Before surfers began wearing “jams” that ran to their shins, like so many beach-going basketball players, wave riders favored a shorter, knee-high, butt-hugging, hip-hanging look (along with their feathered hair).
The brands and their labels were legend, and whichever you chose, you had to own every color. That is, if you were a part of surf culture from the ’70s through the ’80s (or your parents owned a beach house and you were trying to fit in with the local rats).
The surf shorts were nylon and dried in seconds, from Birdwell Beach Britches to Off Shore, Ocean Pacific (OP) to Billabong, the enduring Quicksilver to that lovable nostalgia brand, Hang Ten (which lifeguards favored). But if you were a surfer, or a wannabe, you had to own at least one pair of Sundeks.
Featuring a one-eyehole waist-tie, a Velcro fly, and a square back pocket, and coming in mostly primary colors, Sundek trunks were identifiable by the rainbow strip that ran around their backsides. “Follow the Sun” was their slogan. They looked good on your girlfriend too (when she wasn’t wearing faded OP corduroy “walk shorts”). Going for about $20 a pair then, they were often sold exclusively in surf shops.
What few likely knew is that they were made in Italy and that the company had been stitching them since 1958, where they were worn on the Mediterranean before they became a staple of Hawaii and California surfing championships with famous pro surfers endorsing them.
But in the late ’80s, the subculture that wore surfwear went commercial, and the look ended up on racks in shopping malls, with a new hue added to them: tacky neon. Their cult status evaporated. Nearly every dork on the beach could be seen in them. It marked the end of an era.
Now, to mark the 50th anniversary of the company, Sundeks are about to make their mark again on both coasts, and are being marketed to such upscale designer stores as New York’s Jeffrey. The price tag is still reasonable (from $62-$68), and the original design and color choices have been only slightly modified.
And while it’s doubtful that surfers will make a major return to them—the jam thing is not going away—expect to see stylish hipsters grabbing them up, for water play and nostalgia appeal, from Fire Island to Zuma Beach.
A warning: While they hold up fine on 10-foot waves, the stripes shredded on this writer, then in grade school, cutting classes, after he made a leap off a cliff, 50-feet down into the local quarry while listening to Foghat’s “Slow Ride.”