• The Dazzling Blue #40: Kustom Kulture Redux

    Posted:Dec 05 2016


    On a recent Saturday morning at Malibu, I found myself checking the waves alongside a longhaired, bearded, barefoot, 60s-ish guy in old faded 501s and a jean jacket bedecked with logos—AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd, a Led Zeppelin ZOSO, a Rolling Stones tongue. On the back, embroidered on the denim by the look of things, was a big Grateful Dead skull. Parked not far from us was a shiny black Range Rover, a brand new-looking silver Audi wagon, and a dusty old beater of a 1970s frog green Econoline van with a Feel The Bern sticker on the rear window and an upside down American flag on the bumper. I mentally drew a line from my fellow surf-checker to the dusty van.

                It got me thinking about logos. We surfers love our logos. We like to put our personal stamp on things. It’s a sign of allegiance, as in the Windansea Surf Club jackets in the ‘60s. It’s a display of geographical pride, as in those Hawaiian Islands stickers you see on the backs of big trucks on the North Shore. It’s also part of a lineage, Kustom Kulture, the customizing of hot rods in the ‘60s that transposed into the surf culture in the form of signature pieces (Greg Noll’s prison-striped boardshorts, Dewey Weber’s red-railed longboard). We are individuals. We are DIY. We like to have the last word (i.e., give us your cool single-color boardshorts and we’ll add our own personal patch).

                Or, in the case of my fellow surf-checker who unsheathed a sun-faded ‘70s pintail single fin from his van, a Mustache Rides 5¢ sticker, displayed boldly on the nose.

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

  • The Dazzling Blue #39: Let Us Give Thanks and Praise

    Posted:Nov 21 2016

     

    In a recent post on the brilliant BrainPickings.org, founder Maria Popova added a new entry to the things she’s learned in the ten years she’s been editing the website:

    Don’t just resist cynicism — fight it actively.

    I was happy to be reminded of this. Cynicism, pessimism, nihilism, and an ironical dismissiveness that makes fun of anything sincere or earnest run rampant in today’s society. “Feel good” stuff seems more ripe for “Saturday Night Live” parody than serious delivery. And rightly so. Once meaningful phrases like “Love, Heal, Inspire,” “Be Here Now,” and “Thankful, Grateful, Blessed” have been bastardized, commodified, reduced to T-shirt slogans.

                But despite this yoga and juice culture overuse, and despite the 24-hour news cycle, there is indeed much to be grateful for. We are, after all, above ground. We have chocolate fudge brownie ice cream, and supermoons, and YouTube clips of nine-year-old Australian girls landing perfect 540s on large half pipes. As surfers, we have quiet moments on the water that are something close to sublime.

                “Much of my work involves chaos and struggle and challenges,” my friend Christian Troy, Executive Director of Waves For Water, told me. “I find my peace place in the sacred grounds of the ocean. All the elements coming together—saltwater, sun, the pulses of the sea—it rights me.”

                Best of all, at least as far as I’m concerned, we have synchronicity. The writer Geoff Dyer told me about the time he and his wife picked up a “clean and not looking like a maniac” hitchhiker on the side of the road in New Mexico, only to pass a sign a minute later: “DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS / DETENTION FACILITIES IN AREA.” Seconds after that, “Riders On The Storm” by The Doors came on the radio: There's a killer on the road/ His brain is squirmin' like a toad/If you give this man a ride/Sweet family will die. Geoff and his wife looked at each other, or rather tried not to look at each other.

                Those winks from the cosmos, those reminders of forces larger than ourselves, that waist-high wave that traveled thousands of miles across the ocean and arrived at your spot on a Saturday morning just in time for you to wheel around and ride it as it caps and peels and ultimately dissipates back to infinity — that’s a lot of be thankful for.

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

  • The Dazzling Blue #38: Second Skin: Those Pieces In Our Wardrobe That Remind Us Of Who We Are

    Posted:Oct 30 2016

     

    Halloween is a real terrific night. We get to put on costumes and step into another self. Some are conceptual and cumbersome—the Statue of Liberty or the state of Florida, for instance. Others are more like alter egos or aspirations from within—Superman or Like A Virgin-era Madonna. These costumes share one thing in common: on the morning of November 1st, they end up in the trash, or the far recesses of the closet or garage. They're useless beyond Halloween.

    They are exactly the opposite of those pieces in our wardrobe that are built to last, that take time to break in, that get better with age. These pieces—think leather jackets, jeans, Birdwells—become like a second skin. They are not only a joy to wear, but we have ongoing, years-, sometimes decades-long relationships with them. They become reminders of who we are and where we've been. And in this ephemeral, ever-changing world, ain't that a good thing?

    More often than not our deepest essence can be found by a process of stripping away, unmasking. But in the case of these pieces they are imbued with us, they hold a bit of our spirit.

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

  • The Dazzling Blue #37: Winners and Losers

    Posted:Oct 03 2016

     

    There’s a Bob Dylan lyric for every mood. And there’s a Miki Dora story to illustrate every facet of the surfing kaleidoscope. This one involves contests.

                At one event, in the makeshift awards ceremony on the beach, Dora was announced the winner. There was applause and there were hoots. He stepped up, received his trophy—and tossed it into the sand. At another event, he rode a 12-foot tandem board in the final (the surfing equivalent to running a 10K in ski boots). At yet another event, the 1967 Malibu Invitational, he dropped his shorts at the spectators, media, and especially those five dudes sitting with clipboards and pencils. His point? That surfing is far too poetic and expressive to be judged.

                At the recent Hurley Pro at Trestles there were flickers of this. Judges were taken to task. Top pros expressed their disenchantment on social media. “Time to go home. Very sad, I dedicate or have dedicated my life to it … so tired, tired!” wrote a pissed off Gabriel Medina. “It is hard to accept when they make decisions that decide people’s lives and don’t take care to make the decision right and are not at all held accountable” from world title race leader Matt Wilkinson. And this from Julian Wilson: “The Judges might need to take some responsibility for their scores over the past two days. Might be time to put them under the microscope, like they do to us.” 

    I showed up on the final day, a sunny Wednesday on which there were only six heats remaining: two semis and a final for both the Mens and the Womens. The surf had dropped, and though it was the climax, there was something anticlimactic about the day.

                The crowd was thin. Long lulls elicited yawns. Title contenders had died out. The winners, Jordy Smith and Tyler Wright, surfed spectacularly in the slightly wind-chopped rights.

                “I have a hard time concentrating at art museums. The people always upstage whatever’s hanging on the walls.” I can’t confirm that Bob Dylan ever said this, but he might have. Similarly, I loved what I saw the athletes do across the waves at Trestles, but most memorable for me was not a giant carve or screaming slash, but the much more classical image of the two surfers exiting the water (think Colosseum, circa 8th century). Both the Mens and the Womens finals presented the same scene: The winner exulting, hands raised triumphantly over head. The loser slithering out the side, moving hurriedly, doing whatever is the opposite of savoring the moment.

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

  • The Dazzling Blue #36: Buy Less By Buying Better

    Posted:Sep 25 2016

                In my wetsuit-rashed and sea-ulcered early teens, an older friend said something that I found hard to believe. We were riding in the back of my mom’s station wagon after a long day of surfing, feet sandy, faces sunburnt, boards poking over seats.

                “They do that on purpose,” he said, pointing to my boardshorts, made by a prominent surfwear manufacturer. The left leg was torn open. My white thigh poked out. There was no shark attack, no fin slash—just a poorly sewn seam that had come undone. “They make ‘em cheap so they fall apart and you have to buy new ones, usually within the first twelve to eighteen months,” he added, swigging from his Mountain Dew. “It’s called capitalism.”

                He chuckled. I didn’t. I hated the idea that the world could work like this. It went against everything my parents and teachers and mentors told me: Do your best. Try hard. Take pride in everything you do.

                How could you make something designed to fall apart and still look yourself in the mirror? I wondered.

                This was pre-global financial crisis, pre-Bernie Madoff, pre-Volkswagen emissions scandal. I had no idea how savage and corrupt the world could be. And though I lacked the words to express it, I felt deeply disappointed that the surf world—a world I believed in wholeheartedly—could take part in this cruel brand of capitalism. Didn’t the eternal ocean teach us anything? Didn’t the riding of waves imbue us with, shall we say, higher truths, loftier ideals, a distaste for bullshit?

                Fast forward to the present day. There’s climate change; there are those plastic rings that kill fish, birds, and sea mammals; there’s “fast fashion”—the notion that clothing is disposable. There’s a lot of throwaway stuff.

                But there’s also hope. The countertrend to the flimsy, disposable, and outsourced are ethically-minded, durability-focused, American-made companies. Case in point: Birdwell Beach Britches.

                This year Birdwell celebrates 55 years of building surf apparel and accessories in the same Santa Ana, California factory. The manufacturing legacy ranges from the iconic 301 boardshort and competition jackets made since the ‘60s to newer product offerings like the Tactical Walkshort and CPO Shirts. The thread that ties all of these products is an unwavering commitment to quality.

                For Birdwell, the commitment to quality is more than just a tagline. It literally starts with the thread and other materials Birdwell sources to build their products. “Before a single piece of fabric is cut or a seam stitched, we spend a great deal of time finding American manufacturers who approach their craft like we do” says Birdwell’s president, Geoff Clawson. “An example is the wool we use in our Wool CPO Shirt. We proudly source the wool from Black and Sons. They’ve been in the same building in the garment district of downtown LA since 1922. Four generations of this family have dedicated themselves to manufacturing exceptional wool. Every product that bears the Birdwell name and the customers who invest in our products deserve that kind of legacy.” 

                Geoff also talked about integrity, pride of craftsmanship. “The heart of the Birdwell brand is a team of craftsmen dedicated to hand cutting and sewing only the highest quality gear. For our team, success is measured not in sales or sponsorship deals, but in years of a product’s life and the memories made by customers.” Lilia Saavedra, a Birdwell employee who started back in 1977 and still clocks in every morning with a smile, said it this way: “I feel very proud to work here. I feel like part of me is traveling as my work goes all around the world. And after many, many years the customers keep coming back.”

           So yes indeed, there is hope, there is integrity, there is good stuff in the world.

    - Jamie Brisick
    The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and SnowandBecoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.

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