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Sandbaggers : Endless summers, timeless styles. It's back to the beach for the Frankies and Annettes of the '90s as surf gear gets a retro revival in bright colors and trim fits.

July 14, 1994|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's the recent release of "The Endless Summer II," the sequel to the classic 1964 surfing flick. Maybe it's the huge surfing contest soon to get underway in Huntington Beach. Whatever the reason, being a surfer in Southern California is cool again.

Of course, surfing itself never went out of style. From a fashion standpoint, however, the grunge/street/skate crowd pulled attention away from the beach and left surfers in its wake. The baggy, dark clothing that's become the uniform of kids everywhere came primarily from the streets and the sidewalks, not the ocean.

There are signs that surfing is again making waves in the beach lifestyle/fashion category. The renewed excitement surrounding surfing can be felt at Orange County's beach-oriented clothing companies such as Counter Culture, Billabong and Quiksilver. All have introduced this summer board shorts that have a nostalgic look. It's as if surfers are returning to their '60s heyday, to the glory of that original "Endless Summer."

"Surfing's rediscovering itself with 'Endless Summer II,' " says Eric Diamond, board short designer for Quiksilver in Costa Mesa. "It's going through a resurgence. We went through the street/skate thing. That pulled the emphasis away from just going surfing for the fun of it."

As a way to reclaim surfing's past, designers are reviving "really old looks," Diamond says. To this group, "old" means from about 1962 to the early '70s.

Trunks with retro double stripes and '60s color combinations like brown with baby blue and murky green with orange are back. After several summers of dark solid board shorts, brighter colors and prints are returning. Funky Don Ho Hawaiian and tropical prints are being revived after a long hiatus.

"All of the (board short) designers are drawing from their roots, from the older looks of the '60s and the original watermen," says Mike Schillmoeller, co-owner of Counter Culture in Huntington Beach.

Counter Culture's summer collection of board shorts draws heavily from the past. There are nylon satin board shorts with retro double stripes down the sides in combinations of teal and silver, black and green and dark blue and burgundy, as well as vintage tropical print board shorts in black and turquoise, black and khaki or olive and black nylon. The board shorts range from $37 to $39 at Huntington Surf and Sport in Huntington Beach, Newport Surf & Sport in Newport Beach and other specialty shops.

Stripes, bolder silk-screen logos and multistitching of seams and waistbands in contrasting thread all signal that surfers are moving away from the somber suits of summers past, according to Lian Murray, head of merchandising and design for Billabong in Costa Mesa.

"People are tired of dark, dreary things. In the past few years (trunks) have been very dark, subtle, low-key," Murray says. "Now we're going forward with a lot of brighter colors, especially in accents."

Typical of the extra detailing: Billabong's turquoise board short with white triple top stitching (about $34), or the '60s-inspired brown trunks with a sky blue double stripe around the waist ($40), both at Huntington Surf and Sport. Bright orange triple top stitching also lightens up a pair of Billabong board shorts in a psychedelic floral print of earthy hues ($37) at Newport Surf & Sport.

The retro-looking board shorts aren't exact copies of the originals; they're longer and slightly roomier than the '60s versions.

"It's very Frankie and Annette but in a new '90s body," Murray says.

Murray gets her ideas for board shorts by "going down to the beach, watching movies, hanging out and listening to music."

"I just like surfers," she says.

At Counter Culture, it's not uncommon to see wet suits drying out in front of the company's headquarters. Schillmoeller and his fellow workers surf every morning "if there's any sign of waves."

Since starting up in a garage in May 1991, Schillmoeller and his partner Pat Fraley have turned Counter Culture into a beach lifestyle manufacturer with 300 retailers that carry the line nationwide.

Schillmoeller expects business to get better and better, thanks to several factors focusing more attention on surfing. The 13th annual OP Pro July 26-31 and U.S. Open of Surfing Aug. 2-7 that take place on the south side of the Huntington Beach pier will attract a lot of attention to the sport.

"It will be the biggest surfing contest in the world," Schillmoeller says.

The contest, along with the economy, the weather and "Endless Summer II" have all conspired to promote "the Southern California dream lifestyle," he says.

"If you don't enjoy this lifestyle, where's the fun?" he says.

Quiksilver's Diamond also lives the lifestyle, surfing every morning and traveling to Hawaii and Australia. That's how he knows what surfers want to wear in the water:

"We're getting back to true function. For a while things were too oversized," Diamond says. "You don't need a huge trunk to surf in. Once it gets down around the knees you're just dragging a lot of water around."

Among Quiksilver's offerings for summer '94 at Huntington Surf and Sport: a brown and chartreuse board short with an asymmetrical black and white double stripe across the front ($42), or a brown trunk with gold crisscross stripes down the sides ($42), also available in navy and burgundy stripes and black with green stripes.

"It's pure surf," Diamond says.

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