Surfing Costumes

A History of bathing suits and surfer's "trunks"

Kristin Burke wrote: Re: your website
Dear Mr. McBride,
I found your website on the 'net', and what a find it is.
I am a costume designer for feature films here in Los Angeles and I am doing some research into the surfing scene in Malibu in 1963. Specifically, Trancas.
This is a feature film called WAVES, about two fourteen-year-old surfers in Malibu, coming-of-age in 1963.
It would be great to pick your brain a little bit for costume notes (we have a scuba diving scene that is boggling my brain), and your experience would be, well, beyond helpful.
Please e-mail me back if you have the time. I would really love to talk with you.
Thank you very much for building such an impressive website. It has helped me already.
Best regards, Kristin M. Burke

Date: Tuesday, November 03, 1998
From: tmcb To: Kristin Burke <>;

Dear Kristin; Fascinating subject - the costume. During the era you're talking about, the style, was:
1. without style
2. Knee length 'custom' trunks made of semi heavy duck canvas usually with a stripe down one or both outside legs.
3. "Baggies" were as big and loose as possible. Soft cotton. Print "hawaiian or drapery". I actually wore some big baggy trunks made from heavy cotton drapery material. They were printed in a large dark rose pattern (like hideous carpeting in a cheap hotel). They soaked up a lot of water and were so heavy when wet that they often slipped well below my tan line when I stood up (surfing).
4. B.A. = bare ass (or mooning) was also a style some preferred :-)
5. M. Nii - Maui. A husband and wife team made long lasting trunks from heavy canvas. If you had a pair of M. Nii's you were something special...but they had to looked worn. Anything new or clean was totally passe.
6. Kids growing upÊ didn't really know what was going on when they first chose to do something they thought was cool. In the 60's most young kids didn't know how to surf. Remember that when they appear in inappropriate attire.
The guys who have been at the beach have their own style and personalities. New kids will think they know what's cool but until they've been there awhile, they'll be out of it. They probably bought some trunks with a Hawaiin design from Penny's. Or, they may be radicals and not care so they simply cut off their jeans or whatever long pants they have. It doesn't matter what they look like and they become known for this characteristic.
If you want to see an example of the above character click on the link below and look at the picture of Nick Kravanik with the hat on that reads "Don't Bug Me".
In the first big picture at the top of the page (link above) you'll get a pretty good idea of what the surfers REALLY looked like during the early 60's. I was terribly disappointed in the movie "Big Wednesday" (done by people I know). I don't know what the thrust of the movie is that you're working on. That would be helpful to know, i.e., what's the story line?
I am happy to help. Please feel free to write anytime. Tom McBride

Kristin Burke wrote:

You are the MAN, man. Thank you so much for your help. I really appreciate it. In my career, I have done a few Beach Movies, one from the 'Seventies, but this Sixties stuff is hard to find. You just don't know what a valuable resource you are to types like me. Thank you so much for your help. I don't know who was responsible for the film you mentioned, but it sure wasn't me. Sorry they stomped your buzz. The pictures on your website are AWESOME, and I am taking them in with me to my interview tomorrow. What a FIND! This film is called WAVES -- a coming of age story about these two fourteen-year-old guys in Trancas. They are good surfers already, and I like your idea about the cut-off pants. I saw some in these pictures, and ran with it. I also went to SAMOHI and copied their yearbook from 1963-1964 just to get a bigger picture of the environment at large. I understand that's where kids from Malibu & around would have gone. Anyway, the story is about one of these boys (Nels -- a great surfer) having to move to Chicago. He & his friend want to immortalize him on the pages of surfer magazine before he has to hang up the board forever. The other kid (Kirby) steals his Dad's 16mm camera as an act of defiance (b/c the dad is a dictator) and they go out & shoot film. First attempt is unsuccessful, second attempt nails it, tho the gnarly green monsters turn into a rip tide and bash Nels up onto some rocks. They are rescued in the end. I'm way oversimplifying it, but Nels gets his pics in Surfer Mag. In one scene, they dive down to shang-hai some lobster traps. They wear wetsuits, but I am having a hard time getting a good picture of a 1963 (or a couple of years prior) wetsuit. I seem to recall that they're kind of rubbery, and black. Any suggestions? If I end up getting this film, don't be surprised if HALF THE WORLD starts hitting you up for details. Just kidding. But you'd be an excellent consultant.
Thank you so much for your help. I really appreciate it. -- Kristin Burke

Subject: Surf Clothestyles...Date: Thu, 05 Nov 1998 From: tmcb To: Kristin Burke <>,

Robert R.Feigel <>
Kristin, I realize I totally ignored your dilema of the wetsuit. In those days the wetsuits were simply black rubber suits (as they are today). The difference is that they didn't have any of the flourescent colors as they do today. If it was summer, the water could be warm enough to not have to wear a wetsuit. There is also snorkel, or free diving (no air tanks).
Look at: This was an ad for really ugly clothing styles. More later TMcB.
Subject: Style setters ... Date: Fri, 06 Nov 1998 From: "Robert R. Feigel" <> To: Tom
Tom - I was going through some old Surf Guide magazines doing some research when I took a break to read your correspondence on surfing clothes and I was thinking that I wouldn't be caught dead in most of the stuff that the manufacturers (Laguna, Catalina, etc) thought was stylish in those days. For one thing, all the clothes were ironed! Can you believe it ? Ironed!!! And not even faded! AND, HORROR OF HORRORS - THEY MATCHED!!!!
My surfing uniform was pretty predictable in those days. A pair of properly lived in canvas trunks from Roy's in Santa Monica Canyon, sometimes with a pair of Speedos underneath. No wetsuits for me until the mid-sixties, but I tried wearing an old wool sweater and a knitted vest during the winter a few times. Not very practical after a wipeout, but was fine between sets.
The traveling wardrobe usually consisted of a white Penny's t-shirt, Levi's and blue canvas Topsiders, huraches (sp?) or bare feet when it was warm. Or a white t-shirt, a navy Pendleton or heavy plaid fleece shirt, Levi's (sometimes cords) and maybe chukka boots when it was cold. Socks were always white (to start with). Penny's blue cotton work shirts came in there somewhere and I remember when I got my first 'Jap flaps' or 'flip-flops' in the late fifties. They were made of woven straw with velvet thongs that would stain your feet. They only cost 50 cents or so a pair, but would fall apart when they got wet. But boy were they comfortable.
Once I took out a girl who lived in the big apartment building on the corner of San Vicente and Lincoln (where it went down into the Santa Monica Canyon). I was dressed in my best Levi's and Pendleton and an almost new t-shirt, but she commented that she'd never seen me in anything else. "Are these the only clothes you have, or do you have more than one of the same thing?" Our first and last date.
I still have a vintage navy Pendleton, a treasured pair of old, faded Levi's and a well worn pair of blue Topsiders. I'll probably be buried in them - unless I get cremated.
Luego, bob
How amazing is that?! Thank you so much! You know, the director of this film was a young dude surfing here at this time -- I think he's probably about fifty or so now, so that would make him graduating from high school in 1966? Anyway, he catalogued the same exact stuff as your buddy here. It's amazing. Kristan
You need to know how impressive you e-mail proved at my interview today. "Tom Mc Bride," they uttered in hushed tones, "Woooowwww." Thanks, muchacho! Your info has been so helpful! We discussed the wetsuit issue at length today -- it's a night scene, underwater, and my concern is that we wouldn't be able to see our actors, with murky surf and no light. I'll let you know what happens. We can't really get away with no wetsuits as it's winter, and we will be having stunt divers -- need to disguise these folks. Bummer-ama -- so much more plausible if these guys didn't wear them. Spear fisherman story is outrageous. I nearly lost my nachos hearing about how they got the spear loose. Blleaugh! Crazy times, non? If that happened now, someone would be sued! So, thank you again so much for your help. I should know by next Wednesday whether or not this job is mine. I think they were excited about all of the research I've done, so let's cross our fingers. In the event they do end up hiring me, I'll be e-mailing you on the hour, every hour. Buckle up, hombre! Hey, and another thing -- apparently they have Corky Carroll training the actors (in surfing, that is). Love to hear your thoughts on that one. Mike McGreevy = Director. Sa-Mo-Hi! Rah! --- Kristin Burke

Editor's notes: Although her name doesn't suggest it, the use of various terms may indicate that Kristan is hispanic: "Thanks, muchacho!" "I nearly lost my nachos" "Buckle up, hombre!"

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The Evolution of Surf Trunks from One-Piece to Many

In the beginning, there was wool. Through the first third of the 20th Century, and right up to World War II, swim and bathing wear for men and women was influenced by Victoria’s secret. That secret was wool, because Victoria was Queen Victoria, the iron maiden of England who ruled from 1857 to 1901 with an iron hand. Queen Victoria was all about modesty and manners and proper living, and her influence extended to all corners of her empire and to the water’s edge. Public bathing became popular and England and around the world in the last half of the 19th Century, but the Victorian mind was more than a little uneasy about men and women mixing in swimming togs.  Victoria’s secret at the turn of the 19th Century to the 20th was the opposite of now. Her secret was modesty. Her Majesty was a prude. Anything relating to sex was kept underground and in the cabinet, and that prudence extended to the waterline – to what men and women wore when they went for a bather in a swimming pool or a creek or a lake or the ocean.
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, and when they were wet they were form-fitting, which gave Victorian men some jollies.
Before wool there was cotton and silk and flax, but because wool was the foundation of the English economy from the 18th Century into the 19th, wool was Victoria’s secret.
Queen Victoria died in 1901 but her influence extended far into the 20th Century – to all of the British Empire and in effect all of the civilized world, even to Hawaii.

touristwaikiki1  touristwaikiki2
Tourist in Waikiki, styling in the fashion of the 1920s.
From the Bishop Museum Archives.

In 1906, Thomas Alva Edison sent a film crew all the way to the Hawaiian Islands to make an “Actuality” film to show the wonders of the American territory to the rest of the country. In 1906, motion picture cameras were no more than 20 years old, but the images the crew shot are surprisingly good, and show the fashion attitude to water at the turn of the century.
In the very first shot, there is a “Panoramic View, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu” in which the camera operator stands on the beach at Waikiki and turns in a complete circle. On land there are men and women properly dressed, the men in suits and white skimmers, the women in full battle dress – buttoned up to the neck, the wrists and the ankles.
As the pan continues, there are images of the water and a lot of people frolicking in the water on outrigger canoes, small alaia boards and regular double-ended canoes. The men are all wearing one-piece tanksuits and there are glimpses of a couple women wearing the full Victorian rig – bloomers and skirts and as little flesh as possible.
Other ocean images in the Actuality show bare-chested “Kanaka fishermen casting throw nets” wearing what appear to be cutoff pants. There is a shot of a wooden platform called “The Float” with about three dozen boys and teenagers swarming all over it, throwing each other off, playing King of the Hill. Most of these young men are wearing the tanksuits, with occasional glimpses of someone skinning it from the waist up.
And after that there are images of “Surf Riders, Waikiki Beach, Honolulu.” These could be the first ever moving-images of surfing, and they show more than a dozen surfers on alaia boards in head-high, offshore surf at what is probably canoes. These guys are surfing, and one of them is even doing a 1906 version of the Huntington Hop. These surfers are shot too far away to detail what they were wearing, but the all appear to be in tanksuits as well.

George Freeth circa 1907?



In a 1907 travel piece in Woman's Home Companion -- of all places -- Jack London tipped the world off to a secret. He depicted a small group of Hawaiian beach boys who took part in what he called, "a royal sport for the natural kings of earth." Through journalist and Outrigger Canoe Club founder Alexander Hume Ford, London was introduced to a 23-year-old Irish-Hawaiian named George Freeth. London recollects his first vision of 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." Thanks to London's grandiose promotion, Freeth soon made history.
California's Pacific Electric Railway and Henry E. Huntington needed a gimmick. They were having trouble selling seats on the Los Angeles-Redondo route that boasted a new saltwater plunge at its terminus. After reading London's Hawaiian encounters, they hired Freeth as the world's first professional surfer. He conducted demonstrations at Redondo Beach during the spring of 1907, establishing himself as Southern California's first surfer. (A trio of Hawaiian princes, attending military school in San Mateo, had surfed Santa Cruz in 1885). He continued to amaze spectators along the coast at spots from Balboa Beach to Palos Verdes.
Freeth stayed in California, becoming the first official lifeguard in the United States and inventing a lifesaving device still used today. He saved countless lives with his bravery, including seven Japanese fishermen whose boat was being swept to sea during a winter storm in the Santa Monica Bay. In recognition, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Carnegie Medal for Bravery and the U.S. Life Saving Corps Gold Medal. A fishing village near Port Angeles in Washington was even named after him.
Freeth's life came to an abrupt end after several rescues during a winter storm in Oceanside in 1919. He contracted influenza and died at 35. A small bust of Freeth rests along the boardwalk in Redondo Beach. Although it hails him as one who "revived the lost Polynesian art of surfing," Freeth's surfer-for-hire roots have grown into the million-dollar fruits that surfers such as Kelly Slater are enjoying today. -- Jason Borte, October 2000



The issue of nudity being the first controversy over surfing attire, or lack thereof, the second one occurred in Australia, in 1907, at Waverly, Randwick and Manly beaches. Although stand-up board surfing was yet to arrive, Australians were getting serious about body surfing. The mayors of these communities issued “a directive that all bathers, irrespective of sex, had to wear skirts!” Marveled Nat Young in his History of Surfing. “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. Many men wore petticoats, some with yards of lace and embroidery trailing in the dust behind. Some wore red flannels; others decorated themselves with ballet frills around their bulging bellies. A few wore chaff bags with the ends lopped off or kitchen curtains. 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.”


In 1907, Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman traveled to Australia as an “underwater ballerina” – an ancestor of synchronized swimming, She wore a swimsuit that showed arms, legs, neck and bust, and it got her busted in Boston. 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.

Annette Kellermann shocks the world.

In 1910, 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.
Duke Kahanamoku was born in 1890 and grew up in the middle of all this. As a native Hawaiian, Duke was right at home surfing in a loin cloth 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 traveled through America and across the Atlantic to compete in the Olympic Games in Sweden and caused a big sensation.
At the 1912 Olympics, Duke swam in a suit that was built for speed. This was a one-piece suit, far from a modern Speedo, but it was skin-tight, made of ???? and helped him win the Gold medal and become the toast of the Olympic games, along with fellow American minority, redman Jim Thorpe.

Duke Kahanamoku savagely noble in his sleek speed suit in a 1915 postcard.
Duke’s suit was considered risqué for the times but when you understand the times, you understand why.


Jack and Charmian London in Waikiki, 1907.

The water that rolls in on Waikiki Beach is just the same as the water that laves the shores of all the Hawaiian Islands; and in ways, especially from the swimmer's standpoint, it is wonderful water. It is cool enough to be comfortable, while it is warm enough to permit a swimmer to stay in all day without experiencing a chill. Under the sun or the stars, at high noon or at midnight, in midwinter or in midsummer, it does not matter when, it is always the same temperature -- not too warm, not too cold, just right. It is wonderful water, salt as old ocean itself, pure and crystal clear. When the nature of the water is considered, it is not so remarkable after all that the Kanakas are one of the most expert of swimming races.
By Jack London from The Cruise of the Snark - 1911
When Jack London went surfing at Waikiki in 1907, he wore a tanksuit, caught a couple of waves and sunburned his legs. London talked about surfing and the water and George Freeth, but he didn’t
Ida Barton was the cause of their perturbation and disapproval. They disapproved, seriously so, at the first instant's glimpse of her. They thought--such ardent self-deceivers were they--that they were shocked by her swimming suit. But Freud has pointed out how persons, where sex is involved, are prone sincerely to substitute one thing for another thing, and to agonize over the substituted thing as strenuously as if it were the real thing.
Ida Barton's swimming suit was a very nice one, as women's suits go. Of thinnest of firm-woven black wool, with white trimmings and a white belt-line, it was high-throated, short-sleeved, and brief- skirted. Brief as was the skirt, the leg-tights were no less brief. Yet on the beach in front of the adjacent Outrigger Club, and entering and leaving the water, a score of women, not provoking gasping notice, were more daringly garbed. Their men's suits, as brief of leg-tights and skirts, fitted them as snugly, but were sleeveless after the way of men's suits, the arm-holes deeply low- cut and in-cut, and, by the exposed armpits, advertiseful that the wearers were accustomed to 1916 decollete.
So it was not Ida Barton's suit, although the women deceived themselves into thinking it was. It was, first of all, say her legs; or, first of all, say the totality of her, the sweet and brilliant jewel of her femininity bursting upon them. Dowager, matron, and maid, conserving their soft-fat muscles or protecting their hot-house complexions in the shade of the hau-tree arbour, felt the immediate challenge of her. She was menace as well, an affront of superiority in their own chosen and variously successful game of life.
But they did not say it. They did not permit themselves to think it. They thought it was the suit, and said so to one another, ignoring the twenty women more daringly clad but less perilously beautiful. Could one have winnowed out of the souls of these disapproving ones what lay at bottom of their condemnation of her suit, it would have been found to be the sex-jealous thought: THAT NO WOMAN, SO BEAUTIFUL AS THIS ONE, SHOULD BE PERMITTED TO SHOW HER BEAUTY. It was not fair to them. What chance had they in the conquering of males with so dangerous a rival in the foreground?
The Kanaka Surf by Jack London

Bathing beauties circa 1918.
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.
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.
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'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.

Wool knit swimsuit circa 1920.

Beach fashion circa 1910.
Men were not quite as constrained as women, but the Victorian influence was part of the reason it was considered improper for men to bare their chests in public until the middle 30s. That is why all of those early surfing photos from Hawaii, California and elsewhere show men wearing those one piece tank-tops. It wasn’t just fashion, it was the law – in England, America and all civilized places.
Wherever England – and then America – colonized, civilization and modesty followed, with Western morals Adam and Eveing savage cultures around the world.
By the 20s, Jantzen Knitting Mills was now known as Jantzen and they were 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,  in 1921, Jantzen patented a process called “the rib stitch” which moved the functional swimsuit into the modern era.
Jantzen has always been a clever marketer. One of their earliest and longest-running slogans was "the Suit that Changed Bathing to Swimming." In 1923 Jantzen established the red Diving Girl as their logo, and it became extremely popular around the world as a sticker on automobile windows. Jantzen was just as active in men’s swimsuits as women’s.
Meanwhile, Duke Kahanamoku was continuing 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.

Johnny Weissmuller and Duke, fast friends at the 1924 Olympics.
1924 RAYON
Rayon was the first manufactured fiber developed, it made from wood or cotton pulp and was first known as artificial silk. The Swiss chemist, Georges Audemars invented the first crude artificial silk around 1855, by dipping a needle into liquid mulberry bark pulp and gummy rubber to make threads. The method was too slow to be practical.
In 1884, a French chemist, Hilaire de Charbonnet, Comte de Chardonnay, patented an artificial silk that was a cellulose-based fabric known as Chardonnay silk." Pretty but very flammable, it was removed from the market. 
In 1894, British inventors, Charles Cross, Edward Bevan, and Clayton Beadle, patented a safe a practical method of making artificial silk that came to be known as viscose rayon. Avtex Fibers Incorporated first commercially produced artificial silk or rayon in 1910 in the United States. The term "rayon" was first used in 1924.
Rayon was the first manufactured fiber. It was developed in France in the 1890s and was originally called "artificial silk." In 1924, the term rayon was officially adopted by the textile industry. Unlike most man-made fibers, rayon is not synthetic. It is made from wood pulp, a naturally-occurring, cellulose-based raw material. As a result, rayon's properties are more similar to those of natural cellulosic fibers, such as cotton or linen, than those of thermoplastic, petroleum-based synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester.
Although rayon is made from wood pulp, a relatively inexpensive and renewable resource, processing requires high water and energy use, and has contributed to air and water pollution. Modernization of manufacturing plants and processes combined with availability of raw materials has increased rayon's competitiveness in the market.
At one time, rayon and cotton competed for similar end uses. Although rayon is a relatively inexpensive fiber, cotton prices are considerably lower, giving it a competitive advantage over rayon. Rayon's versatility as a fiber and relatively low cost have increased its use in blending, but also encouraged its use in lower quality fabrics and garments—the performance of which has sometimes tarnished the image of rayon. Rayon's many desirable properties, however, have made it a choice for some designer and high-end apparel.

Swimwear began to loosen up in the Roaring 20s with the invention of Lastex. This was a rubber core wound with rayon, nylon, silk, or cotton thread. Lastex was a giant step away from wool, and it allowed designers to make clothing that was still legal, but more functional and comfortable.


With the invention of Lastex a number of companies began to establish themselves in the growing marketplace for comfortable, fashionable swimwear.
Three of the top names in American swimwear all started out as knitwear companies. Portland Knitting Mills became Jantzen, West Coast Knitting mills made the Cole of California swimsuits and Catalina swimwear was produced by Bentz Knitting Mills, later to rename themselves Pacific Knitting Mills.
For many years swimwear was knitted from wool and each of these companies found ways of incorporating a form of elastic, known as Lastex into the weave, which resulted in a more figure-hugging and flattering garment. Many of the big swimwear companies developed their own form of Lastex and claimed a patent. Cole’s was Matletex, and the company went on to develop a version of Spandex, originally devised by DuPont who patented the trade name Lycra.
Fred Cole secured the services of famous swimming Hollywood star Esther Williams to promote his swimwear in the early 50’s. Cole himself was a product of Hollywood having been a silent movie star in the 20’s before entering the swimwear industry, via West Coast Knitting Mills which was owned by his parents.
Using his Hollywood contacts to the full introduced him to designer Margit Felligi, who joined Cole in 1936 and maintained her design leadership for the company for the next thirty-six years. During this time she created such note-worthies as the Swoon and the Scandal suit. The first was a product of the war years and was made from parachute silk (the company made parachutes for the government) and the second was a one-piece, launched in the mid-60’s that had net-panels on its front and sides. This gave the viewer more than just a peak at the body underneath. Cole’s daughter Anne followed in his footsteps and became one of the most famous swimwear designers.
Cole even persuaded Dior to design a swimwear collection for the company in 1955. At first Dior was reluctant, pleading that he knew nothing of swimwear to which Cole responded “You’re a designer aren’t you? So design.’ Not being able to argue with that logic Dior complied and produced his one and only swimwear collection.

Catalina used promotional tactics to build its swimwear reputation. Unlike Cole, which was all about Hollywood glamour and Jantzen, which had a sporty profile and promoted itself by sponsoring swimming education programmes, Catalina founded the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants as product promotion tools, giving it access to a wide audience. Catalina’s styles (Mary Ann DeWeese headed design and went on to form her own company) largely appealed to the girl next door and her mother; although at one stage it too enlisted the services of movie wardrobe designers to include Edith Head.
In the Bishop Museum archive there are scores of photographs and many hours of movie footage showing the transition of Waikiki and Hawaii from the turn of the 19th Century, to World War II. There is a lot of surfing in all these newsreels and private movies, because one of the things to do in Hawaii at the time was go to Waikiki and take a surfing lesson or a surfboard or outrigger canoe ride with the Beach Boys.
As the movies progress through the teens, twenties and thirties, you can see a gradual easing of the men’s bathing suit fashion – from tanksuits to trunks, with some Hawaiians and even a few haole riding the wild surf in loincloths.
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 more than a few of them are 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.

Tom Blake trunking it in 1930, with his Hawaiian quiv.
Tom Blake was not camera shy. Through his life – from ???? to ???? – he was photographed often and a lot,
In the 30s, Rayon joined Lastex as the synthetic material of choice, and now it was those plus cotton and silk which took off where wool had left off.

A Jantzen Speedaire ad for 1932.
In the 30s, the swimwear market began to heat up as Jantzen was challenged by BVD and others. Jantzen catalogs featured Hollywood stars Loretta Young, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers and Dick Powell and Jantzen 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” – an internal drawstring above the bustline which allowed the shoulder straps to be dropped for tanning.
That same year, 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 which was a great deal of money then. 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. This resulted in the first pair of bathing trunks. They came out in France first, but had to be dressed up for the American market with a false fly front and belts. 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.
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 BVD 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.
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.”
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 shot of the Royal Hawaiian looking pink and regal on the beach in Waikiki, during a time when that was one of the most treasured, exotic tourist locations on the planet.
Then there is surfing, a lot of surfing in good waves at Canoes, shot in color from outrigger canoes and you can see fashion starting to split between Old Schoolers still wearing tank suits, and a younger generation who aren’t ashamed or afraid to bare their chests in public.
In the first surfing shot 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.
Around 1935, at Waikiki, “Bathing-style” trunks were popularized by surfing pioneer and innovator Tom Blake and Olympic champion Johnny Weissmuller. Narrow, rigid waistband and two-inch inseams were the features of these early precursors of the modern surf trunk.
On October 27, 1938, Charles Stine, a vice president of E. I. du Pont de Nemours, Inc., announced that nylon had been invented. He unveiled the world's first synthetic fiber not to a scientific society but to three thousand women's club members gathered at the site of the 1939 New York World's Fair for the New York Herald Tribune's Eighth Annual Forum on Current Problems. He spoke in a session entitled "We Enter the World of Tomorrow." which was keyed to the theme of the forthcoming fair, the World of Tomorrow.
In the middle of Stine's talk, he proclaimed: "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."
Thinking that "strong as steel" meant indestructible stockings, the women at the forum burst into applause.
Twelve years earlier, on December 18, 1926, Stine, then the director of Du Pont's Chemical [ie., central research] Department, had taken the first step down the very long road to nylon by submitting to the company's executive committee a short memorandum entitled "Pure Science Work."
Stine wanted to undertake research with "the object of establishing or discovering new scientific facts," as contrasted with Du Pont's current research, which "applied previously established scientific facts to practical problems." He pointed out that "fundamental or pioneer research work by industrial laboratories was not an untried experiment" but rather had been successful in the German chemical industry and in the General Electric Company. He recognized that universities did a considerable amount of fundamental research but noted that there were some important gaps in their programs; as he put it, "applied research is facing a shortage of its principal raw materials."
Nylon — The “Miracle” Fiber
In September 1931, American chemist Wallace Carothers reported on research carried out in the laboratories of the DuPont Company on “giant” molecules called polymers. He focused his work on a fiber referred to simply as “66,” a number derived from its molecular structure. Nylon, the “miracle fiber,” was born. The Chemical Heritage Foundation is currently featuring an exhibit on the history of nylon.
By 1938, Paul Schlack of the I.G. Farben Company in Germany, polymerized caprolactam and created a different form of the polymer, identified simply as nylon “6.”
Nylon's advent created a revolution in the fiber industry. Rayon and acetate had been derived from plant cellulose, but nylon was synthesized completely from petrochemicals. It established the basis for the ensuing discovery of an entire new world of manufactured fibers.
An American Romance
DuPont began commercial production of nylon in 1939. The first experimental testing used nylon as sewing thread, in parachute fabric, and in women's hosiery. Nylon stockings were shown in February 1939 at the San Francisco Exposition — and the most exciting fashion innovation of the age was underway.
American women had only a sampling of the beauty and durability of their first pairs of nylon hose when their romance with the new fabric was cut short. The United States entered World War II in December 1941 and the War Production Board allocated all production of nylon for military use. Nylon hose, which sold for $ 1.25 a pair before the War, moved in the black market at $10. Wartime pin-ups and movie stars, like Betty Grable, auctioned nylon hose for as much as $40,000 a pair in war-effort drives.
During the War, nylon replaced Asian silk in parachutes. It also found use in tires, tents, ropes, ponchos, and other military supplies, and even was used in the production of a high-grade paper for U.S. currency. At the outset of the War, cotton was king of fibers, accounting for more than 80% of all fibers used. Manufactured and wool fibers shared the remaining 20%. By the end of the War in August 1945, cotton stood at 75% of the fiber market. Manufactured fibers had risen to 15%.

A Jantzen ad for 1938.

The war in the Pacific started with a boom and ended with a bang and the vibrations were felt around the world and back, politically, but also in terms of fashion – in what people wore to the beach. Prior to World War II the world was slowly molting it’s Victorian modesty, but World War II put that process into hyperspeed as the War in the Pacific fave a free ride to millions of young Americans, who otherwise would have seen the Hawaiian Islands and the islands of the South Pacific in Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movies.

Lancaster and Kerr getting jiggy wid it in From Here to Eternity.
World War II influenced beach fashion in ways obvious and not so obvious. After the war, the surfers and gremmies around the Manhattan Beach Surf Club were buying white sailor pants at the Salvation Army, cutting them off and taking them to Hawaii. In 1946, atomic testing at Bikini atoll inspired Frenchman ??? Reard to name his new, revealing two-piece bathing suit the bikini, and set the world on fire.
What World War II did is filter a lot of Americans through Europe and the Pacific, where people were a little less modest than America and that resulted in America loosening up more than a little bit.
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.

A 1943 Catalina ad.
Jantzen ads by George Petty for the 40s.

In the Bishop Museum archive there is a reel of film showing Outrigger Canoe Club racing and a paddleboard race at Waikiki . This is 1944, and the film is in living, vivid Kodachrome color which brings out the nice bright colors, brings out the green of summers makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah.
On the movie there is an Outrigger Canoe Race for women, which 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.
The race starts and the women haul okole off the beach, apparently very comfortable in their suits that are built for speed. 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 Taki’s, Lynns and ???.
There are no baggies or jams in sight, but they are coming.

The public's concern with nudity eroded as time passed. Shorts were the typical swim wear for men, with men's swimsuits during the 1940's looking very similar to the narrow hips and smooth abdomen of the women's styles. Of course, those males with a little more modesty in mind could always opt for the "boxer-type" shorts. Successful swim wear campaigns were not intended for the timid. In 1947, the Jantzen company hired James Garner as their "Mr. Jantzen" to model their line of "savage swim trunks

Clam Diggers"
Fig. 5 shows an amusing sports garment which was inspired by a designer seeing young people rolling up the legs of regular length slacks when digging clams at clam bakes on the east coast. She simplified the problem by producing short slacks, complete with cuff, which were the right length!
They were made from sturdy fabrics, such as denim and corduroy and then they became popular for bicycling and other sports where a regulation slack was not as convenient. They were not worn nor designed to flatter but for the convenience which they provided.
Because of their shorter length, the regulation slack pattern would be tapered slightly more than for a full length garment. In making this novelty style, the knee height measurement would be the basis of establishing the proper length for the garment. Note that they fall about two inches below the knee.
- From 1942—Modern Pattern Design
by Harriet Pepin."

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 “crcochet” 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.


Back on 1950s Mainland USA, there were no commercial surf trunks. As Mike Doyle continued, “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?’
“Years later Steve Pezman, who was the publisher of Surfer magazine, told me, ‘You know, OP made millions of dollars selling surf trunks, and all they did was copy the trunks your mother made for you on her little treadle machine.’“
The Miss America competition originated on September 7, 1921 as a beauty contest in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was initiated in an attempt to keep tourists in Atlantic City after Labor Day.
In the early years of the pageant, a beauty competition of the women wearing bathing suits was the main event. When the Miss America organization decided to make this a less important part of the competition, swimsuit-making sponsors started their own separate pageant, Miss USA. Yolande Betbeze, Miss America 1951, refused to pose for publicity pictures while wearing a swimsuit, citing that she wanted to be recognized as a serious opera singer. Catalina Swimwear, which was a Miss America sponsor, split off and created the Miss USA/Universe pageants.

In the early 1950s, H. Miura General Store began selling surfers school gym shorts with stripes down the leg in school colors. Red and white Waialua High colors were considered “very cool.”

EARLY 50's "M  NII  TAILOR" Waianae, south of Makaha, Oahu, Hawaii. Photograph by Tom McBride ©

Lace Up Some Swim Trunks
M. Nii, one of Hawaii's original makers

    M. Nii, the name of an Oahu mom-and-pop tailoring shop that initially sewed only made-to-measure men's and women's essentials, M. Nii Tailor became a destination for longboard-riders from the early-1950s through '60s for creating one of the first lines of surfing-specific trunks.


In the 1950s at the “old” Outrigger Canoe Club site near the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, Mr. Nii would take orders for custom made swim suits.  He would measure and take notes about the special things you wanted.  Laced front fastening, wax pockets (surf board wax), length, stripes, fabric, color….no two alike.  He used crutches to get around and came in all the way from Waianae before any freeways.  He would bring back your creation in a month.  This man created a fashion a long time ago and 55+ years later is getting recognition.

Within their ramshackle shop in Waianae, by the west shore of Oahu's big-wave Makaha breaks, Minoru and Florence Nii made their shorts from rugged cotton-twill, selling them for about $4 a pair. The custom baggies took inspiration from the Navy-surplus sailor-pant cutoffs surfers wore in the post-WWII breakers. These early boarders would bring their trunks in to M. Nii for patching and detailing. Greg Noll, the celebrated Banzai Pipeline surfer and pioneering board shaper, was one of them.
    "M. Nii had striping on rolls, which we'd have them put down the sides to juice them up a bit," he said. "A year after I first went there [at age 15], I returned with $300 that a bunch of guys had pooled for me to bring them back M. Nii's," said Mr. Noll, now 75. The coveted trunks were flat-waisted (not cinched) and equipped with button-flies, reinforced at the waist with tie-up laces. (A back pocket became a common request.) The rise was low and hip-hugging, with an above-the-knee hemline. The jams—designed to stay on and hold up against the worst of wipeouts—came to be known as "Makaha Drowners."

The more weathered and beaten they became, the greater the badge of honor. Many surfers liked the "fade" of them so much that they'd make bets to see who could keep a pair on longest, said Mr. Noll.

A pair of M. Nii's original trunks:


1960s champion surfer Mike Doyle remembered, “The first modern-style surf trunks I ever saw were made by a little Filipino who had a tailor shop at Waianae, south of Makaha. His name was M. Nii. The surfers at Makaha were always going in there to get their torn trunks mended, and this fellow realized there was a market for a better surf trunk. So he started making his own. In the island tradition of colorful silk shirts, he started experimenting around with bright and exotic colors, different panels in varying colors, a wax pocket in back, and surfer stripes down the sides. Before long the M. Nii trunks became famous. Every surfer who went to Hawaii had to have a pair of M. Nii trunks, and more often than not, he had a whole list of orders for M. Nii trunks from his friends back home.”
By 1952, most California surfing transplants were buying custom-made surfing trunks from M. Nii’s in Waianae. Nii’s “Makaha Drowner“ is considered by many to be the first, true surf trunk. Greg Noll confirmed the value of M. Nii surf trunks. “When we first went to the Islands, these pants [M. Nii’s custom-made surftrunks] were kind of a trendy deal. You see us wearing them in a lot of the old pictures. Eventually, we started going to M. Nii’s in Waianae and having white shorts made with stripes down the side and a pocket for our board wax. That was a big deal, to go to Hawaii and have M. Nii make your surftrunks. They caught on everywhere we went and were prized on the Mainland. We’d bring M. Nii’s trunks back to our friends.”

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 50s, 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 whites.

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. 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.
About the same time as the first commercial polyurethane foam boards became commercially available (1957), more and more beach mothers took to sewing their sons’ custom trunks -- not only Mrs. Doyle, but Mrs. Takayama, Plaudette Reed and Nancy Katin, among others.
Plaudette Reed was the wife of Bob Reed, City of Newport Beach Lifeguard Chief. They lived in an oceanfront house right on the strand in Newport. If you had a pair of custom trunks from one of the mothers, “it put you on another level from the guys with cut-off Levi’s or a pair of their dad’s plaid baggies (however, these were close).”  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. You could custom design your own trunks any way you wanted.”
“I remember Bob Beadle divided his legs and waistband into quarter panels of alternating red and green canvas,” said Allan Seymour. “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?” 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 way before velcro was invented, 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.
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 wearing them.
“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.”

What were they wearing in Gidget? Do I have a copy of that?

Yes, I had both M Ni's and Take's from Hawaii.  Also had a pair of customs from the cotton shop in seal beach.   but I would have to say that Katin was the first real solid custom surf trunks company that I know of.    I used to wear my dads big ol' swimming trunks or a pair of white clam diggers that I cut off above the knees.  

I am glad I convinced Walter Katin to make those first surf trunks... sure wish I would have gotten a % for that.....   
if you have any other questions call me 334 596 8054


“In the Spring of 1961,” recalled Seymour, “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.”


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.
Nothing until issue 3#1, and then the marketing of surf trunks begins to heat up. On page there is 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. On the back page of Surfer there is a full-page ad from Jantzen featuring 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 only ???? years old, and a billabong was a line from Waltzing Matlida.
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.”

Ricky Grigg was on the back cover of Surfer Magazine for the next ???? issues, wearing ???? and then Hawaiian Surfriders and then red and white striped shirts. While Jantzen and Grigg dominated the back cover of SURFER, new logos and companies began to appear inside.
The first Birdwell ad appeared in issue 3#5, advertising 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,” for $??.??. Jantzen was still on the back cover of 4#4, now using the slogan: “There are some things that only a surfer knows.”
In issue 4#6, ???? of ????, 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.”

Later on, in the mid-1960s, Catalina sportswear bought-out the Katin business. Mike Doyle revealed that, “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.”
Birdwell Britches
Following fast upon the heels of the Katins going commercial in 1959 was Birdwell Beach Britches, also manufacturing trunks in Southern California out of sail cloth. Yet, even as late as 1961, many surfers were still opting for “home-made” trunks over the brands that were established and those in the process of establishing themselves.

 1962 Hang Ten
In 1962, Duke Boyd and Doris Moore formed the Hang Ten label, in Long Beach, California. Some innovations followed, including the first use of nylon fabrics. The same year, Ricky Grigg became the first surfer to secure an endorsement deal with a surf trunk manufacturer, signing a sponsorship agreement with Jantzen.
Jams, or Baggies, were a later development that began in 1963.  Mike Doyle recalls that, “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.  He’d been kind of a playboy in his younger days (he dated Marilyn Monroe before she became a famous movie star), but when he went to the islands he fell in love with a Hawaiian woman. I remember him telling me that when he saw her surfing one day, he just knew he had to have her. He ended up marrying the woman, having kids and settling down there in the islands.
“Anyway, 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 ever made.’
“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 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 Surf Club.”
Mike Doyle & Commercial Surf Trunks
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...”
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 them.
“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. 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, 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.”
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 paralysis.”
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 cost?’
“‘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 Midwest.’
“‘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.”
A View From San Diego
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. 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.”
“Another caveat to those who want to become big shots in the ‘hard core surf biz”:
“Back, 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.”
About Catalina surf trunks being no good:
“The trunks were worse than that,” recalled Bill Andrews – who sold the stuff, “but, memory please don’t fail me now, weren’t our first WindanSea Surf Club jackets ‘Catalina-Martin’... correcto??
“Pretty complete history of the surf trunk, BUT:
“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, OP began. Yerkes became a billionaire East Coast Sundeker. Great fun then, and what a learning experience... right??? Bill Andrews”
Surfwear Industry, 1970s to Present
After the success of commercial surf trunks became evident, Mike Doyle recollected, “surf trunk manufacturers started popping up all over the place -- Ocean Pacific (or OP), Surf Line Hawaii, Quiksilver, Gotcha, Instinct, Maui and Sons -- and eventually dominated the casual clothing industry. You can go to any beach resort in the world now and see men in their seventies wearing baggy, neon-green surf trunks with bright floral patterns. Before surf trunks caught on, grown men wouldn’t be seen in something like that.”
From the mid-1960s, surf trunks spread further and deeper into American life. In 1969, Sundek, in Florida, became the first major surf trunk manufacturer on the East Coast. 1971 was an important year, with “Hawaiian Soul“ type trunks as well as Golden Breed popular. Jim Jenks, formerly with Hansen Surfboards, started Op Sunwear and, marketed around the brilliant surfing of Pipeline legend Gerry Lopez, the Lightning Bolt label was born the same year.
In 1976, Jeff Hakman and Bob McKnight began manufacturing Quiksilver “boardshorts,” featuring the scallop-leg and two-snap velcro closure in California, setting the standard that, minus the scallop-leg, endures to present day.
In 1978, South African surfer Michael Tomson found Gotcha, which, along with Quicksilver, became the style leader in the post 1970s surf trunk era.

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. In 1984, Jeff Yokoyama of Maui and Sons incorporated day-glo colors into his sweatshirt and trunk line. And, in 1986, Op first brought out the lycra short, patterned off sleek triathlon racing suits. World champion surfer Tom Curren was the model.
In 1987, Billabong joined Gotcha and Quicksilver in a triad of imported labels that dominated the American market.
In 1988, 26 years after Ricky Grigg struck his deal with Jantzen, Quicksilver signed the first-ever million dollar contract with 2-time world champion Tom Carroll.

By 1991, styles tended to go more toward the baggie type. Lycra-neoprene suits haven’t really caught on. Although the neoprene-lycra trunks are efficient in the water, “Nobody wants to hang out on the beach all day in Lycra,” said Bob Hurley of Billabong.
“I’ve spent a lot of time wondering why people all over the world want to dress like surfers,” concluded Mike Doyle. “Some sociologist could probably write a doctoral thesis on that subject. But I think the basic reason is pretty simple: Surfing is fun, and surfwear helps remind people of all ages that life is supposed to be fun.”
More than funwear, “Trunks are a piece of vital surfing equipment,” emphasized Bob Hurley, “the thing about trunks is that a surfer will wear them all day long... Surf trunks are something a surfer basically lives in.”

Surf styles:

I was born and raised in Newport Beach, I can only help with the female styles.
Ditto jeans were in, with the horse shoe seam up the back of the legs and over the butt.
Hip huggers and big bell bottoms, poor boy shirts. Bikini's were off the hip, but straight across.
Some tie dyed things around Laguna Beach. Girl's hair was long, straight and parted in center or on the side.

"Honk"  was a popular local band, that was the music for a surf film "Five Summer Stories", in 1972. This film was made by Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman, two surfer film makers.
I went to Newport Beach Pop Festival, Palm Springs Pop Festival and later Laguna Beach Pop Festival.
Dave Woodworth and John Parks were the best surfer photographers from Corona Del Mar High School.
Hope some of this helps.


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