The surf industry is a beast. From the boards you ride to the clothes you wear to the movies you watch, surf culture is—for better or worse—a wet, sandy, stoke-filled monster that survives, at least in part, by feeding off material things. Without a doubt, Southern California is the global epicenter of this feast and, though S.B. is a far cry from the madness of Orange County, we contribute more than our fair share to the long list of seasonal surf-oriented offerings. What follows is a review of some of Santa Barbara’s newest surf swag goods, and with winter swells grumbling to life at this very moment in the North Pacific, there is really no better time to fuel your fires of stoke. And like all things, if you’re going to buy, you might as well buy local.
Surfing Is Scary
Several miles off the coast of Santa Barbara, beyond the Channel Islands and well before you hit Hawai‘i, there is a slab of reef that, when conditions permit, creates an absolute avalanche of a wave. For decades, the place affectionately known as Shark Park has been exploding a few times each winter in utter obscurity. Its bone-crunching power and potential to dish out world-class big wave surf receives nary a notice from the surfing community save for the dolphins, seals, and sharks that frequent the region and the fishers who occasionally work nearby.
However, last winter, after a decade of secret reconnaissance missions and extensive planning, locally based surf filmmaker and photographer Greg Huglin introduced the fickle beast living in our backyard to the rest of the world. Appropriately named Shark Park, Huglin’s documentary film offers a stunning yet nerve-racking look at arguably California’s most dangerous wave and the tow-in surfing assaults that took place out there last year. From S.B. local Chris Brown’s deflowering of the wave in late December through the picture-perfect death pits of Garrett McNamara and assorted others later in the season, Shark Park is the inspiring and terrifying tale of the wave’s first official year on the rare company map of the world’s big wave surfing spots. With the film, Huglin, whose work can also be seen in such classic surf films as Five Summer Stories, Fantasea, and In Search of the Sun, delivers nearly 45 minutes of near-death wipeouts, tubes big enough to put a car in, and the extra-large wave exploits of Brown, McNamara, Carlos Burle, Rusty Long, Mark Healey, Chris and Dan Malloy, and Eric Akiskalian. And if that isn’t enough, the DVD also features a mind-blowing sequence of a free-diver tangling with a great white shark in the waters off South Africa. You can find the terror at the Beach House on State Street or at towsurfingadventures.com.
Living a short walk from one of S.B.’s most fickle and fabulous waves, lens man Branden Aroyan has made a name for himself in recent years with his surf photography; his images are featured in surf magazines the world over as well as hanging on restaurant walls and adorning book covers. Looking to make his artwork more accessible to the people who he said “probably appreciate it most,” Aroyan introduced his own signature line of clothing this past August featuring some of his more famous photographs.
From Goleta barrels to Tahitian tubes and island sunsets, Aroyan has taken his unique blend of surfing and landscape photography and put it on California-made, organic cotton T-shirts for men and women. Coming in all shapes, sizes, and colors, the shirts can be found in local surf emporiums like the Beach House on State Street, A-Frame Surf Shop and Rincon Designs in Carpinteria, and Goleta’s Surf Country, as well as the Brophy Bros. gift shop at the S.B. Harbor. With a price tag of about $25 and a Patagonia-inspired one-percent-for-the-planet pledge, these shirts are one part comfort, one part earth-conscious, and completely surf-minded. After all, if you aren’t going to be wearing your wetsuit and pulling in, you might as well throw a perfect barrel on your back. For more info, visit lowtiderising.com.
Surfing Your Coffee Table
Native Santa Barbaran and former professional surfer Alexis Cottavoz has been making people want to go surfing for decades. The man behind more than two dozen surf flicks — including the ’90s underground classic Good ’n’ Plenty — Cottavoz is known for his home-movie style approach to documenting high-performance surfing. Armed with a VHS camcorder and connections from his days as a professional, Cottavoz — then running with the surname Usher — barnstormed the international board sport scene throughout the 1990s, capturing everything from bikini-clad beauties and far-flung foreign dream waves to California’s exploding snowboarding culture and assorted party mayhem.
Along the way he also began taking photos and the result is the recently released book Shutterspeed. Jammed with 150 pages of high gloss surfing, skating, and snowboard action, the book feels like an insider’s scrapbook from the booming early years of the “extreme sports” era. Half-naked girls, massive Mavericks, Bruce Irons absolutely buried at Pipeline, Omar Hassan’s pool launching in Orange County, and Teahupoo in Tahiti grinding without a drop of water out of place are just a few of the book’s highlights.
While there are some photos included that probably wouldn’t make the final cut in other surf photo books, Shutterspeed ultimately proves appealing and successful for much the same reason that Cottavoz’s movies do: It gives a real, albeit occasionally out of focus, look at surfing that simultaneously makes you smile about the not-too-distant past and wonder what the waves might be doing at your local break tomorrow. And as an added bonus for the S.B. reader, there are more than a few images that are sure to look especially familiar. Shutterspeed can be found at Borders on State Street (where Cottavoz is also having a book-signing on December 9 at 1 p.m.) or visit stormproof.com for more information.
Simply put, you can’t really surf without surf wax; you absolutely need that sweet-smelling sticky substance if you hope to have any chance of staying on your board. That being said, the surf wax industry has a colored history of marketing gimmicks. From Carpinteria’s famous Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax to the breast-endowed Mrs. Palmer’s brew from Australia, creative marketing and sticky blends are an absolute must for success in an industry that produced more than 10 million bars of wax last year alone. Continuing in that vein is the newest member of the wax race, Tiki Waxx.
The creation of current S.B. resident Ramon Fernandez, Tiki Waxx was born after Fernandez traveled to Maui a while back and couldn’t find any Polynesian-style tiki-shaped candles to bring home as souvenirs. After returning to California, Fernandez began messing around with molds to create his own tiki candles à la the famous Bobby Brady bad luck charm. “It wasn’t too long until I put it together and thought about making surf wax,” said Fernandez. And, after Fernandez hooked up with a chemist in Los Angeles, the first big batch of Tiki Wax hit the water this summer to rave reviews. The handcrafted bars come in a variety of colors and tiki faces to match any water temperature condition — cool vibes, cold coconuts, warm aloha, and tropical jungle. The tiki gods of stick are available locally at the Beach House and A-Frame Surf Shop. For more info, visit tikiwaxx.com.
Catch the Wave
The S.B. Maritime Museum’s Surfing Exhibit The Santa Barbara Maritime Museum is developing a permanent surfing exhibit, which will break on our shores in 2007. The exhibit will feature the people and places of Santa Barbara’s surf culture, as well as those who have affected the sport in terms of new technologies or products, such as the George Greenough-led “shortboard revolution.” Special attention will be paid to impacts on surf culture that have a major Santa Barbara connection. The exhibit overall will be designed to engage everyone from the experienced surfing legend to the novice barney. Films, and possibly oral histories, will be a major feature of the exhibit, as the Santa Barbara area has become home to a significant number of filmmakers working in the surf genre.
The museum is currently researching and collecting for the exhibit. We are collecting historic and other important photos and film to supplement the exhibit. We are looking for awesome sticks or historically important boards and other surfing-related artifacts for the exhibit, too. For more information or to donate any objects for the exhibit, call the museum at 962-8404. Additionally, the museum continues to raise funds for the exhibit and welcomes your donations. Surf’s up!
—Aaron Micallef, curator and collections manager at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.