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Rivvia Projects new collection | Image: Supplied

Has Surf Style Finally Had its Streetwear Moment?

Where once surfwear was seen as fashion’s kindly grommet, the tide is turning. Feature writer Chelsea Ipsen investigates the sweeping perception change dominating the sports fashion scene and how a new generation of surfers is fuelling the trend, interviewing Dane Reynolds and Julian Wilson. 


The progression of surf style is taking a sophisticated turn, departing from the days of knee-length board shorts and puka shells for formal occasions: achromatic slacks and polo shirts may be the new post-surf coffee attire. Apparel brands like Former and Rivvia Projects are pioneers in refashioning, contributing a fresh take on the surfer ensemble.

It was inevitable that a style evolution would eventually come about; fashion is a forever-revolving cycle, after all. However, this new iteration of dress manners sees more than a wardrobe revamp for surfers; it is an opportunity for competitive athletes and a catalyst for industry progression. It goes without saying that a bit of class out of the water is a great look, but it also allows for some much-needed personality expression. After all, a pair of board shorts can only say so much.

What It Was

Cast your mind to the late 1990s and 2000s. In the era of Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, Mark Occhilupo, and Tom Curren, brands like Billabong, Quiksilver, and Ripcurl were at the forefront. No look was complete without a pair of wrap-around sunglasses or denim jorts, and a bit of fluorescent on your wetsuit was not uncommon—not for safety but for style. Hair adorned with frosted tips, impractically long board shorts and reversely worn caps were also ever-present. “Surf style has evolved a lot since the 90s and 00s. The style back then was much more laid-back, casual, and had a really beachy vibe..surf fashion has embraced a more modern look taking inspiration from streetwear, sportswear, and lots of different places outside of surf”, Wilson.

Looking at it from a contemporary lens, it may not be the aesthetic we aim for now, but at that time, it was a successful sell. With this being said, some long-established brands (e.g., Billabong, Ripcurl, Roxy) have started revisiting the archives of this time in an attempt to reinvigorate the essence of surf culture and connect with the core of the sport. While this is a positive trend, a new era is upon us.

The New Era

Despite most having smaller contracts than their predecessors, the modern professional surfer looks dapper as ever on their morning surf check. They now sport a more refined look; neutral-coloured slacks paired with a quietly cool shirt and enclosed leather shoes, for example. A style that effortlessly dispels the stereotype of the bootless surfer. While the classic t-shirt and shorts, board shorts and flip-flop combinations will always remain a pillar among competitive and casual surfers, there is a noticeable elevation in style, with well-managed hair, clean cuts, and tasteful accessories. So, what changed?

Well, undoubtedly, a combination of factors played a role, but in my mind, two theories stand strongest: the evolution of surfing has bred a more moneyed generation of upcomers, and the influence of new innovative brands. To my first point, surfing has become a bit of a ‘rich kids’ sport. Banged-up boards from a garage sale will now only get you so far, and the Qualifying Series (where surfers compete to qualify for the big leagues) is no local rodeo, instead a global series of events.

To partake; competition entry fees, several boards, flights, accommodation, wetsuits for varying seasons and the list goes on. Therefore, the up-and-comers are those who can afford such a venture, leaving a filtered group of competitors with cash to spare on style. To my latter point, the influence of new innovative brands, enter Dane Reynolds (co-owner of media and apparel company, Former) and Julian Wilson (owner of apparel company, Rivvia Projects).

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Former and Rivvia Projects Takes Over

The non-conformist free surfers have always been a stylish bunch. The origin of their steezy aesthetic could result from their lifestyle; when there’s no surf, they skate. Therefore, a lean towards skate x street attire that heroes flesh-covering trousers and enclosed shoes for both fashion and function would have been only natural. However, whether competitive or not, a surfer’s income relies heavily on sponsorships, which, fortunately, or unfortunately, dictate one’s wardrobe. So what happens when you’re a surfer with sponsoring brands that don’t match your aesthetic? You beat them.

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“Trying to have your personal style with sponsor expectations can be really hard. On one hand, sponsored surfers want to express themselves and stay true to their own voices. On the other hand, they need to understand the importance of representing their sponsors correctly and meeting certain brand expectations.

That challenge definitely played a role in why myself, Craig and Austyn left contracts to start our own brand. At the time we felt we lacked creative control and the ability to do what we wanted and thought building FORMER could fix that”, Reynolds.

Their ‘rider-owned and operated’ brand is a compilation of slick casual pieces that effortlessly and effectively elevate a pre and post-surf fit. From leather mules to black smoke-check slacks, they are about as far from traditional surfer get-up as you can get. This, providing a much-needed breath of fresh air to competitive and casual surfers.

“We never set out to change or influence the industries of surf or skate. To us, lots of brands were lacking creativity and we saw an opportunity to create something different. We had a desire for expression. We shared taste in art, music, creativity…And we wanted to create a brand that reflected that. A brand that reflected our unique personalities. One that communicated surf and skate the way that we saw it”, Reynolds says.

Similarly, Rivvia Projects, founded by pro-surfer Julian Wilson, provides the multifaceted human with a smart everyday uniform, sans limitations. The label offers a variety of no-nonsense and natural-toned T-shirts, polos, chinos, and versatile boardshorts, altogether a tasteful take on adventure-focused fashion.

“For Rivvia Projects specifically, we have tried to introduce a fresh and unique perspective. Building a brand that celebrates an active and healthy lifestyle driven by fun and adventure.

We understand that there’s a world outside the water and that surfers have interests beyond the board.

Our products are an everyday active uniform. In the water, on the coast, in the city, on the fairway. A world where surf meets sport & sport meets street. With that in mind, I hope the big trend in surfing fashion revolves around versatility of lifestyle. Products that provide functionality with a modern streetwear inspire look that resonates with an active lifestyle”.

When asked where he sees the style progression going, “I believe in the future we’ll continue to see a merger of surf, street, and high fashion, with an emphasis on sustainability and ethical practices. Surfers are becoming much more conscious of sustainability, so eco-friendly materials and production processes will probably play a bigger role”, Reynolds.

As for the rich kids?

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“I think this depends on where you’re looking. In the sport of surfing – Maybe. As someone who spent a lot of their life surfing professionally and chasing the competitive tour, I think there could definitely be a perception that surfing has become a sport for the wealthy.”

“The current cost of surfboards and all the other hardware (fins/wetsuits/performance trunks) you need to stay up to date, the price of travel to attend competitions or hunt good waves, and then the training that comes with competition to make sure you’re prepared and at your best. All those things cost money and can get very expensive. But on the other side of that coin, surfing is one of the most accessible, cost effective, and rewarding hobbies you can take up. The beach is free, the waves are free and at its most basic form, all you need is a second-hand surfboard and a pair of trunks.”

Looking ahead, the future of surf fashion will likely continue to blend elements of surf, street, and, hopefully, high fashion, with a growing emphasis on sustainability and ethical practices. The evolution of surfwear from its laid-back, beachy origins to a more refined, fashion-forward aesthetic reflects not just a change in style but also a shift in the culture and economics of surfing.

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