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Hang Ten Founder Talks Surfing In 1960s, Evolution Of Industry

Audio

Aired 9/30/09

What was surf culture like in the early 1960s? We speak to Duke Boyd, founder of the iconic surf clothing brand, Hang Ten. Boyd recounts where the idea for Hang Ten came from, and looks back on his contribution to the $30 billion surf industry.

Hang Ten Co-Founder Duke Boyd will be honored this weekend at the California Surf Museum's Annual "Legends Day" event.
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Above: Hang Ten Co-Founder Duke Boyd will be honored this weekend at the California Surf Museum's Annual "Legends Day" event.

The California Surf Museum's Annual "Legends Day" event will take place this Sunday, October 4th, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Oceanside Library.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Surfers tend to think of themselves and their sport as separated from the mainstream. There's always been a mystique about the men and women who catch the waves. But there was a time when surfing was not just separated from the mainstream, it was virtually unknown outside of a few beachside communities. It was in this atmosphere that my guest, Duke Boyd, developed his love of surfing and his life's work. Duke Boyd is co-founder of Hang Ten surf wear, the first surf wear clothing line. The story of how Boyd helped create the modern surfing image is fascinating, but it's only one of a variety of ways that surfing has captured and defined his life. Duke will be in Oceanside this weekend at the California Surf Museum. He’s been named as this year's honoree at the surf museum's annual "Legends Day." And it’s my pleasure to welcome Duke Boyd to These Days. Good morning, Duke.

DUKE BOYD (Co-founder, Hang Ten Clothing Line): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: And Jim Kempton is here. He’s president of the California Surf Museum. Jim, thanks for coming in.

JIM KEMPTON (President, California Surf Museum): Yeah, you’re welcome. Nice to be here.

CAVANAUGH: And we invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you’ve got questions about the golden age of surfing in California in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, you can ask an official surfing legend. Give us a call, 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Duke, let me ask you, when did you start surfing?

BOYD: Originally, probably not fair but the first time was 1946 when I moved to Hawaii and I started surfing at Waikiki. Actually I wasn’t surfing, I was just sort of like accidentally riding waves that I was lucky enough to catch a – find a board and paddle in on. But I really started surfing in 1957.

CAVANAUGH: When you came here?

BOYD: California.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, right.

BOYD: Yeah, while I was in California.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what was it that really hooked you about surfing?

BOYD: I think the same thing that hooks everybody about surfing. It becomes something that becomes very personal, and that’s probably the mystique behind the whole thing. Everyone says if you’re a surfer, then you know what the feeling is, well, that’s exactly what it is. You have to basically go surfing. If you know the feeling, if you like it, you’re a surfer. If you don’t like it, you don’t.

CAVANAUGH: Now, when you were kind of catching those waves on any kind of board you could find in Hawaii, and when you first came here to California, what were people wearing when they were going surfing?

BOYD: Well, pretty much the surfers themselves, just the surfers themselves, were wearing trunks that were in the fashion world of a Filipino man named M. Nee, who made surf trunks on the west shore for the movie stars like, well, like all the movie stars who came to town and hung out with Duke Kahanamoku. That really was the style, high in the front, low in the back, a little bit longer leg, that type of a thing. That sort of evolved over the years to different – to a style different than that but it was far different than the Jantzen what we call bun huggers type of thing, which were not – which were good in Australia but – and a very good surf trunk, but not necessarily very fashionable.

CAVANAUGH: Now tell us where the idea – Now what I understand it is, you brought some sketches to a woman who was – worked as a seamstress and had a little clothing line herself. What did those sketches look like and what was she intrigued with when you brought them in?

BOYD: Well, they were pencil drawings and they were really made for the purpose of me making some money while I was going to college. And I showed them to her and it was really a jacket picture, a surfing jacket. But underneath the jacket were the trunks and she knew that she could make the trunks so she asked me to make the samples up, which I did with my – with a lady named Grace West, who was out of Seal Beach. I made them up, brought them back to her, she priced them out, $3.75 each, and I went out and sold them and that’s how it started.

CAVANAUGH: And who came up with the name Hang Ten? How did that happen?

BOYD: Well, it was a – it was a collaborated deal. We were discussing what to do and she said to me, she said what would be the equivalent of a hole in one to surfing? And hang ten, at that time, was the answer. I mean, perching on the end of a nose was a very, very important thing to do in surfing in that day.

CAVANAUGH: And the woman that we’re talking about, the co-founder of Hang Ten, was Doris Moore.

BOYD: Doris Moore, right. She was a very experienced lady out of New York who basically was a shopper. She would go from Macy’s to Gimbles and all that, to get prices on clothing. And so she knew what she was doing and she was doing – when I met her, she was doing dickeys, which were little collars that were in the era of Mamie Eisenhower’s. When that ended and the Kennedys came in, she was sort of like out of business and that’s when I walked in the door.

CAVANAUGH: And so we’re talking about the early ‘60s here.

BOYD: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: And you would take the trunks and the original sort of Hang Ten outfits and you’d sell them – try to sell them in surf shops up and down the coast, right?

BOYD: Well, I tried to sell them.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

BOYD: That was – The surf shops were sort of like the nut to crack because they really didn’t have any sense of that type of thing. They only made surfboards and they didn’t even have wax at the time. They fixed dings. They would – You’d buy your wax paraffin from the grocery store. So it was really no one in the surfing business had any idea how to merchandise anything else besides the surfboards.

CAVANAUGH: And did Hang Ten really start to take off when you started to advertise in, what was it, Surf – Surfer magazine?

BOYD: Yes, that – Yeah, John Severson, who started Surfer magazine, had been out – I think it was a quarterly for a couple of months, three or four months. And we quite, well, how do you say? We just moved into it, not whereas most of the surfers at that time, surf shops at that time, didn’t really have the money to advertise. And Doris basically took the plunge and said, okay, I’m going to buy the ad, took a contract for a year, and once that happened, we became known in the surfing world and the trunks that we made were good. I mean, it was – they were acceptable so our success ran right after that.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Duke Boyd. He’s co-founder of Hang Ten surf wear, and he’s the – this year’s honoree at the Surf Museum in Oceanside’s annual “Legend’s Day.” We’re taking your phone calls at 1-888-895-5727. If you have memories of wearing Hang Ten surf clothes, give us a call. And I want to bring in Jim Kempton now. He’s president of the California Surf Museum. And you have some really sort of original Hang Ten clothing on right now. Tell us about it.

KEMPTON: I’m wearing a jacket that was originally modeled by Phil Edwards, one of the great surfers of that era. And at that time, getting a piece of Hang Ten clothing was hard. It was hard to find it and it was expensive by my parents’ standards. But if you were a surfer, you absolutely had to have it. And the only size they had in the jacket that I’m wearing right now was a large. I was about 110 pounds dripping wet, and I had to fold the arms up and zip it up in order to even make it look like it fit me but I grew into it and I’ve kept it for I don’t know how many years that is but at least 45 or so. And it’s still in great shape. It still looks good.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, it looks like a standard kind of a Hang Ten windbreaker. Describe it a little bit to us, the colors and what it looks like.

KEMPTON: Yeah, it’s a light blue jacket with two white stripes that…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

KEMPTON: …go across it, very classic ‘60s Hang Ten style. It really is the style that Duke kind of brought into the surfing world and it became the standard wear.

CAVANAUGH: Now why did the Surf Museum choose Duke Boyd as the – your Legends honoree this year?

BOYD: I’d like to know the answer to that.

KEMPTON: Well, aside from the fact that Duke’s a friend of mine and that I wanted to roast him really badly, a lot of people, you know, in today’s world don’t know some of the really significant figures back in that day. They know some of the most famous surfers but they don’t know the story behind, you know, how the surf industry, which is now a multi-billion dollar industry, really got started. And Duke is, in many ways, to the surf industry what Duke Kahanamoku was to the surfing culture. He introduced it. He wasn’t necessarily the first person to make surf trunks and certainly not the last, but he was the person who took it around the world and made it something that was part of the culture.

CAVANAUGH: And it really sort of defined an image for the surfer that perhaps they didn’t have earlier in the ‘60s, that whole look, that whole image of the longer trunks, the, you know, and as you say, Duke, you found really some resistance with the early shops even thinking about buying anything like clothing. Isn’t that right?

BOYD: Oh, yeah, definitely. Not because they wouldn’t have wanted to do it if they had know but they were just sort of like we’re not merchants. That wasn’t what they did. And that happened for quite a while. It took quite a while to happen. I remember that when I first tried to sell a famous surf shop called Dewey Weber, and I had – and he and I ended up becoming very good friends, but during the course of that time he was a very tough customer. He wouldn’t buy me. So eventually he said, he says, okay, I’ll tell you what, I’ll buy a dozen. And I said, okay. And he says, but here’s the deal, I want them all white and I want them in size 30 so in case they don’t sell, I can wear them.

CAVANAUGH: Did you do it?

BOYD: Oh, of course, yeah. And it ended up being, you know, once you landed in the surf shop, you basically were grounded after that and you were acceptable – accepted in the – and that’s really basically what it is. It’s a very close knit culture and you just can’t be a shoulder hopper and come into the surfing world and start selling things. You have to – there’s a whole series of steps that you have to go through to be accepted.

CAVANAUGH: Well, you had a very clever marketing strategy. I don’t even know if you thought of it that way but since, you know, you weren’t selling too much to the surf shops, you would just sort of give away some clothes.

BOYD: Oh, well, that was called – Yes. That was called basically a test pilot program. I’d take different styles of trunks that we would make that were samples, not the real ones, and I would give them to different surfers, usually in Huntington Beach, places like that. And then I would sew my logo on a patch on the outside of it and it ended up being something sort of like a sought after pair of trunks to have. Yeah, that worked.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that worked pretty good. I’m speaking with Duke Boyd, co-founder of Hang Ten surf wear and this year’s honoree at the California Surf Museum “Legends Day,” and the president of the California Surf Museum, Jim Kempton, is here as well. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, and Paul is calling us from Solana Beach. Good morning, Paul. Welcome to These Days.

PAUL (Caller, Solana Beach): Hey, thanks for taking my call. A couple of questions. First, what do you call that – the shirt that men used to wear in the mid-sixties and it had a vee kind of cut underneath, you know, the neck and then it had that – the leather lanyard kind of tying it together? What was that look called, do you know?

CAVANAUGH: We – Do we know, gentlemen?

KEMPTON: You stumped us.

PAUL: Oh, okay, never mind. Yeah, but the other question I had is, is all the surf gear and the surf wear now being made corporately? Or are there any independent manufacturers out there anymore left?

BOYD: Oh, yeah. There – Birdwell Britches still is alive and well, and started way back in the early sixties, also. I think – Is Cayton still…? You’d know better than I would.

KEMPTON: Well, they don’t make – The stuff they make now is made overseas.

BOYD: Oh, okay.

KEMPTON: And they’re…

BOYD: Yeah, there are a few but, you know, obviously it’s a price situation and the – If you want to have your own trunks made, that’s probably the way to go.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BOYD: Local cotton shops.

CAVANAUGH: You know, since you took the Hang Ten and made it into an industry, actually surf clothing, they estimate now that it’s a $30 billion a year industry. I mean, is that something that you hear and it’s sort of unimaginable to you?

BOYD: Well, they say it’s the surf industry but that’s – that’s a little bit – well, there’s a little bit more to it than that. When surfing first started in the ‘60s, what happened was, is that the stores, for the most part, didn’t – they didn’t sell any of those trunks at all.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BOYD: And they didn’t have a youth area. They had boys’ and they had men’s but there were no young men’s. So when surfing came about, they established a whole new area of merchandising which were the young men. So when they say surfers, what you’re really saying are young men. Where almost like a teen girl magazine, it’s the counterpart of that. They didn’t have a teen boy magazine until surfing came along. And so what you’re really seeing is surfer boys or young men disguised as surfers who basically pick up that kind of fashion.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Now, Jim, in addition to being the president of the California Surf Museum, you’re also media director for Billabong, so you’re part of this billion dollar, multi-billion dollar surf industry. It’s really sort of amazing how fast and how large it’s grown, isn’t it?

KEMPTON: It’s been an amazing climb and I don’t think anyone could have expected it, but I think that’s part of the intrigue of surfing. It has an image that people identify with and the clothing is really one of the only ways besides actually doing the act of surfing itself that you can identify with the culture of the beach, and the free and easy lifestyle and all the fun that you can have with surfing.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I want to move on and – because I know that Hang Ten is not the only clothing line you were associated with, Duke, but I do want to talk about the Hang Ten logo because that’s so important and I think it made such a big splash and, in fact, even though you don’t own the company anymore, that’s still part of the Hang Ten clothing line. Tell us, first of all, what it is and how you came up with it.

BOYD: Well, it was the end result of a conversation that we had about what we should name the company.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BOYD: And after we went through the discussion, we came up with the name Hang Ten and agreed upon it. I went home and basically painted up the two feet because it was obvious. It was like, you know, unless I was to draw someone actually hanging ten, which didn’t come to my mind, I just basically said this would be good, I’ll try that. So I put two feet on a yellow background, and it was supposed to be suntan colors, you know, on a sunset. That type of a situation. And the loose draw – writing was basically based upon the kind of writing that you’d found at Malibu where you would do the graffiti on the walls like, you know, ‘Dora can’t surf’ and things like that. And I would – I wrote it in that particular fashion so it didn’t have a store bought type look to it. It had a real rustic look to it, which is basically even the way they’re coming back to it now. Like Quicksilver’s an example of, instead of store bought type, a Quicksilver look is basically a graffiti look.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Duke Boyd. He is this year’s Surf Museum’s Legend for the California Surf Museum this year. And I’m speaking with the president of the California Surf Museum, Jim Kempton. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And Ron Sizemore is calling from Laguna Beach. Good morning, Ron. Welcome to These Days.

RON SIZEMORE (Caller, Laguna Beach): Good morning. Thank you very much for taking my call. I really appreciate it. And I’d like to say good morning to Jim and good morning to Duke. How are you guys doing?

BOYD: Good morning.

KEMPTON: Doing great. How are you, Mr. Sizemore?

SIZEMORE: Just fine, thank you. Hey, Duke, I don’t know if you remember but back in the early sixties, I was hitchhiking out of Corona del Mar into – out of Laguna Beach into Corona del Mar, and you picked me up in your woody wagon and you’d been going to some of the men’s clothing stores, I believe, in Laguna because, like you said, you hadn’t gotten your trunks into the surf shops at that time. And after I got out of the car, I remember you gave me a pair of trunks to wear to the beach when I went surfing to get exposure, and I’d like to think that I was maybe one of your first team riders.

BOYD: You were the very first one, Ron.

SIZEMORE: Are you kidding?

BOYD: You were – Not only that, anybody who can put their heels over and go through the pier backwards, deserves to be the first one.

SIZEMORE: Ah, I thought there was some before me. Gee.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much for the call, Ron. That’s great. You know, just hearing that phone call evokes a whole idea of what the beach community was like in the ‘60s and it was a freer, more open time. Do you – Do people really understand that this is why they call it the golden age of surfing, I wonder, Jim?

KEMPTON: Well, I think anytime you have the pioneering age, everything is being discovered and discovery is such a, you know, such a great, exciting experience to have. And everything was being invented at that time. You know, surfboard design was being invented and surf clothing was being invented, surf culture in general. The whole language that we used to describe the things that were being done that had never been done before, you had to give them a name. And so there’s – the whole culture of surfing developed during that era and still today is, you know, the great hold, I think, on people’s fascination about the sport and the lifestyle.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Leah is calling from La Mesa. Good morning, Leah. Welcome to These Days.

LEAH (Caller, La Mesa): Hello. I was just calling because I heard the show and I was – I grew up in the South Bay in Torrance and I just remember, you know, Hang Ten was just so much a part of our lives, you know, the whole surf culture, because it was so close to the beach. And my uncle was a longboard surfer, I think, back in the ‘30s and I just have such fond memories of that and Van Doren tennis shoes and it was just such a – I mean, I never surfed in my life. I went to the beach. But it just – But I hear you, I just ordered a Hang Ten shirt off the internet and – or a sweatshirt and I love it and my – I was showing it to my kids, I’m like, look, I have a Hang Ten sweatshirt, and they looked at me like, yeah, what’s that supposed to mean? You know, so it’s just great to hear the show.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for the call, Leah. That’s very nice. You know, I want everyone to be aware of the fact that Hang Ten was not the only clothing company that you were associated with. Duke, you founded another one called Lightning Bolt in the 1970s. What was the difference between Hang Ten and Lightning Bolt?

BOYD: Probably an era. About ten years had gone by and – but there was a similarity in the sense that Hang Ten was for really a definite part of the middle of the golden era in which everything was being discovered. And Lightning Bolt ended up being a part of the last part of the golden era in which the values of free surfing and non-commercialism and really a small little knit group of surfers being – the story being told. That all changed and started going heavily into professional surfing, which ended up sort of like splitting the story about surfing into surfing – professional surfings (sic) were making the bumper sticker that – what everyone was talking about. And the free surfing basically slipped into the past and wasn’t necessarily as well received or admired.

CAVANAUGH: Now Lightning Bolt, Jim, was – had a lot to do with wetsuits and the term body glove came into fashion, is that correct?

KEMPTON: Well, Body Glove was one of the early wetsuits and Duke actually was working with them at a particular time during that time. But one of the things about Lightning Bolt that was so memorable is, is that like rock ‘n roll, there was a period in the mid-sixties that everything changed and you went from doing be-bop kind of music to doing – I mean, doo-wop kind of music to doing psychedelic electric guitar. And the short board revolution, which happened almost simultaneously with that, was the same thing in surfing. So what had happened was there was a whole new generation of kids in the ‘70s that were riding short boards, almost, again, reinventing the whole act of surfing and, therefore, everything else was needed, including their equipment, the kind of words and descriptions they used, the kind of clothing they wore, the kind of culture they had. And so Lightning Bolt kind of became the Hang Ten of this new era.

CAVANAUGH: That’s really fascinating. And I want to make sure everyone knows, too, clothing design is not the limit of your connection with surfing, Duke. I mean, you’ve been a surf photographer and a filmmaker and an author. You have a new book, “Legends of Surfing” with your surf photographs. Do you – What do you find enjoyable about, I wonder specifically, about taking photographs of surfers?

BOYD: Well, one of the things is – There’s two parts to it. One part is when they’re actually in the water and you try to find the different angles and all the diff – there’s a whole evolution in terms of surf photography, also. The other part is, is sort of like capturing, as you go along through life, the off – you know, the offhand, the casual looks of the surfers because what you’re really seeing at that time, this time, is a whole culture being – that is being grown right in front of your very eyes.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

BOYD: So you can go back and see what they looked like in the – Well, actually, you can go back to the ‘30s and so forth and watch them going all the way for the whole 20th century. That’s what the book is about, is basically it’s a book about who’s who in the 20th century of surfing. Starts with Duke Kahanamoku, goes to Kelly Slater, and everything in between.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. Clayton is calling from El Cajon. Good morning, Clayton. Welcome to These Days.

CLAYTON (Caller, El Cajon): Good morning. How are you doing?

CAVANAUGH: Great. Thank you.

CLAYTON: My question is actually for Duke. You guys are describing the ‘60s as the golden age of surfing and my mom has also regaled me with tales of how the – how surfing was legendary back when she was growing up in Anaheim and Mission Bay and areas local here in south California. My question is actually do you think that surfing, as a profession or as a sport, has lost some of its glamour throughout the ages?

CAVANAUGH: Okay, thank you, Clayton. Duke, what do you think? Has surfing lost anything?

BOYD: Well, I kind of – I feel that way personally that it has. I don’t think on a – on the grand scale that that’s true because I think more people get to play in it, more people get to be a part of it, it’s grown to the fact where every – where it has a – it’s a big tent and everyone’s in it. But the core of surfing is still individual, where you get up in the morning and you go out and it’s not like you’re going down to meet your friends and you kind of get on a merry-go-round and dance around. You’re basically going out personally to go surfing, and that’s never lost. And that’s one of the nice things about it. Surfing itself is split into two parts. If you can make your living, like Corky Carroll says, by surfing, he says, well, what’s wrong with that? Well, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

BOYD: But in essence, he’s also a very, very hardcore surfer who doesn’t need to compete to basically have a good time and enjoy himself.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, you know, this California Surf Museum’s Annual “Legends Day” is – it only goes to one person a year, and I’m wondering how does that make you feel to be honored in that way, Duke?

BOYD: When you get honored by your contemporaries, your friends, it’s a lot different than any other kind of honor that you might get. So I hold this very dear because if your dear friends say you’re okay, you know, then in essence there may be something to it.

CAVANAUGH: That’s wonderful. And the “Legends of Surfing” book, besides that, what is your next big project?

BOYD: Well, my next big project? After I finish the – I’m working with a friend of mine named Eric Jordan, who is putting out a documentary called “For the Love of Surfing,” and it’s pretty much the same thing. It deals with an era of the ‘60s generally, a little bit of the ’50s and the ‘60s. And it documents what these people had to say during the 20th century in that one little golden era niche that you were talking about, and that’s what I’m basically working with – on him now, so I guess you can say that’s a project.

CAVANAUGH: I think so. Jim, can you tell us a little bit about the “Legends Day” event? We only have about 30 to 45 seconds but if you could tell us a little bit of what this event is going to be like?

KEMPTON: It is honoring one of the legends of surfing. Each year we choose one. We invite all of the other Legends of Surfing to attend, and the general public is also invited. We have hula dancers and ukulele players and a luau and it’s really part of a surf culture experience. And during that time, we honor whoever we’ve chosen. This year, it’s Duke Boyd. He’s with a very, very esteemed crew that will be there and who’ve been honored before.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for coming in. Jim Kempton, president of the California Surf Museum. Thank you.

KEMPTON: Yeah, and you.

CAVANAUGH: And Duke Boyd, it was a pleasure to meet you. Thanks for coming in.

BOYD: Thank you for having us.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I wanted to let everyone know the California Surf Museum's Annual "Legends Day" event will take place this Sunday from one to four at the Oceanside Library. And if you need more information, you can always check out the These Days page on KPBS.org. And we also encourage you to post your comments at KPBS.org/TheseDays. Stay with us for the second hour of These Days, coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.

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