Once upon a time, surfboards were made by hand and surfing gear and clothing simply did not exist. Ancient Polynesians rode waves for sport and fun before missionaries did their best to eliminate the pastime for fear that it was promiscuous and unproductive.
The legendary Hawaiian Olympian, Duke Kahanamoku gave swimming and surfing demonstrations around the world, spreading the ‘aloha’ spirit and sparking worldwide interest in the art of shaping boards and the practice of wave riding.
As materials changed and surfing culture flourished so too did a cottage industry centred around surfing essentials: surfboards, board shorts, wetsuits and, eventually, surf clothing. The early surf brands were often based in someone’s garage where gear was manufactured by hand. Quiksilver, Rip Curl, Billabong and O’Neill all started this way – and stood the test of time.
Table of Contents
The evolution of surf brands
The surf industry and associated surf brands exploded in the nineties and early 2000s. Surf shops could be found in shopping malls from Cape Town to Mumbai, Sydney to Stockholm. Many of the brands diversified to include skating and snowboarding, and several released female-orientated clothing and apparel labels. Quiksilver’s Roxy brand is an example of this.
Surfing’s commercial heyday was a time of big budgets. Brands sponsored surf movies where surfers were taken to remote islands to seek out perfect waves. Rip Curl’s “The Search” series is an example of this. Surf magazines satiated a hungry surfing community and the World Championship Tour was a glitzy affair – running contests in previously impossible locales. For a surf brand to be the major sponsor of an event like the Tavarua Pro or Pipeline Masters was a prestigious affair.
Everyday surfers really did purchase clothing and apparel based on their favourite surfer’s sponsor. People who loved Kelly Slater wore Quiksilver and those who preferred Andy Irons wore Billabong. If you loved Mick Fanning, you wore Rip Curl.
The surf industry today
The surf industry is at an interesting intersection. The dominant brands – Rip Curl, Quiksilver, Billabong – have encountered stiff competition from Hurley, Patagonia, O’Neill and numerous niche competitors, like Outerknown. Some companies like REEF remain focused on their core product range, while brands like FCS have branched from surfboard fins into apparel.
The internet changed the surf industry because all of a sudden magazines went digital and surf movies transitioned to 30 second clips consumed on Instagram. We entered the age of surfing influencers. The Word Championship Tour became the World Surf League – and surfing made it to the Olympics!
After several challenging years, Billabong was purchased by Quiksilver’s parent company, Boardriders Inc, to create a new super surf conglomerate that includes Roxy, DC Shoes, Von Zipper, Element and RVCA. Rip Curl was acquired by outdoor brand, Kathmandu. Disruption of the surf industry continues as online stores compete with brick and mortar retailers and wave parks compete with hosted events on tropical islands.
Surfers have more choice than ever before, when it comes to choosing surfboards, surf clothing, gear and apparel. That’s why we created this guide.
The following list includes core surfing-related fashion brands, surfboard shapers and gear manufacturers. Enjoy this trip through surf brand heaven, complete with images, videos, website and social media links to every company.
When Outerknown arrived many people wondered whether a premium quality, sustainable and ethically produced range of surf fashion could possibly survive a ravaged surf industry. Sure the brand was founded by Kelly Slater but not everyone was convinced that he made the right move in leaving his long-time sponsor, Quiksilver.
However, Kelly and the team at Outerknown persevered and they’ve successfully created a brand that represents style, comfort and premium quality. At Surfd, we own items from the first Outerknown season and they’re still in great condition. We highly recommend reducing your environmental footprint by purchasing quality apparel from this company. The Outerknown blanket shirt is a classic.
From the brand: “Outerknown explores the relationship between function, style and sustainability. As designers, it challenges us to build better, more sustainable products. As producers, it asks us to lift the lid on our supply chain, bringing the consumer along on our journey to transparency. As storytellers, it enables perpetual evolution of our brand vision. As athletes and performers, it pushes us to formerly impossible levels. As global citizens, it offers the opportunity to observe this multi-cultural world we live in and bring together seemingly unconnected people and ideas for the purpose of discovering the next Outerknown.”
Whether you’re looking for wetsuits or long-lasting fashion, Patagonia have you covered. What makes them unique is their attention to detail, ethical and sustainable focus and activist stance. We love their innovative Yulex technology and their commitment to supply chain transparency.
From the brand: “Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers. Alpinism remains at the heart of a worldwide business that still makes clothes for climbing – as well as for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling and trail running. These are all silent sports. None require a motor; none deliver the cheers of a crowd. In each sport, reward comes in the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection between us and nature.
Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take towards product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility.
For us at Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet. We donate our time, services and at least 1% of our sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental groups all over the world who work to help reverse the tide.
We know that our business activity – from lighting stores to dyeing shirts – creates pollution as a by-product. So we work steadily to reduce those harms. We use recycled polyester in many of our clothes and only organic, rather than pesticide-intensive, cotton.
Staying true to our core values during thirty-plus years in business has helped us create a company we’re proud to run and work for. And our focus on making the best products possible has brought us success in the marketplace.”
After twenty-five years, Reef is thriving as one of the leading surf brands in the world offering footwear for guys, girls and kids. Reef has evolved from its humble sandal beginnings to now include a men’s apparel division launched in 2003, followed by the launch of girl’s swim and apparel in 2008.
Reef also recently launched Reef Redemption; a program intended to lessen our footprint on the Environment. Reef Redemption initiatives thrive through a product series using green technology, our culture of giving and our in-house efforts to work towards a more environmentally friendly work environment.
Through all the change over the past twenty-five years, Reef is driven by the same constant – we are surfers at heart, drawing influences from the world around us. We still stand for the same foundation that the company was founded on by Fernando and Santi back in 1984. Reef is a core surf company. We create authentic and innovative products intended to nurture an incredibly fortunate lifestyle that involves surf, sensuality and a life filled with happiness.
Hurley is associated with technical surf gear like their signature Phantom boardshorts. Featuring a solid team of brand ambassadors like Filipe Toledo and Kolohe Andino, they’re making a mark both in terms of product and performance.
From the brand: “The Essence of Hurley is based on our love of the ocean and its constant state of change. With deep roots in beach culture, we are all about inclusion and positivity. Our brand was started with the idea of facilitating the dreams of the youth. Music and art are the common threads that bring us all together. We are passionate about freedom of expression and the individual voice. We place a premium on smiles. Welcome to our world – imagine the possibilities.”
When Kelly Slater emerged as a phenomenon in the early nineties, Quiksilver was firmly cemented in our minds as one of the coolest brands to wear. They make performance wetsuits and boardshorts plus one of the most extensive ranges of branded fashion available today. Kelly Slater may have moved on (he created the brand Outerknown) but Quiksilver continue to evolve in the increasingly competitive retail space.
From the brand: “Quiksilver has top of the line clothing and gear for every lifestyle. Every piece of Quiksilver clothing is designed for high performance and made with durable material, so if you spend 24 hours on the beach or on the slopes, Quiksilver clothes will always keep up. Quiksilver, Inc. is an American retail sporting company, founded in Torquay, Australia, but now based in Huntington Beach, California. It is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of surfwear and other boardsport-related equipment.”
The phrase, “I surf because…” was the brainchild of Billabong – and captured imaginations around the world. At their peak during the nineties and early 2000s Billabong sponsored the edgiest team in the world. Andy Irons was their rebel – Kelly Slater’s nemesis – Joel Parkinson was the epitome of style and Taj Burrow represented electrifying high performance. They’ve always produced both technical surf gear and fashion, while sponsoring major surf events like the Pipeline Masters and Fiji Pro.
From the brand: “Billabong International Limited is a surf company, primarily a clothing retailer that also produces accessories, like watches and backpacks and skateboard and snowboard products. It is a sports wear and casual clothing manufacturer. Billabong was founded on Australia’s Gold Coast in 1973 by surfer and surfboard shaper Gordon Merchant and his then partner, Rena. Those early days were rather inauspicious, with the pair designing boardshorts at home, cutting them out on the kitchen table and then carting the finished product around to the local surf shop to sell.
The business found immediate traction, with surfers drawn to the superior functionality of the Billabong boardshorts. They were also far more durable courtesy of the unique triple-stitching technique developed by Gordon.
The next step for the fledgling brand was to introduce the better local surfers to Billabong and incorporate them in the marketing of the brand. Company-sponsored contests and special events would later follow.
By the 1980s, Billabong had firmly established its place in Australian surf culture and was ready for international expansion. The initial focus was on the large North American market and, again, the brand enjoyed success.”
“The original California surf, snow and lifestyle brand, was founded in 1952 when a young man named Jack O’Neill took his unstoppable passion for surfing and used it to battle Mother Nature. Jack’s initial vision of producing functional and innovative board riding products continues to lie at the core of everything the company does. From the first neoprene surf wetsuit and board leash to the world’s first stitchless board shorts. O’Neill will always be committed to growing its reputation as one of the world’s leading youth lifestyle brands based on being the First Name in the water. While many things have changed since those humble beginnings, Jack’s initial vision of producing functional and innovative board riding products continues to lie at the core of everything the company does. O’Neill’s core values — innovation in style and technology — have seen the brand devote itself wholeheartedly to the evolution of the action sports lifestyle. O’Neill’s progressive spirit will always drive the company forward.”
The RVCA brand (pronounced Rew-Ca) was developed around the balance of opposites. Nature x Industrialisation. Woman x Man. Past x Present. The future, today, tomorrow and life.
PM Tenore and Conan Hayes developed a brand that would combine art, music, fashion and modern lifestyle. RVCA is one of the few companies that transcends action sports. Firmly embedded in the lifestyles of surfers, skaters, snow sports, combat sports and urban fashionistas. RVCA designs create their own niche, setting them apart from passing trends.
RVCA embraces subcultures, providing individuals and groups with a brand that provides not only cutting edge fashion, but functional apparel and accessories for their chosen pursuits.
“Vans is an American manufacturer of shoes, based in Cypress, California, owned by VF Corporation. The company also produces apparel and other products such as T-shirts, hoodies, socks, hats, and backpacks.Vans was founded in 1966 by Paul and James Van Doren, Serge Delia, and Gordon Lee. It has stood for authenticity in youth lifestyle, music, and action sports since day one.”
The birth of Volcom is a genuinely heart-warming success story. In 1991, Richard Woolcott and Tucker Hall made a life-changing decision during a snowboarding trip to Tahoe. Having made excuses to employers about being snowed in, the pair dedicated the extra time to carving fresh powder and fully embracing the lifestyle.
Two weeks later they quit their jobs, borrowed $5,000 from Richard’s dad, and started a company based on the three things they loved the most. Snowboarding, skating and surfing.
Woolcott and Hall knew nothing about making clothing, but that didn’t stop them running the entire operation out of Halls bedroom. They grossed $2,600 in their first year.
Despite the humble beginnings the Volcom logo, known as the Volcom Stone, has worked its way across the globe. Remaining true to its punk beginnings, Volcom has matured into a company that offers some of the finest fashion and technical apparel. Volcom also invests a lot of time into art, music and film.
“What started in 1969 as a vision or ‘Search’ of two friends has grown into a philosophy and way of life for surfers and boardsport enthusiasts worldwide. In 2019 Rip Curl was acquired by Australiasian outdoor company, Kathmandu. However, Rip Curl will remain an independent brand, continuing to design, producing, and distribute a variety of innovative products in more than 60 countries worldwide, Rip Curl takes pride in our world-class roster of surfers and the simple objective to Live The Search.”
“Since 1969, Channel Islands Surfboards has been dedicated to performance and quality through hard work, innovation, and originality. Over the last 43 years, Channel Islands has grown from a local grass-roots operation to a cutting edge organization, catering to the best surfers in the world. It started with hard-core surfing and quality in mind and these guidelines have brought us through four decades of constant change in the surf industry. Channel Islands will shape the new millennium with innovative design and quality as our main focus.”
“Founded in 1998 in Encinitas, CA, Nixon is the premium watch and accessories brand for the youth lifestyle market. Focused on making the little stuff better, Nixon began with a small line of team-designed, custom-built watches sold exclusively in specialty boardsport and fashion retailers. Currently distributed in over 90 countries, Nixon product range has grown to include select soft goods, leather goods, custom audio products and more.”
“We make gear for people who love being on the mountain or in the water enough to have figured out a way to spend their lives doing it. It’s all about more days on the mountain; more days in the water. Dakine was founded in 1979 on Maui and moved to Hood River Oregon in 1986.”
“Taking its name from the Thai word for Fun, Sanuk is a global lifestyle brand known for its funky sense of style, lo-fi innovation, and delightfully irreverent humor. Primary product franchises for the Brand include its Yoga Mat Sandal Collection and its patented “Not-A-Shoe” Sidewalk Surfers, which introduced and defined the entire hanging closed-toe footwear category. The Brand continues to rapidly attract a uniquely passionate fan following through its addictively comfortable products and invitingly off-center worldview. Sanuk is distributed in over 70 countries worldwide and is a proud member of the Deckers Outdoor Corporation. “
“The Critical Slide Society (TCSS) was founded in 2009 in a sleepy seaside village on the Central Coast of NSW Australia. Launched by a couple of surfers and artists, Jim Mitchell and Sam Coombes, the founders had the vision of an authentic, creative label as a platform that celebrates an emerging alternative movement within surf culture: one that’s less about the winner’s podium and more about the simple joy of a deeply engaged surfing life. TCSS works with artists, photographers, designers, filmmakers, surfers from across the globe, all of whom share a similar outlook inspiration. TCSS prides itself on its unique approach its detail orientated design. The brand won Best Boardshort two years running TCSS apparel goods are now stocked in some of the most respected retail stores around the world.”
“Founded in 1985 by three Australian brothers, Globe International Limited is a global producer and distributor specialising in purpose-built apparel, footwear and skateboard hard goods brands for the boardsports, street fashion and workwear markets.”
Vissla is a brand that fits with the modern “surf anything” and “ride anything” mentality.
Vissla represents creative freedom and forward-thinking philosophy. The brand provides cutting edge technical equipment and surf wear to a generation of creators and innovators.
The modern do-it-yourself attitude within surf culture, where surfers are turning their hands at surfboard shaping, van-living and an up-cycling lifestyle, is embraced by Vissla. They are pushing the boundaries of sustainable wetsuits, constantly striving to minimise their environmental impact.
Vissla is all about performance, style, function, and protecting the waves that we love.
“We nurture some of the surf and skate world’s most humble yet radical folk, and lead by a motley crew of designers and artists – young, idealistic and oozing creativity – the Insight family follow their intuition and pay little attention to where the crowd is headed.”
Rusty launched a full clothing range in 1987. Just like Preisendorfer’s surfboards, the apparel is extremely high quality. Many surfers own a Rusty t-shirt or hoodie they have worn for more years than they can remember.
Rusty has grown into one of the largest grossing surf brands in the world. The brand is top of a unique list of companies that produce world beating surfboard hardware and highly desirable clothing and accessories.
“FCS fins were introduced to the Australian market in 1992 and released globally in 1994. The first FCS fin plug was patented shortly after the global release and it quickly became the world standard for removable fins. To this day FCS is the strongest, most successful, and also the most widely used surfboard fin system in the world.
Since its global release in 1994, 30 ASP World Titles and countless events have been won riding the FCS fin system. No other system can lay claim to a single ASP World Title in either the men’s, women’s, junior’s, or longboard divisions. The success of FCS is a testament to its advantages over other fin systems, this includes traditional fixed fins as well.”
“We believe this is why surfers all over the world consider Futures the ultimate source for exceptional performance surf equipment created by surfers for surfers. It is about being authentic, challenging the status quo, and standing for the evolution of our sport. Sometimes it is even about pushing beyond what appears to make sense, because we believe that we can’t find our limits unless we try to push past them. That is why we were the first to make a pre-lamination fin box that gets its strength from the fiberglass. Then later, when surfers were testing the limits of waves that were no longer paddle-able, we the first to develop stiff stable big wave fins.”
Since the brands inception in the early 80’s, as a logo for Shawn Stussy’s homemade surfboards, it has followed a path unlike any other surf brand I can think of.
Surf wear is usually exclusively worn by surfers. Stussy bucked the trend and throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s the iconic, graffiti influenced scrawled logo was embraced by skaters, hip hop musicians, punks, and other urban subcultures.
Stussy crossed boundaries between underground, youth dominated scenes. Limited production and distribution only served to increase the mystic and demand for the garments. The fact that Stussy clothing appeared on numerous cross culture magazine covers is testament to how far it became imbedded in the fashion industry.
To this day, image conscious people keep an eye out for the Stussy logo, looking to purchase new premium clothing from the latest catalog, or alternatively expensive vintage pieces from specialist shops.
“Firewire is dedicated to building high performance surfboards and accessories through innovative design, materials and construction methods. We strive to do so with the lowest possible impact on the environment while also giving back to the global surf community through support of various environmental and humanitarian organizations.”
“Deus ex Machina is a step bigger than a brand: it’s a culture. Our openness and enthusiasm strike a chord with people, wherever they are…
Deus (“day-us”) didn’t set out only to sell custom parts and hand-built motorcycles, but to celebrate a culture of creativity. The Deus ex Machina showroom/cafe/headquarters in Sydney immediately became a shrine to ‘run-what-you-brung’ resourcefulness and street-honest industrial art.
The Deus philosophy recalls an era before the various pursuits of fun – motorcycling, surfing, skateboarding, whatever – were marketed into fundamentalist factions. All are welcomed under the Deus roof, where there’s simply respect for the honesty and enjoyment of the machine. Inclusiveness, authenticity, enthusiasm. It’s a simple and sincere pitch that has winged Deus ex Machina across the world. Deus ex Machina says simply there’s no ‘right way’ to do individualism, its all the same juice.”
Oakley is one of the most recognisable active sports and lifestyle brands. Since the 1980s, the development of cutting-edge technology has been their core value. Most noticeably, the Prizm high definition sunglass lenses have set new industry standards.
Oakley burst onto the scene when they sponsored Greg Lemonde for the 1985 Tour de France. Lemonde wore the early design of Oakley Blades, which evolved into the iconic Razor Blades. The cycling world was abuzz with people talking about Greg’s new eyewear.
Since their introduction to cycling, the brand has been the go-to choice for sportsmen and women for decades. Surfers, cyclists, golfers, snow sports athletes, and many more, choose Oakley not only for sunglasses but for their range of fashion and accessories.
Von Zipper are a Californian eyewear and accessories company, founded in 2000. Coming from humble beginnings, the brand was established when a group of friends started producing a limited range of products from a small San Clemente warehouse.
The Von Zipper ethos is based around lifestyle and personality, with a strong emphasis on the relationship they have with their customer base. The company prides itself on putting smiles on peoples faces through, what they call, “positive declarations of rebellion.” This is evident in the design of Von Zipper’s premium eyewear, goggles, soft goods and accessories.
VZ has always appealed to those who think outside the box, embracing subcultures over the mainstream.
Xcel are one of the go-to choices for cold-water surfers. They are a forerunner of wetsuit technology, constantly developing new materials and linings to keep you warm in the harshest of conditions.
Despite the brand being synonymous with Hawaii, founder Ed D’Ascoli actually grew up on the New Jersey coastline. His experience with frigid winter ocean conditions was the perfect foundation for developing the worlds best wetsuits.
In recent years the coldest surf zones have become bona-fide destinations for travelling surfers. Look around the lineups in Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Iceland and Norway and you are sure to see the Xcel logo more often than not.
Born and bred on Oahu’s North Shore, Xcel is a core wetsuit brand delivering premium wetsuit technology, accessories, sun protection, and more since 1982.
“Ocean & Earth is a privately owned company based in Sussex Inlet, NSW, Australia, and is the world’s leading manufacturer of surfboard leashes and surfboard covers. The company also makes surfboard tailpads (deck grips), tie down roof racks, boardshorts, and a wide range of apparel, including snow wear. Ocean & Earth was originally founded by Brian Cregan and Graham Williams’s, but was later established by Brian Cregan and partners in 1978 producing a couple of basic surfing products and a staff of three. Ocean & Earth slowly grew by establishing a network of retailers throughout NSW & Southern Qld (Australia).”
Born in Hawaii in the summer of 1971, Lightning Bolt was comprised of Gerry Lopez and Jack Shipley at the time of its inception. Forty years since first born, the brand has reintroduced itself in the United States and internationally.
Lightning Bolt at its core represents a philosophy that surfing, in its truest form, is a way of life rather than just another sport. Those behind the brand redefined surfing in the 70s as the sport and the lifestyle that surrounded it moved away from the traditions of the past and exploded into a new frontier of progression. Today the Bolt is still a symbol that embodies the spirit of that mythical antihero. The brand celebrates the passion of the individual and how surfing is one of the purest ways people can connect to nature while at the same time using it as a canvas for self-expression.
The Lightning Bolt brand opens up the countless opportunities for technological progression both in and out of the water. The company prides itself on manufacturing premium product for the conscious surfer that emphasizes quality, style and utility as well as supporting local manufacturing where possible. The brand maintains a strong global presence and place in culture and is poised for continued growth.
Howler founders Chase Heard and Andy Stepanian spent their adolescent summers haunting the waters and fish of Florida and Virginia and riding the ripples those states call waves.
Their vision for Howler – and the name Howler Brothers – was inspired by a sound they each heard on surf trips to Costa Rica: the call of the loudest animal in North America, the Howler Monkey. If you’ve heard it, you know how loud and startling the sound can be. But, after hearing it a few times, the sound becomes a part of the collective feeling of being in Central America and serves as a constant reminder that you’re in a good place, doing something you love.
With this emotional connection as a base line, Heard and Stepanian formed Howler Brothers to craft limited run, high quality clothing and goods that draw inspiration from the style and tradition of surfing and coastal sports. They set out to make gear that works in the water, on the boat, and around the fire pit when the stories are told. Clothes you might wear when you’re hearing Howler Monkeys from your hut after a day well spent. Or clothes to wear when you’re wishing you were.