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Hardcore of Irvine Goes to X-tremes

Fashion: The clothing company targets daredevils who take their sports to the limit, combining fearless attitude and athleticism.

August 29, 1996|KATHRYN BOLD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Josh Sleigh's idea of a good time is to surf waves so big that even the pro surfers aren't crazy enough to tackle them.

For Sleigh, fun means riding waves that tower 20 to 25 feet high, swells so large he has to be towed out to sea a couple of miles to meet them. If he makes even a small mistake while riding these monster waves, they could fall on him like a building and kill him.

"It's a rush," Sleigh says. "That's the whole point. It's like being on the Ninja ride at Magic Mountain."

Without safety belts.

Given his reputation for surfing the biggest waves on the planet, Sleigh, who has homes in Dana Point and Hawaii, could have chosen any of Orange County's big surf-sportswear companies to sponsor him. Instead of being a team rider for Billabong, Quiksilver or Gotcha, however, he agreed to represent a lesser-known clothing company called Hardcore Sports Co. Inc.

"They came off as hard-core, and that's how I feel about surfing. It's an extreme sports company, and my surfing is an extreme sport," Sleigh says.

Irvine-based Hardcore likes to dress daredevils such as Sleigh who push the envelope of their chosen sport. With its Hardcore Underground label, the company makes fashions to go with extreme sports. "X-fashions" include board shorts, skate and snowboard pants, jackets, T-shirts and caps.

To help promote the clothes, the company sponsors an "extreme team" of those who practice risky sports that go way beyond the tamer, traditional competitions seen at the Olympics.

"They're not just guys going out. They're experts. Their passion is taking their sport one step further," says Chris Carmichael, president of Hardcore.

Tow-in surfers such as Sleigh are pulled on jet skis to meet up with 30-foot-plus swells. Sky surfers perform kamikaze-style aerobatic tricks during their descent to Earth.

BASE jumpers throw themselves off trestles, El Capitan in Yosemite or other perilous perches, using parachutes to break the fall.

Wake boarders do to water-skiing what snowboarders did to skiing: Turn the sport upside down with their wild tricks.

Extreme snowboarders hurtle down the slopes with a take-no-prisoners attitude.

"The common thread between all these guys is they're purely devoted. They step to the edge, and by faith they get to the other side," Carmichael says.

*

Carmichael knows what drives them. He, too, was born with a driving, competitive nature. He's the son of Albert Hoagy Carmichael, who played football on the Green Bay Packers from 1953 to 1960. A large blowup of his father running with the football hangs on the wall of Carmichael's office.

Carmichael also has a pair of shoes preserved in bronze that his father wore in 1956, when he set an NFL record, returning a kickoff 106 yards.

The younger Carmichael excelled in a different kind of playing field. He became a U.S. surfing champion, ranked No. 1 in 1969-1971.

Later he became a film producer, making commercials, music videos and TV programs, but even this profession had its dangerous side.

Carmichael's specialty was shooting from helicopters, often in treacherous weather, to produce segments for TV's "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" and "20/20."

He rode a skateboard more than 40 mph, camera in hand, to shoot a segment for "Spinnin' Wheels," his 1975 feature-length film on skateboarding.

"I gravitate toward the extreme myself," says Carmichael, who has surfed a 20-foot wave in Waimea, Hawaii.

The 42-year-old Laguna Hills resident began his sportswear career by creating a line called Sunbreaker Sports in 1979.

"I decided I could make a better board short," he says. Four years later he sold Sunbreaker to R&R Sports, then started two other lines, Salt Creek and Surfing Life, which he sold before launching Hardcore in 1995.

"I got the idea from ESPN. We were going to produce a show on extreme sports, but the deal fell through," Carmichael says. Still, he was intrigued by the lifestyle and decided to develop a clothing line based on extreme sports.

"Everyone claims to be hard-core, whereas we are the real thing," he says.

To promote its extreme image, Hardcore has sponsored sports events such as the annual Supercross extreme snowboarding competition in Utah and an upcoming tow-in surf contest in Maui.

Hardcore also sponsors seven members of its extreme team, including wakeboard champion Pat McElhinney; white-water stuntman Arnd Schaeftlein, who kayaks down dangerous rapids; freestyle skydiver Robin Berg; and tow-in surfer Lyon Hamilton.

"I had a few different [sponsor] options, but I went with Hardcore because I like the name. It fits. I'm an underground surfer who likes to do things hard-core," says Hamilton, who lives in Laguna Beach and Hawaii and who recently survived a wild ride aboard a wave with a 50-foot face. "And I liked the clothes."

*

Hardcore Underground's spring line features heavy duty skate-snowboard pants made of black canvas with white top-stitched seams ($56); industrial-looking jackets of heavy canvas or insulated plaid flannel designed for extreme snowboarders ($75); and Big Wave board shorts ($40) made of iridescent nylons designed to withstand the rigors of tow-in surfing ("They won't yank off ya," Carmichael says).

The board shorts have black and white checkered reflective tape down the sides to help a surfer dwarfed by a massive swell be spotted.

Hardcore also makes sweat shirts, caps and T-shirts with its wings logo or biohazard symbol. The line is carried at Pacific Sunwear stores and other surf and specialty shops--about 700 retail outlets nationwide.

Carmichael hopes to expand Hardcore to include wrap-style extreme sports sunglasses and a women's line. Says the son of a Packer halfback:

"I want to go 106 yards with this."

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