Gwar Izm: Beachlife
October 26 2014
Check out this piece from Gwarizm on the resurrection of Life's a Beach.
There’s nothing wrong with resurrecting a brand, provided it was an interesting one in the first place and Life’s A Beach sits with brands like Town & Country and Maui & Sons which were gateway drugs in the 1980s into the current wave of post surfwear lines (Stüssy always seemed almost high-end to me with those M-Zone price points on jackets, so it sits out this discussion). The drug analogy is appropriate here, because Life’s A Beach was all about the gear — bikegear, surfgear and skategear — and there was a lot of gear going around during the decade in which it flourished.
Where the brand has been during the last 21 years is a mystery — did it do the rounds as a license in other territories? There doesn’t seem to be a definitive archive to explain where its been and we know that the L.A.B. Bad Boy Club skate spinoff is actually still in use as an MMA line, which somehow links motocross, skate, surf, BMX and beating the shit out each other. As of this week, Life’s A Beach is officially back in business.
First, some history: Life’s A Beach started in 1984 as the project of non-professional but competing motocross riders from Chicago — Jeff Theodosakis and brothers Mark and Brian Simo who had no real background in the rag trade. Having spent time on beaches between bike riding, they saw an alternative to Spandex minimalism with baggy, colorful shorts which they created from tablecloths and curtains. Selling their Life’s A Beach shorts to a Florida store, after a slow start, spring breakers popularised the brand. Realising there was money to be made, Theodosakis and the Simo brothers relocated to California in 1985. The legendary Doze Green was involved in the designs and it’s said that the trademark neon-goth bone pattern, among other things, is his creation.
Initially sponsoring motocross rider Rick Johnson, who stood out in both his riding skills and stylish ways (motocross being a hotspot of sartorial no-nos back then), wore the shorts over conventional MX attire, the L.A.B. sponsorship also included surfers like the temperamental but brilliant Sunny Garcia and BMXer Brian Blyther, famed for his vertical feats. I believe they also had judo champ turned boxer Pierre Marchand on the books too (preempting that MMA connection). Once skaters entered the fray, Life’s A Beach had created an extreme sports lifestyle line before anyone seemed to have tied the pastimes together under that name and hell of a long time before X-Games ever came to pass.
If you grew up reading skate magazines circa 1988 then you’ll recall the irreverent Life’s A Beach ads that pre-dated the World Industries marketing strategies that followed. Both Life’s A Beach Surfgear and Skategear ran ads with the legendary Bill Danforth (a tattooed skater back when shoulder ink seemed rebellious and the type of guy to skate in DMs before Matt Hensley) and Mark Gonzales rocked those gaudy pants and garms in the press — skater’s skaters seemed to be the criteria and as the B.B.C. Bad Boy’s Club L.A.B. board division emerged, a young Mike Vallely wore his branded beret with pride. Texan legends like Jeff Phillips and Bryan Pennington were faces of the line too. Shouts to Mike Garcia, Ron Allen and Monty Nolder too.
Beyond boards, on the music side, members of The Accused and Anthrax wore those shorts and it even seemed to be infiltrating the growing snowboard scene. Looking back at images of the Swatch Impact Tour, it’s a sign of an industry at its vertical limit waiting to get squashed by a bigger focus on street. While B.B.C. offered street and vert options on their decks, they couldn’t compete with skateboarding’s complete aesthetic switch into the 1990s. Those neons, bum bags, all over prints and letters down the sleeves defined a decade, but they didn’t define the 1990s. Reading the September 18th, 1990 Los Angeles Times look at a sports retail tradeshow, things look doomed: “Life’s A Beach will replace Day-Glo colors with two different color schemes. Its main line of clothing will feature “basic bright” colors, including turquoise, blue, yellow and red, Theodosakis said. An “underground” line, which is aimed largely at skateboarders, “will be drab olives and muted colors, like grays and blues…”
The business partners would split in 1990. Bizarrely the company’s last boomtime was when the aggressive looking Bad Boy Club character (drawn by Mark Baagoe) experienced a strange boom as a sticker on car windshields that reached epidemic levels. There was a sale of the business in summer 1991 and by 1992, Life’s A Beach seemed to vanish. The late motocross rider Marty Moates would recruit the Blyther brothers to turn an earlier design that read ‘NO FEAR’ into a full-fledged brand in 1989, which, while never as cool as L.A.B. (to quote Canibus when he had quotables rather than pseudo-mathematical gibberish, “Blow up the planet with No Fear like them clothes white boys be wearing”), was incredibly successful. Theodosakis founded the yoga-centric company, PrAna with his wife in 1992 and the partners reunited to found the SPY Optics sunglasses company in 1994. For the original Life’s A Beach team, it seems that there were happy endings, whereas for onetime team riders like Jeff Phillips, things would come to a sad end in Christmas 1993.
It’s good to see that my friend Greg Finch (who as a skater, knows a lot about Life’s A Beach) and art don Fergus Purcell are heading up the brand’s resurrection. Fergadelic was key to the Holmes and Silas aesthetic, has put in work for Very Ape, Hysteric Glamour, his Tonite brand, Stüssy and probably created your favourite Palace prints too. He makes no secret of the fact he’s a Life’s A Beach fanatic, to the point where multiple L.A.B. identities are drawn on his skin permanently:
“I first saw Life’s A Beach in the pages of R.A.D, Thrasher & Kerrang and I fell in love with it. It was worn by sick skaters as well as by the thrash and crossover bands that I was into — the stuff was out of order! It had a bad attitude and a killer sense of fun. This look and feeling had a big influence on my own aesthetic — to this day I hope that my work includes those two qualities!
I’m so obsessed with the brand that I have five homemade tattoos relating to it and I am super stoked to now be involved. I’ll be bringing some of my designs to the party, but the archive of original designs is incredible — and very timely — so we’re mainly going to feature them. It’s all about the shorts, baby!”
Looking at Ferg’s influence on the industry and taking into consideration that L.A.B. inspired him to that extent, its reappearance is very relevant. Skulls, bones and long-sleeve print tees (Canada’s Skull Skates deserves a lot of respect too) seem to be standard issue right now, so it’s good to see an OG brand back with some OG folk behind it — this was just the surface scraped on the Life’s A Beach story. A rebirth is welcome and while the nostalgics might struggle, because neon can be a young man’s game, there’s plenty of simpler stuff in the mix that just keeps the lairy stuff to the backprint where age doesn’t matter. Go check it out at spots like PRESENT and Slam City right now.