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Milestones in the history of surfwear and surf culture

Updated on July 7, 2011

Surf culture - A century in the making

Surf culture has come a long way in the past century. Where once it was the preserve of the true adventurer it has now become a part of every day life for millions around the World. That said it has never lost it's ability to shock and thrill.

As such I thought I would take a look back at some of the milestones in the history and culture of surfing to get a better understanding of its origins.

Surf living

Surfing the waves of Fiji
Surfing the waves of Fiji

Surf culture evolves

1910s – The term 'backpack' is coined in America. Referring to the 'knapsack' or 'packsack' used by trappers and the military to carry goods and animals from hunting trips. These are the forerunners of our modern day versions.

1930s & 40s – The station wagon that will later become the 'woodie' is built for transportation of luggage within railway stations. They are cheaper to maintain because of their wooden panelling and the Californian surfers of the 60's and early 70's adopt them to carry their boards.

1940s – John Cowie manufactures a plastic version of the flip-flop in Hong Kong in the late 40s. Based on Japanese woven sandals, these gave rise to the term 'Jandals' in New Zealand, where they first became popular.

1946 – The modern day bikini is invented. Frenchman Louis Reard hires nude model Micheline Bernadini to wear his fabulous newsprint bikini. It is an instant hit around the globe, especially with men.

1950s – Boardshorts are popularised by surfers in California. Alan Green, one of the founders of Quiksilver, redesigns this into the modern boardshort in 1969. This is the start of one of the biggest brands in surfwear.

1952 – The three O'neill brothers open the first real surf shop in San Francisco. They are credited with inventing the wetsuit. They extended the range of surfing beaches by selling vests of closed cell foam to insulate the body against the cold.

1958 – Early versions of the skateboard are sold in Dana Point, California by Bill & Mark Richard. They are made by attaching roller skate wheels produced locally to three foot planks of wood.

1962 – The first Havaianas flip flops are produced. They will go on to become one of the most recognisable pieces of global branded surfwear, along with the Vans skate shoe and Animal backpacks.

1970s – The advent of the modern skateboard. Polyurethane wheels are used for the first time to create smoother rolling, more fluid skateboards. Very popular with the dedicated surfers of California.

1973 – Billabong surfwear is founded by Gordon and Rena Merchant. Now encompassing brands such as Nixon, Von Zipper, Dakine and Element, this is one of the major players in the surfwear arena. Revenue in 2006 reached $1 billion AUD.

1970s – The hoodie gains popularity from its use in American hip-hop culture. The shape of the sweatshirt, with its hood and front pocket, is based on the apparel of monks in the middle ages. The Sylvester Stallone film Rocky also helped to popularise the hoodie.

1979 – Rob Kaplan founds Da Kine, manufacturing a new type of leash for surfing in Maui, Hawaii.

1987 – One of the most popular clothing manufacturers, Animal, is started in Poole, Dorset. The company started out making velcro and webbing watchstraps and now makes Animal clothing, surfing and mountain biking accessories and more.


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