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The International Olympic Committee’s Thursday morning decision to add surfing and skateboarding to the lineup of the 2020 Summer games in Tokyo got us thinking about how the move could affect pop culture, and possibly even be an opportunity for the SoCal surf/skate apparel industry to shine again.
Skate culture’s revival is already underway, with streetwear making its way onto the catwalk (Vetements, Alexander Wang, Yeezy) as well as on off-duty models. Just this past year, vintage Thrasher tees from the skate magazine of the same name became must-haves for cool girl models and blogger types. Even Louis Vuitton has picked up on skateboarders‘ elusive coolness, casting pro Alex Olson in a 2015 campaign video for their “Movers” series.
Could surf culture be next?
There was no better time for surf and skate culture than the early 2000s, when shows like Laguna Beach, Life of Ryan and The O.C., as well as cult-classic film Blue Crush, thrust tanned, sun-bleached blonde teens front and center.
The spotlight on SoCal’s niche community of brahs not only launched the career of modern fashion star Lauren Conrad, but also propelled Orange County-based surf brands into the mainstream. Quiksilver, Rip Curl, Billabong and RVCA became nationwide must-haves thanks to retailers like PacSun, Anchor Blue and Tilly’s, who made it easy for landlocked kids to emulate the look of teen heroes like Ryan Sheckler, Tony Hawk and Kelly Slater. Surfing was such a part of the zeitgeist, Karl Lagerfeld sent a surfboard down the runway at Chanel in 2002.
Nowadays — in the era of Brandy Melville obsession and athleisure empires — many surf brands have fallen off the style radar. Both PacSun and Quiksilver filed for bankruptcy in the past year, signaling a decline in interest among Gen Z shoppers.
But several world-ranked surfers are still sponsored by companies of yore, including VonZipper, Volcom, Oakley, Hurley, Lost and Etnies, leading us to wonder if their moment in the spotlight could translate into a nostalgic resurrection of that early aughts style. Because if there’s one thing millennials have proven they love, it’s a throwback to a trend of their childhood. (See: the Gilmore Girls revival, chokers, Pokemon Go.)
If the Instagram accounts of athletes like Matt Wilkinson (ranked No.1 by the World Surf League, men’s) and Tyler Wright (ranked No.1 by the World Surf League, women’s) are any indication, surf wear is surviving, thanks in no small part to free apparel from sponsors like Roxy and Rip Curl.
The 2020 Olympics could be an entry point for newer brands, too, including Slater’s lifestyle and apparel label, Outerknown. The sustainable label, which he founded in 2015, features a more mature take on typical surfwear; typical logo tees and branded trucker hats are one-upped by a classic striped poncho made of undyed Peruvian Alpaca, whose high quality is reflected in a higher price point.
Skateboarder Shaun White, who competed in the 2006 and 2010 winter Olympics as a snowboarder, could even use the opportunity to boost his new ready-to-wear label, WHT SPACE, which is currently sold at Macys. Since making a name for himself as America’s favorite “Flying Tomato,” the 29-year-old San Diego native has become a pop culture mainstay, transitioning from his Target apparel collection (2008-2016) to the more refined WHT SPACE brand, which includes a leather jacket and bomber jackets as well as button down short sleeve shirts. White showcased his new high-fashion maturity as an ambassador for New York Fashion Week: Men’s earlier this summer, wearing designer duds and the occasional gold chain.
Perhaps we’ll even see the return of Hawk, now 48, as a commentator or coach? The former pro skateboarder, who was regarded as many a teen’s idol back in his heyday, also has a men’s clothing collection available at Kohl’s, which includes Olympics-ready American flag shorts and a stars-and-stripes tee.
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