Surfing has its origins in ancient Polynesia. But it wasn’t until the late ‘50s and early ’60s, when Southern California pioneered the sport as a lifestyle choice, that American surf culture came into its own. Two-ply swim trunks, board shirts and “Baja” hoodies became the coastal uniform of Hollywood; movies like Gidget, Blue Hawaii and The Endless Summer conquered the American big screen; The Beach Boys and The Ventures set the soundtrack. Today the era is survived by a handful of style brands that continue to embody the freewheeling spirit of the time. Some have evolved into full-blown fashion brands with new styles every season, while others have decided to remain focused on a limited number of core offerings. But regardless of their differences, their names all share respectable influence in history of surf culture. Here are their stories.
In 1954, Nancy and Walter Katin started manufacturing boat covers from heavy-duty canvas in Surfside, California. Three years later, they started selling trunks fashioned from the same rugged material to the local surfing community. Their popularity spread, and surfwear soon became a full-fledged occupation for the Katins. Today, the clothing company is led by one of its early seamstresses, Sato Hughes, alongside her son, Glenn Hughes. In addition to swimwear, Katin offers a range of lifestyle clothing, including tees, button-downs and hats. Some garments, such as the Arch Trucker hat ($29), still feature the original “K Man” patch introduced in the ‘50s.
Pendelton Woolen Mills
For over 100 years, Oregon-based Pendleton Woolen Mills has been making among the best blankets and throws known to man. Little known, however, is the brand’s rich pedigree in the California surf culture of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Before modern wetsuit technology, surfers would coat Pendleton Board Shirts ($90+) in petroleum jelly for ad-hoc water resistance. In fact, the Beach Boys, formerly known as The Pendletones, can be seen wearing the Board Shirt on the cover of their 1962 debut album Surfin’ Safari.
Lightning Bolt USA
In the early 1970s, surfers like Gerry Lopez were looking for boards that were shorter, lighter and faster. Jack Shipley (of the famed Honolulu store Surf Line Hawaii) obliged. Together with some of the most influential shapers in surfing at the time — including Mark “BK” Reynolds, Gerry Lopez, Reno Abellera, Rory Russell and Tom Parrish — Lightning Bolt USA was born. Though surfboards have always been at its core, the company started making casual clothing in the mid ‘70s. The tradition continues today with retro graphic tees and modern takes on classic surfwear, such as the Baja-inspired Rug Zip Hoodie ($96).
Birdwell Beach Britches
Birdwell made their mark on ‘60s beach culture when Carrie Birdwell Mann converted her home into a business, selling two-ply nylon beach britches to local lifeguards in Newport Beach. Her customer base soon grew to include surfers looking for a durable solution to the sting of reef rash. The California-based operation continues to thrive, boasting in-house seamstresses with 40-year tenures. Though Birdwell Beach Britches also sells jackets and bags made from the same nylon material, its board shorts continue as its headline item, available in a range of different colors and cuts, including the popular 310 ($79).
Born in 1964 as an offshoot of BF Goodrich, SeaVees was forgotten after it fell off the surf brand map just seven short years later. That was, until Steven Tiller stumbled upon a vintage pair in the early 2000s and decided to devote his energy to the revival of the name. His first project was reintroducing the classic SeaVees silhouette, which he aptly renamed the 06/64 Legend Sneaker ($88), to a new generation of customers, defined by a low-cut upper and signature herringbone outsole. Today, the brand offers a range of other retro-inspired sneaker styles, including the 02/64 Baja Slip On and 07/60 Sorrento Sand Shoe.