Surfing has enjoyed a rich and colourful history, and this is reflected in the fashion that surfers wear. From bellbottoms and tie-dye in the sixties to Day-Glo in the eighties, the surf fashion industry has appealed to surfers and non-surfers alike. Dressing like a surfer makes one feel free, rebellious, brave and connected to sunshine and sea. It’s not surprising that designers around the world sell this message through branded clothes designed to portray association with this aspirational pastime.
Surf fashion is, for the most part, all about functionality. Think comfortable tee-shirts and shorts that can be worn both in the water and on land, warm winter woollies and oversized smart-casual garments that are both hip and understated.
Over the years numerous surf brands have capitalised on this burgeoning subculture, bringing surf style to the masses. The big four brands dominated in the eighties and nineties and you could find kids wearing Rip Curl, Quiksilver and Billabong tee-shirts in locations from Ohio to Mumbai. Surfing had permeated the masses. There was even a Quiksilver Boardstore in Covent Garden, London.
From 2000 onward the big companies started to falter. The industry imploded and real surfers began to stray from the big brands. Real surfers didn’t want to wear brands that non-surfers were sporting to football matches. This is no exaggeration, Quiksilver even launched a range of boardshorts with rugby team logos. That was a death knell.
Who would have thought that one day Quiksilver and Billabong would merge? That Rip Curl would continue to fight the good fight, thanks to a few world champions who carried the brand. Gabriel Medina and Mick Fanning might’ve saved Rip Curl’s bacon.
Now real surfers are opting for brands like Hurley, Patagonia and Outerknown who offer better design, sustainability and quality. It’s a whole new world with more choice than ever before.
The future of surf fashion is bright with smart clothes, undoubtedly lighting the way. Imagine surf fashion that responds in real-time to the environment, that compresses sore muscles and vibrates when the wind and tide are just right.
Interestingly we now see non-surf brands encroaching on the market. Lululemon has released a line of surfer-targeted boardshorts and swimsuits. Nike dabbled in surfwear before leaving it to their surf brand Hurley. Even Louis Vuitton released a range of surf clothes in their 2018 summer collection.
As an industry, surfing has matured and will continue to do so into the future. Events like the annual Surf Expo showcase the future of surf tech and fashion. Alibaba links consumers directly to the manufacturers in China, for those brave enough to forego the big brand labels and try out more raw gear and apparel.
Garage industries are emerging, where handcrafted items are being snapped up by discerning surf fashionistas. Predictions for the surf industry in 2030:
– We will see one major surf brand, that appeals to anyone vaguely interested in surf lifestyle and culture. It may be called Rip Quik Bong or something like that.
– Niche designers will be 3D printing and sewing their gear and selling custom items from sites like eBay and Amazon.
– Smartwear will be booming and waterproof items manufactured by Nike, Lululemon and Adidas will be snapped up by techno-savvy surfers and repurposed for the surf environment.
Oh and tights. I mean yoga tights. Usually, the reserve of female yogi mums – these will be worn by every surfer, male and female, to protect them from the sun. Goodbye boardshorts, hello high-performance surf tights.