Surfing, in one sense, is ancient. After all, there’s nothing more to it than a board and a wave, and someone to ride atop both. Scholars are still debating who did it first, and where, but on this there is no doubt: People have been surfing for millennia, if not longer.
But in another sense, modern surfing began roughly 60 years ago, on the beaches of southern California and Hawaii. That’s why we named our new fragrance family S.C. 59. The changes that began that year vaulted surfing into American culture at large, where it interacted with the changes already underfoot to create something new and enduring: A still-evolving surf culture that remains with us today.
So why did all this happen in that fateful year?
Let’s start with surfing itself. GIs had come back from the Second World War and Korea, and some of them began exploring the beaches of Southern California and Hawaii (not yet a state), joining a rough-and-tumble surf scene that more closely resembled a rowdy motorcycle club than an Annette Funicello movie. Fights over turf were not uncommon; violence was a fact of life.
On the mainland, that generation was giving way to the first Baby Boomers, who were in the throes of early rock and roll and a youth-oriented culture embodied by such films as Rebel Without a Cause (1955). The youth enjoyed the benefits of peace and prosperity, but still experienced the energy and anxiety of adolescence. “What are you rebelling against?” Marlon Brando was asked in 1953’s The Wild One. “Whaddya got?” was his—and his generation’s—retort.
This cultural excitement dovetailed with breakthroughs in surfing itself. Most importantly, the renowned Hobie Surfboards introduced their first polyurethane foam boards. These replaced wooden boards, which were harder (and more expensive) to reproduce, and lacked the “surf feel” of the new plastic versions. The two main barriers to entry—ability, and money—were suddenly removed, and the oceans were awash with new surfers.
Around the same time, a surf-made lifeguard introduced the first West Coast Surfing Championships at Huntington Beach, the forerunner of the U.S. Surfboard Championships. Within three years, Pepsi was a sponsor; within five years, the championships were broadcast on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
Popular culture was at a crossroads, too. Elvis was about to be drafted; James Dean and Buddy Holly had died; things that once seemed hard-edged and authentic were being co-opted by Hollywood’s myth machine. Nothing demonstrated this like Gidget. The original novel, penned by Frederick Kohner and based on his real-life daughter, Kathy—a genuine badass surfer—was adapted by Columbia Pictures, sanitized for mass consumption, and distributed nationwide. It was an unprecedented success, selling a cleaned-up version of surf culture—all bronzed boys and adoring female fans—and forever embedding a romanticized vision of surf life within the American subconscious.
The music was changing, too. As mainstream rock and roll grew ever-more commercial, innovative musicians like Les Paul and Link Wray were making new sounds with their own electric guitars. Dick Dale was among them—he played his guitar so loud that Leo Fender had to build a special amp just for him. He was born in Boston, but moved to Southern California, where he quickly became the self-christened king of the surf guitar, translating the experience of riding the ocean’s waves into sound. In 1958, the Ventures formed, further defining the surf sound for generations to come.
Naturally, a nascent cultural phenomenon requires proper clothing and a proper magazine to define its lexicon, its heroes, its code. For the former, iconic brands like M. Nii, Katin and Birdwell entered the picture, making the types of swimsuits that surfers could wear on (and off) their boards—sturdy and colorful, durable and eye-catching, perfect for showcasing sun-kissed skin (and a much-needed replacement for the overlong, cutoff navy-issue chinos of yesteryear). And The Surfer (later just Surfer), which became surfing’s bible, began life in the apartment of surfer/ illustrator John Severson.
That all these things should happen at the same time is somewhat explainable—they are, in a sense, interconnected—and somewhat not. S.C. 59 is a tribute to that moment in time, where the rougher, authentic origins of surfing had not yet disappeared, while the newer, more-modern had only begun to take hold. Before long, vocal groups like the Beach Boys were mangling their surfing references on record, and the Beach Party movies were delivering a comically defanged version of surf life to kids across America. Surfing would become professional, co-opted, and The Wild West would begin to be tamed. S.C. 59 is a salute to the moment that preceded that, a moment that was no longer innocent, but not yet corporate. Surfing was fierce, independent, self-assured, just like the scent you’re about to enjoy.