location that she couldn’t keep up with the
production and was bringing in brand names to supplement her offering.
I was thrilled to have my brand and product represented in such a classic store.
When I reentered the surf trunk business in 1994, I thought back to the Take trunks that
I’d worn in my younger years and decided that I was going to make my new trunks in the
style and tradition of those wonderful trunks.
Thanks Mrs. Take for making great trunks and for your encouragement and help over the
THE 70S: CORDUROY TO THE HORIZON
1970 Australian Gordon Merchant rented a farmhouse on Australia’s Gold Coast and
surfed himself silly. He shaped surfboards for awhile, then saw his friend Tommy Moses
having success with a surfwear label called Kream. Merchant and his wife Rena began
cutting out board shorts on the kitchen table, and selling them locally to get by, and by
and by, they did.
71? In Hawaii, surfer Gerry Lopez established the Lightning Bolt label and he sold
surfboards to every top pro passing through Hawaii, and a lot of clothing, jewelry and
stickers with the Lightning Bolt logo.
JUST BEFORE OP
70??? According to Bill Andrews on the www.legendarysurfers.com website: 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 and OP began. Yerkes became a billionaire East Coast Sundeker.
Great fun then, and what a learning experience... right??? Bill Andrews”
CORDUROY TO THE HORIZON (3039 words, 8-19-2005)
Jim Jenks and the Evolution of Ocean Pacific
NEED AN INTRO This interview with Jim Jenks took place in late July at the offices of
Newport Blue in San Diego.
Did you start Op to get rich or to make good trunks?
I started Op because surfing was my life. It was a lifestyle. I was lucky enough to live in
Encinitas. California when it was really, truly the North County and the drive up here… it
took a half a day to get up here from San Diego because there weren’t any freeways. And
when I went out in the water I could be the only person out in the water, or I could be
surfing with friends. In those days you left your key in the ignition. Your doors weren’t
locked. Your board was in your front yard. Your wetsuit was draped over a bush. And it
was all there in the morning. I was very lucky. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by
Linda Benson and Mike Doyle and Joyce Hoffman and Rusty Miller and people like that
that who loved that whole life.
Most of the pioneering surfers from the 50s are either from California, or the mid-
west. Which are you?
I was born and raised in San Diego County. I started on early foam and surfed Pacific
Beach and Tourmaline Canyon, La Jolla around 1957, 1958 and 1959. When I started
surfing, it was considered a hobby. Some people went fishing. Some people went skiing.
It was a hobby and never a lifestyle and I think what Duke, Walter and I brought to the
table is surfing as a way to style your life. We made surfing a lifestyle by giving it
identification. In other words, the surfboard manufacturers gave the boards ID but we
gave the guy who was away from the beach ID as to what he was, when he walked away.
You knew he was a surfer.
What did you use in the ’50s?
Early on we had Birdwell Beach Britches and we also used to travel up to Seal Beach and
have Nancy Katin cut us some trunks.
That was the ’50s?
Yeah. ’50s and early ’60s.
Where were Birdwell from?
They were up inland, in Orange County somewhere.
Considered surf trunks?
They were surf trunks. They were the only people who catered at that particular time to
guys who surfed. They were custom only, very heavy, very ill-fitting, very
uncomfortable. Guaranteed crotch-rash. Guaranteed. The one thing that Op did, what I
did with Op is I feel I was the first guy who made a surf trunk that fit, that worked. We
put in a lot of work and effort to make that happen and our trunks truly were different
than what you could buy in a store. Well actually you couldn’t buy them in a store. You
could buy some Hang Tens. Hang Tens were more of a basic, basic fit and they weren’t
made for an active person. You have to remember in the days of Catalina and Jantzen,
trunks were made for laying by a swimming pool. Nobody made anything that would let
you stretch your leg, or let you walk around on a surfboard, or trunks that stayed on when
you paddled through a wave. Op came about because I was in the water every day and I
was in the surfboard business. I was with Don Hansen in the surfboard business.
No I worked for Don in 1964 and we just had generic trunks up to that time. If you had a
little bit of money and you had a car you made a trip up to Katin and you did that.
Katin was Kanvas.
Yeah they used sailcloth. That is what they used because they made covers for boats.
That was their business.
Do you ever remember wearing wool?
Was there any wool after World War II?
No. I’ll tell you early on you saw a lot of cutoff pants in the water. You’ve got to
remember trunks in those days… I keep going back to Jantzen and things like that… they
had Spandex in them, they had tighter-fitting trunks. They weren’t like Speedo
bunhuggers but they were longer-fitting.. they were a snugger fit. They didn’t have any
looseness. They didn’t have any fit over the hipbones. There was no rise and no drop.
There was no open legs and so that is what I think Op brought to the table. Besides the
cord walk shorts.
Did you ever have a pair of M Nii’s?
Yeah but that was later on. Going to Mecca, meant saving up all your money and doing
anything you could to get over there. I was married very young. and I had children so for
me to get to Hawaii was a major deal. But when you got to Hawaii you bought your
trunks over there, you bought tatami matt slaps… you hit the Salvation Army and bought
the silky shirts that had been given away by the all the World War II military guys. And
when you came back and got off the plane and walked down Encinitas Boulevard -
everybody knew you had been to Hawaii. You couldn’t have had a sign that said any
more. That was your badge.
M Nii’s were good?
Yeah, sure. It was neat it was like having custom clothing, it was like having a custom
Did M Nii have a label?
You know I don’t remember. All I can remember is picking colors.
Through the 60s you worked for Hansen and then you repped, right?
Yeah I had a company called California Surfing Products, which was still part of Hansen
Surfboards. At that time Don and I were building surfboards and we put together a really
strong dealer network throughout the Gulf and East Coast. We were selling boards really
big and that’s when Dewey Weber and Gordon and Smith and Hobie were going strong.
You only sold Hansen boards?
Just Hansen Surfboards. I ran Hansen Surfboards for years and years and then I wanted to
go out on the road and do some stuff. I thought a repping company would do really good,
because there were items that were becoming commonplace in surfing. At that time Bay
Standard was the car rack to have, so I went up to the old German guy who ran Bay
Standard and worked out a deal to rep his racks. I had a wetsuit line, a bikini line. I had
SURFER products, when they were doing posters. I sold posters and SURFER
subscriptions to these stores.
Were you the first to rep surfing products?
Yeah I had to be one of the first. Bill Yerkes came in after me and he started repping
Gordon and Smith and some of these other lines and we started traveling together. He had
his little deal and I had mine and we would set up at the same surf shops. That’s when
Ron Jon was getting started, along with some of the bigger shops along the East Coast. I
made two trips a year, going down there in my van showing stuff.
Did you rep any surf trunks?
I represented a company called Sundek. The problem I had with them is I couldn’t get
Sundek to make a trunk that really worked for surfers. They just flat wouldn’t do it.
Sundek weren’t a surf company?
No, they had some swimwear but it was more Palm Springs kind of stuff. After working
with Sundek I decided that the world needed a better surf trunk - so that’s what I did. I
went to a girl by the name of Sandy Lewis in Encinitas. She was the sister of a guy I used
to surf with named Tommy Lewis. His sister had a bikini shop and I went in there and
said, ‘Sandy I need you to figure out how to make a men’s swim trunk that really works.’
I sketched out what I wanted, but I felt the available fabrics were too heavy and
uncomfortable. I wanted a product that really fit, that were made of light, comfortable
fabrics that would drape and fit. And so that’s what I did, I designed a trunk that really
worked and that trunk has been copied by a whole lot of people.
I went to cottons, to more comfortable fabrics than that heavy heavy nylon. I went to
lighter nylons but the whole deal with what we did is we developed what we call a drop.
It’s high in the back and comes down and drops low in the front so it comes over the
hipbone. Our design sat lower in front. Hold the side seams and pull out, it’s not straight
The trunk I designed was high in the back because in those days everyone was
kneepaddling and when you kneepaddled and bent over, trunks would slide down your
butt. So with the higher rise in the back they fit better. The other thing we did is make the
leg a bell leg. The leg came was cut on the bias and was very large. That meant when you
jumped up and you made your first move, the trunks had a natural fall that came down
and they weren’t all balled up in your crotch, so to speak.
The problem now with surf trunks is they are way way way too long to be really
functional… if the leg doesn’t get too big down there they bind. Surf trunks today are a
Hang Tens weren’t functional?
No they were okay. They were okay trunks The only problem with Hang Ten is they
walked away from the surf shops. They went big quick. Let me tell you something. Duke
is a very very bright, cool guy. I’ve known Duke for ever ever ever and he’s done some
wonderful things and he started a great company. He just moved it up and out of surfing a
little too soon
He or his licensees?
Well I think it was his licensees because there comes a time when you’ve gotta do what
we call “crossing the street.” You’ve got to remember too that when he started there
weren’t that many surf shops. You could do a couple million dollars a year and you were
the biggest guy in every surf shop going at that point. Now you can do $30 million before
you cross the street.
Hang Ten is still a $400 million company.
It is a world-wide conglomerate now and they have licenses everywhere around the
world. They are an affiliation of companies who manufacture for a given are. Hang Ten
Spain is run out of Spain. It’s not a driven, directed company out of Southern California.
Four hundred million dollars is still a lot of money.
Sure it is. It’s a lot of money.
What did you learn from Hang Ten?
They were the biggest in the 60s but they were really the only in the 60s. Katin and
Birdwell were small and custom made. Hang Ten were the first guys to go out and make
something and use surfing as their thing, as their moniker so to speak, and hang onto that
and make it work and they did a great job. The problem was they didn’t have the
demographics to make it happen, like today. Geez if you start a label today – if you can
start a label today – and go out there. Look at the demographics you have now. It’s a
billion dollar industry. When I got into this it was a half-million dollar industry. So it’s
gone a long long long ways.
When you started it was a half-million dollar industry but you blew it up into
something much larger.
When I started Op in 1972 we did $370,000 the first year in business and then the next
year we did a million and a half and then we went to three and then we went to eight and
we extrapolated out like you wouldn’t believe. Pretty soon we had to do what Duke did,
because we didn’t have enough money to finance that kind of growth. We had to license
and bring in other people. So it’s a whole different world and then the other thing is we
were taking surfers and turning them into business guys. Sometimes it works and
sometimes it doesn’t.
Duke Boyd said he was warned from the beginning not to get into manufacturing.
We manufactured from the beginning.
Was it a bad idea?
No, Not at all. It was the only way I could get what I wanted. Now when you say
manufacturing it’s not like we owned our own sewing machines. Some stuff we made
ourselves, but for the bulk of it we hired contractors. We always did our own cutting so
we knew the fit was right, and then we would contract out our sewing. There’s different
ways to do it.
They were the best. Don Hansen will go down in history as one of the smartest, one of the
best for surfing ever as a surfboard manufacturer. Hobie Alter was an absolute genius
and from a marketing standpoint I think Dewey Weber was wonderful with his Wonder
Fin and the other things that he did. For quality Hap Jacobs and guys like that.. Bing
Copeland moved things forward. In those days they were dealing with 10 foot blanks and
the glass and foam technology was low . The stuff Grubby was making in those days and
Harold Walker, it was just incredible.
If it hadn’t been for surfing I really don’t think there would be a young men’s department
in the department stores. In the old days it used to be the boy’s department and the men’s
department.. There wasn’t a young men’s department. You go into young men’s right
now and see what’s in there. You’ve got surf trunks from everybody in the world you’ve
got t-shirts and all of these things that came out of surfing.
Surfing has brought a lot to main floor shopping malls, to surf shops and there are people
who have survived. Look at the Hobie Store and Val Surf out in the valley. Ron Jons.
Jacks in HB. That place is incredible. Those kinds of guys have turned those little surf
shops into very profitable ongoing businesses that draw new customers in every day.
So Walter Hoffman: how does he figure. Where did you bump into him?
Walter and I go back a long ways. At Hansen we built some boards for Joyce when she
was competing and we sponsored her for a little while. So I got to know Joyce and
through Joyce I got to know Walter, who I knew was in the apparel business. In 1972
when I wanted to try to do something with trunks I went up and talked to Walter about it.
And Walter became my mentor. Flippy too. Those guys are brilliant.
Walter and Flippy are ageless. I have no idea what age they are because they look the
same, they act the same as they always have. We’re all about the same age. I surfed with
Walter and we became very very good friends and Op would never have had the start it
had or the growth and success it had if it wasn’t for Walter. Walter believed in me. He
knew I was starting out and knew I didn’t have any money and I just had a dream and he
helped me develop that dream. He was the first guy to give me credit and he allowed me
to buy stuff from him. He helped me develop looks for what I thought we needed. He
truly became a design partner. Walter has an uncanny ability to really know what looks
like surf. He is amazing. He just knows what’s cool. He has a great color sense and the
other thing is Walter and Flippy live it. They are in the water every day. They know what
works. They knew my trunks worked and they knew my shorts were comfortable and my
shirts were great. We worked together and Hoffman Fabrics was absolutely a big help.
Trunks and shirts with them?
I bought fabric and he was just great. We traveled around the world together and went to
different places: Brazil, Africa, Mexico and Europe. We’ve been all over the place and
we could see what’s going on and make it work. I think Walter has done more for surfing
than anybody. Walter gives to everybody and everybody buys from Walter because of
that. You know what you get form him is the right stuff. Walter and Flippy will go down
as the all time water guys who have ever been in the sport. They both dive and surf and
I went to the Riding Giants premiere in Hawaii and one of the loudest reactions was
for a photo of Walter holding two big ulua that he had speared.
Walter was the first non-Hawaiian beach boy in Waikiki. He taught surfing with the
locals there, shaped boards under trees. When he got out of the Navy he stayed in Hawaii
and everybody knew Walter.
Did you ever meet his Dad?
Yes. Rube was a wonderful wonderful man. Rube helped me with the business end of my
business. I could call Rube anytime and he would talk to me on the phone and or I would
go up and see him when he was active in the business. When he got older he lost his
vision and he was home quite a bit but there was never ever a time when I couldn’t pick
up the phone and say rube what do you think about this, about that? And he was a very
rock solid business guy. He had been in the business for years and years and years. Both
as a pants salesman and then as a fabric supplier.
So, now when you say Walter extended you credit was it hundreds of thousands?
No it wasn’t that big but it was (40:48)
70s From the www.legendarysurfers.com website, Bill Andrews ran the Pacific Beach
Surf Shop: Back in the 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.”
ORIGIN OF LIGHTNING BOLT (624 words)
By Gerry Lopez
My partner Jack Shipley and I started Lightning Bolt Surf Company in the summer
of 1972. I made the surfboards and Jack sold them. We took over the old Hobie shop
from Karl Heyer who had got it from Dick Metz. The whole surf industry was kind of at
a low point and we got into Karl's old shop for a song. There were a lot of unattached,
garage-style surfboard builders and in the first week we had Barry Kanaiaupuni and Bill
Stonebreaker interested in selling their boards through us. Before long there was a long
list of guys building surfboards in their backyards and selling them in the shop. The pro
surfers from around the world riding our boards was a freebie deal that Shipley instigated
with a lot of reluctance on my part. We were giving these guys the boards free to use
while they were here. They either returned them after the season, worked out some deal
with Jack to take them home or broke them in half. As you can imagine, it cost us a lot of
money but from a marketing standpoint it was brilliant. Most of the photos in the mags
were of guys riding our boards. We sold mostly Sundek trunks in the shop - I can't
remember much about any other brands...there weren't many at the time.
Hakman and I went to Australia for a company called Golden Breed owned by an
Adelaide surfer named John Arnold. Jeff had a deal with the US company years before
Duke Boyd sold it and I got onto John through Barry Bennet who we had a deal with for
making our Bolt boards in Oz. John and Barry were big friends. So Jeff and I traveled
down under for some promotions and went to the Bell's contest one Easter. We knew
Claw and Singding from Rip Curl and Greenie from Quiksilver and we used to stay with
them or Jack McCoy when in Torquay. The Quiksilver surf trunks were the best surf
shorts we had seen. They had a fitted waistband (like on girl's pants) and were made out
of a soft cotton poplin material so they were very comfortable to wear, much more so
than any other trunks especially those awful nylon, sweatyballs shorts from Sundek. We
brought them back to Hawaii and everyone wanted some. I copied the pattern, got some
similar material from Walter Hoffman, and made up some trunks for our shop. These
were the first Lightning Bolt surf trunks.
At the same time, we were the first to import Quiksilvers from Greenie and they were a
huge success even at the high price. In 1975, Duke Boyd got involved with us, bought
out the rights to our name, gathered some other people and started the Bolt Corporation
which was set up as a licensing company. Shipley and I almost missed the boat but
Duke figured out he needed us so we got back in. We never knew what was really
happening and certainly had no idea where any of it would go, so we just rode along. We
did license a swimwear jobber - I can't remember the name - but all in all, most of the
Bolt clothing.... well to be honest, stunk. But at the time Lightning Bolt was flying, we
had more gross sales than OP so I guess for a moment we were the biggest. Too bad it all
disintegrated...sometime when we have a chance, I can tell you the whole sordid story.
Hakman, ever the business mind, meanwhile, talked Greenie into giving him a license to
make and sell the shorts in the US. The rest of that is history...
76 Traveling Hawaiian-native surfer named Jeff Hakman was passing through Torquay,
Australia to compete in a contest when he saw a pair of Quiksilver boardshorts. He
“borrowed” a pair or two from his Australian friend Mark Warren, and came back to
America with a Bell’s trophy and a deal to distribute Quiksilver in America. Quiksilver
boardshorts had a scallop-leg and two-snap velcro closure. Hakman and a lot of others
could sense a Secondary Explosion of the surfing boom, and they were getting in while
the getting was good.
77 Ocean Pacific had taken on the nickname Op and was already tripling its sales every
year when they introduced the all-time big daddy of surfwear – the Op Cord Walkshort.
They sold $22 million in the first year. In Australia, Rip Curl was the top wetsuit brand
and they began sponsoring the annual Bell’s Beach Easter surf contest. Gordon and Rena
Merchant branded their bikinis “Billabong” – an Australian word meaning a water pool,
and added the slogan “Since 1973.” (79 words)
77 In Australia, a bargain-priced line of surf trunks called Stubbies put up $14,400 to
sponsor the Stubbies Surf Classic, making it the second-richest contest on the tour
schedule, behind the $16,000 Coca Cola Surfabout in Sydney. Stubbies flew high and
then exploded and are almost forgotten today, but through the 70s and into the mid-80s
they were a very successful brand that made the crossover from Australia to America,
and made a significant amount of money. First it was cool to wear Op boardshorts, then it
was cool to wear the same thing from Australia. (96 words)
78 Through the late 70s Jeff Hakman was working on establishing Quiksilver as a label.
He knew Bob “Buzz” McKnight, a surfer who was close to getting his MBA from USC.
Hakman knew there was a demand for these boardshorts, but didn’t know how to meet it.
Hakman went to Australia to persuade Green and Law to grant the American Quiksilver
license to him and McKnight. To show his fervor, he ate the dinner doily off the table. He
got the deal. An empire began in a small office/warehouse/distribution center in Newport
Beach. McKnight and Hakman hustled in between surfing and competing and school, and
built a business based on a quality product, service, word of mouth and image. Quiksilver
sales in 1978 were $870,000. Within 20 years, their sales would be that, times a thousand.
80S AUSTRALIA RISING
80s In the early 80s, Gordon Merchant had success selling his Billabong line of clothing
and boardshorts in Hawaii, and signed a marketing agreement with surfers Chip Rowland
and Bob Hurley to market Billabong in the United States: “We had to subsidize the kick-
off for the first 18 months,” Gordon Merchant said. “We had no security over the stock
we shipped Bob or guarantees of cash in return. I just trusted Bob and his partners to do
the right thing and they didn’t let me down. My whole philosophy was to invest in the
business today to look after the business tomorrow.” (102 words)
84 Jeff Yokoyama of Maui and Sons incorporated day-glo colors into his sweatshirt and
trunk line. (15 words)
86 Time Magazine reports that total retail surfwear sales hit $1 billion for the first time,
with Hobie Sportswear and Ocean Pacific the market leaders. Others were coming up fast
from behind including Quiksilver, whose sales had climbed to $18.6 million in 1986.
Quiksilver was one of the first of the major surf companies to go public, and their stock
went on sale at $8.10 a share on December 16, 1986. Also in Australia, Billabong
reported $7 million in annual turnover. (81 words)
86 These were the roaring 80s for surf contests, as a combustible fuel of rowdy
Australians, South Africans, Hawaiians and Americans competed with bikini contests at
the big summer contests like the Op Pro in Huntington Beach and the Gotcha Pro at
Sandy Beach on the southeast side of Oahu. The combination of hot surfing and hot
chicks attracted tens of thousands of people to these events, and at the 1986 Op Pro at
Huntington, it all got out of hand. Thousands of contest-goers fueled by heat, booze and
sex went berserk-overturning cars, setting fires, threatening the overwhelmed police and
lifeguards and running wild through the streets. No one was killed but many were
arrested. There was thousands of dollars in damage to the beach facilities, but the real
damage was to the public image of Op and pro surfing. Many regard the Op Pro riot as
the beginning of the end for Ocean Pacific. (155 words)
86 Op first brought out the lycra short, patterned off sleek triathlon racing suits. World
champion surfer Tom Curren was the model. (22 words)
87 The surfwear industry was making more money than ever in 1987, with Michael
Tomson’s upstart company Gotcha raking in $65 million in sales, placing it third behind
Hobie and Op, but ahead of Quiksilver. Op was reeling from the Huntington Beach
disaster, but still doing business. By 1987, Jim Jenks had been hard at it for almost 20
years and he had earned some leisure. Jenks took turns sailing his various yachts in the
various oceans, and left behind a company that was still the industry leader, and
sponsored World Champions Tom Curren, Lisa Anderson, Kim Mearig and Frieda
Zamba, top competitors Gary Elkerton, Robbie Page and Dave Parmenter and big wave
chargers Ken Bradshaw, Mike Parsons and Todd Chesser. The Op Pro riot and Jenks
leaving put two serious dents in Op’s corporate armor, and the Op brand became branded
as a company more intent on licensing its name to every imaginable product, and less the
roots surf company it started out to be. It was in the late 80s that Op became too big for
its britches, and the pioneering California company began to slide while Gotcha,
Quiksilver, Billabong and other brands hovered like sharks. (198 words)
87 The success of any surf brand has everything to do with marketing and image. That
year, Gotcha launched its “If You Don’t Surf, Don’t Start” ad campaign, which was
offensive to some and brilliant to others and attracted a huge amount of attention for
Gotcha, which was one of battlers with Billabong and Quiksilver for the biggest share of
the pie that Op had left on the windowsill. (69 words)
88 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. (32 words)
89 While surfing was going up, the surf industry started to go down in 1989. Op was on
the rocks and taking on water, while the pie that the other majors were competing for
began to get smaller, and not smell quite as good. After 1989 the lavish, Action Sports
Retailer Trade Shows in California and the Surf Expo in Florida became less lavish, as
the smaller labels washed out, and the big companies like Body Glove, O’Neill, Op,
Billabong, Gotcha, Quiksilver, Reef and Oakley began to downsize: “The mid-1980s
surfing boom turned into the early 1990s bust in the United States,” Slater wrote in Pipe
Dreams. “All but the strongest companies folded, and the magazines, which are fueled by
advertising, shrunk to less than half the size they had been a few years earlier. By 1989,
Sundek wasn’t doing much business and the company folded. My mom lost her job there
and bounced between bartending and cleaning construction sites to have enough money
to keep a roof over Stephen’s and my head. During that time, I started getting offers from
bigger companies. It seemed crazy to me that I, a seventeen-year-old kid, would need a
manager, but no one in my family knew anything about money.” (207 words)
89 By 1989, Quiksilver’s sales had climbed to $71 million. They had signed Tom
Carroll to a million-dollar, multi-year contract and were also sponsoring Lisa Andersen.
Within two years, Quiksilver would sign Kelly Slater to an exclusive, multi-year contract
that paid him six figures. (44 words)
1995 FUNCTIONAL AND FEMININE (757 words, 9-7-2005)
Lisa Andersen on the Origin of Roxy Boardshorts for Women.
In September of 2005, Lisa Anderson was busy preparing for the Action Sports Retailer
Trade Show but took time out to tell this story over the phone.
I’ve never been comfortable with bikinis, either in the fashion sense or the function
sense. Looking good is something girls worry about and I just never felt comfortable in a
bikini. I’ve always preferred to wear shorts because I am kind of shy and bashful and I’ve
never felt good putting it all other there without feeling that people were looking at my
Part of it is that I wear boardshorts so much that I had a weird tanline and didn’t want to
look like a moron in a bikini. Farmer’s butt and all that. A white ass hanging out of a
bikini is not something that looks good on the beach, in the water or in photographs. And
bikinis have a tendency to fall off. I’ve lost many a suit and still do, which is no good
when you’re freesurfing and no good at all in a heat. Technical problems are the last
thing you want in a competition. I didn’t need that mental distraction of worrying about
things like that, so part of the preparation for competing is finding something I could surf
in and forget.
The other girls I surf with have always known this and they tease me about it and
sometimes hide my trunks so I have to surf in a bikini.
I’ve always preferred surf trunks because they give me the freedom to surf as radically as
Over the years I would find a lucky pair of shorts and wear them until they wore out or
were unlucky. Because I have to think about how I am going to look in photographs, I
always tended toward white shorts because they looked good with a bright jersey and a
colored board – and white shorts look good against brown skin.
I first wore shorts from Offshore. They would custom make me shorts that were
basically cut shorter than the men’s shorts. But girls have hips and there was a problem
making them fit right and look good. When I was sponsored by Op I wore their lycra
Hydrolight shorts. Todd Holland wore them and Tom Curren and they were fine, kind of
like bicycle shorts but they worked well in the water, they were comfortable and they
dried fast so you didn’t stand around dripping wet.
So the shorts were functional but not all that flattering and again, looking good is a
typical girl thing.
I was sponsored by Quiksilver in 1992 and was pretty much wearing boy’s stuff from the
warehouse. I think how Roxy came about is I noticed other girls wearing boy’s long
boardies in Hawaii – like bodyboarder girls were wearing them and surfers. I knew what I
needed and saw that other girls might need them and I was with Quiksilver who are
always into innovation and trying new things and it all grew from there.
I was a human pincushion there for a while. At first I started wearing those shorter,
scalloped-leg Quiksilver boardies like from the Echo Beach era but without the loud
outlandish prints. They adjusted and readjusted the hips and put in an extra, V-type seam
and we were experimenting with length and materials and the closures – ties, snaps,
Velcro. I was working with Randy Hild and an early group of designers who aren’t there
anymore. We had to find the right length so you could keep the wax rash off your legs
but also have them short enough to be comfortable. We were working on making
something that was feminine and functional, and it took a while. I’d say I worked with
them in Newport over the course of a year.
When we were working together on the trunks we weren’t thinking about making a
gazillion dollars. I just knew what I needed and saw there were more and more girls in
the water who probably didn’t want their bikinis falling off either.
In 1995 I was the Roxy poster child as the World Champion and it just exploded from
there. I guess we were right, there was a need out there for trunks for women that were
functional and feminine, because look what has happened. They say that Roxy saved the
surf industry, or at least launched the whole women’s era. It’s a multi-million dollar
business which was shocking to me and still is, but I am proud of how Quiksilver and
Roxy and Randy Hild and I collaborated to develop something we thought was needed.
’65 It is possible to see the marketing war for surf trunks and surf wear played out in the
battlefield of issues 6#2 and 6#3 of SURFER Magazine.
In issue 6#2, on page three there is a full-page Sandcomber ad with Hobie, Rennie Yater
and Hap Jacobs wearing trunks, and a surf shot of Mike Hynson from the filming of The
On page 11 a company called Kennington jumps into the surfwear fray with “Surf A Go
Go. The Kennington Stripes have arrived!” The first of many ads with guys wearing fake
handlebar moustaches posing in front of a 1921 Woody.
On page 68, Catalina shows some soul with black and white scrapbook photos of the
Long Beach Surf Club in Peru featuring Mike Doyle, Joyce Hoffman.
On page 77 there is a small ad for Hot Doggers by Beasley and on page 81 there is a
small Birdwell ad.
On page 91 is the first-ever ad for a new style of surf trunks called Jams. The half page ad
is in color and claims: “Original Jams are by Surfline. Great color, wild prints, pure
comfort. All-round pants. Live in ‘em. At better stores everywhere. $6.50.” Jams are in
tapa, floral and pareu prints and are offered up to size 50 because we are in Hawaii, after
And above the Jams ad there is also a whisper of the shoe marketing battles to come, with
an ad for Mainsail Keds.
On pages 94-95 there is a bit of advertorial, a fashion spread called Wave Surf
Competition (with stripes) featuring trunks and shirts and jackets from Katin, Birdwell,
Jantzen and Sand Combers.
On the inside back cover, Hang Ten, “Goes Tahitian with Dewey Weber, JoJo Perrin,
Steve Nelson Bing Copeland and bunnies Riki and Sue.
And on the back cover, Ricky Grigg is paying for his Phd. Wearing Jantzen t-band stripe
shorts, trunks and jacket.
The marketing battle continued in issue 6#3. On page there is a full-page ad for
Sandcomber, featuring a sequence of Donald Takayama.
On page 8, Kennington’s second ad shows men in false moustaches goofing off in front
of a vintage airplane, under the heading “Eddy Surfinbacker.”
On page 9 there is an eighth-page Birdwell Beach Britches ad offering canvas trunks for
$8.95, canvas jackets for $12.95, Nylon trunks $9.95. Nylon jackets $15.95.
On page 14 there is another eight-page ad for Beasley’s hot doggers, an attempt by a
company from ??? to ????.
On page 16, Joey Cabell is posing in Bulas from Pomare-Tahiti in Honolulu: Our baggy
trunks made form rugged TAHITIAN pareu cloth. Lined. Tie string front. Really wild,
crazy 2 color prints. For surfing, swimming, partying. Has a pocket. $7.45. Only goes to
On page 54 there is an ad for Balboa Originals showing “Three at Swami’s Point.” Rusty
Miller, Mike Doyle and Malcolm McCassey are wearing the After-Surfer, the Makaha
and The Spinner: “Designed by surfers for surfers (and the same goes for all the other
surfing trunks by Balboa Originals) So they’re built like they ought to be. Prices from
Balboa were so original they were from Redwood City, California. But they were
available in a lot of different states, form California to Virginia with some Nebraska and
Illinois thrown in.
On page 68 there is a half-page color ad for Duke Kahanamoku Surf Trunks with Fred
Hemmings Junior. These are competition stripe surf trunks in pineapple tweed 100%
sanforized cotton, 100% nylon and 100% cotton twill. The trunks are made by McInerny
Limited: “One name for only 115 years”
On page 72, Big Gun trunks from Manhattan Beach are offering “Dacron-cotton
sailcloth. Guaranteed seams sewn with Dacron thread. Trunks come with two color stripe
as shown. 10 cents for brochure.”
On page 74, Catalina is struggling on despite losing Mike Doyle to Balboa Originals.
Catalina SURFERS are made of nylon by Chariot Textiles Corp. Their “Wave Blazer”
pullover ($7.95) and “Wave Blazer” surf trunk are quick-drying, rugged and durable.
Their slogan implores, “When you think of authentic SURFERS, Think Catalina first!”
and to make sure the rest of the industry think Catalina first: “SURFER is a registered
trademark of Catalina, Inc.”
On the inside back cover, Hang Ten offers a montage of California surf scenes from
Santa Cruz, Huntington Pipeline, South Bay, Dana Point, Malibu, Huntington Beach,
Secos and Windansea, featuring Dewey Weber, Phil Edwards and Dale Davis. Dealers
list is for California stores only.
And on the back, Ricky Grigg is styling in his t-bands for Jantzen, who offer a half-dozen
styles in a variety of colors and stripes. (466 words)