Cast your imagination back to a time of no surf camps, before Quiksilver, Billabong, Hurley, Rip Curl and most of the big companies we, today think of as ‘cornerstones’ of the surf industry. Surfing then was a crazy thing to do, even imagining to do it was crazy. Back then, the surfing community was small and local. We often hear people talking about those times with affection, saying things like “Imagine surfing here with only two guys out, those were the days...”.
But there is another side to things, boards were heavier than seals back then, wetsuits were virtually non existent and the chances of being ‘sponsored’ or making a living from our pastime was just not a reality. Surf forecasts worked via a mate sending carrier pigeon with a note attached from the beach. “It’s going off” or at least was when the message was sent. My laboured point is that there has to be a first, a starting point in all things and that is where we will begin.
Katin Canvas Boardshorts
How things come to fruition is often a series of events shrouded in chance. It is the way of life, a mesh of coincidence and fate (if you believe in such things).
The place was Surfside, California and the people where called Walter and Nancy Katin, who made canvas boat covers for a living. One day a (now famous) surfer called Corky Carrol came into the store complaining about not being able to have a pair of surf trunks (boardies) that would endure the activity of surfing. The Katins, went out the back of the shop and made him the first pair of board shorts out of canvas left over from their boat cover building. Kanvas by Katin was born.
The Katin surf shop was established in 1954 which makes it among the first in existence, from that point more surfers began using canvas boardies, which were all custom made out the back of the shop. Walter died in 1967 and Nancy continued the business as before, their network growing through the underground surf community at the time. Many now famous surfers including Shaun Tomson, Peter Townend and Gerry Lopez have been pictured in surf mags through the seventies wearing Kanvas by Katin trunks.
Not being people to get half involved in something the Katins put back into the surf community by organising and help sponsor many local surf comps of the time including the "Katin Underdog Contest" which was for those that had never won a contest before. In 1977 Nancy started the "Katin PRO/AM" comp which helped to showcase young talent in the surfing world. A win at this comp was said to be "highly desirable", some of the past champions include, Shaun Thomson, Martin Potter, Tom Curren and some guy called Kelly Slater.
Some say that the Katin Surf Shop was the one all others would go on to be molded from. Nancy being known at the time as the "First Lady of Surfing" always insisted on a couch and a few chairs by the checkout. She created a place surfers come come and swap stories, hang out and just share the stoke.
Katin Surf has Endured
Nancy Katin died in 1986 and, having no children, left the business and shop to her seamstress since 1961, Sato Hughes, who (with the help of her son Glenn) carried on making trunks and running the business as usual concentrating on the shop. The shop morphed into selling other brands, and eventually westuits, surfboards etc and into what we call a surf shop today. It is still there, doing the same thing, serving the same people.
There is a lot more detail to this story, names, dates and circumstances that I have omitted in a concerted effort to keep this concise and try to get across the heritage of Katin in a short amount of time.
In the surf world today, we all we want to be identified as surfers, and been seen to wear things that are (a) functional for being around the sport we love (b) send out the right vibe to people, that this is who you are and (c) identify with the way you as an individual see surfing. It’s not rocket science, it’s just human nature.
I ask you then, who would this brand Katin appeal to? Those that respect the routes of surfing? Of a time before sponsorship, good wetsuits and boards that weighed more than your Auntie Jean?
In short it might appeal to me, the misty eyed nostalgic who revers the past and thanks it for helping build the present. The same present in which I can slip on my suit and go for a slide every morning and it’s all thanks to that series of events, shrouded in chance.
The real question is, has Katin endured? Is the quality the same and perhaps more important, does the feeling of being part of something great still hold today? I am, to say the least, inquisitive and am going to putting my order into Katin today to see if I can grab a slice of the past, present and maybe future.