– stripping surfing back down to its most elemental form

What is Surfing #32: It’s NOT t-shirts ( a DIY perspective)

For a long time now I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a post titled “Surfing is not a T-shirt” and I’ve wavered back and forth in the approach. Our philosophy in choosing subject matter has always been to be optimistic. Put simply, surfing is the act of riding waves. Fashion, specifically the surf t-shirt that has become a de-facto aspect of our identity as surfers, is NOT surfing. We do not have to purchase the latest t-shirt from the current hip label to feel like surfers. And if we avoid that single purchase we will not be contributing to poor labour practices, single bottom line business policies, and the over enrichment of the multi-national shareholders of said “surfing” conglomerates.

We have tried to cover gear that strives to be more socially and environmentally responsible -items such as boards, blanks, wax, wetsuits, etc. The sad reality is that the surf apparel industry plays an exponentially larger role as far as negative impact goes than all of those product categories combined. Some of the worst working conditions for workers in developing countries are in the apparel industry, better known as sweat shops.

It is fairly easy to source blank fair trade and/or organic t-shirts to rock your own designs, so in the spirit of the do it yourself traditions and with a middle finger extended to the surfing t-shirt I decided to make my own surf t-shirt. All it took was a little work to make a stencil and a few simple supplies, which I’ll be able to use for several designs. I purchased a plain v-neck from American Apparel for this project as they offer consumers a product made with fair labour. The subject is a spot that I surfed a few years ago on the Big Island. I realize that the design is not particularly of artistic merit, however those of you with more artistic inclinations than me will have no problem in doing much better.

Surfing is NOT a T-shirt

Supplies list:

– t-shirt (made in the USA and socially responsible)
– a small bottle of black fabric ink (it also comes in spray can)
– clear plastic for stenciling
– a paper image for cutting out the stencil
– some sort of adhesive spray to stick the stencil on the fabric while painting
– scissors, paint brush, tape, razor or razor knife

So get out there and make your own art. And don’t be a walking billboard for some company who could care less about your surfing existence.

• Category: art, diy,

13 Responses »

  1. Great post and solid point. Being into design I do love quality-designed t shirts, but I have been steering more and more away from it. I’ve never really been into corporate-branded shirts. I do like seeing American Apparel shirts with locally or regionally printed designs (Mollusk, etc.). I think the DIY approach is even better. I love the simplicity and rawness of the design you have here. Only thing that scares me? That skull and crossbones on the the spray adhesive. The stuff is pretty gnarly.

  2. Once again, we’re on the same page. Just yesterday I was drawing potential T-shirt designs in my sketchbook. I just wasn’t sure how I’d put the designs on my shirts. I could probably just forgo the stencil as well and just draw. Sharpies work.

    Several years ago I made a shirt that said “Freak Magnet” on it after a day being chased by crazies in SF and wore it religiously until it eventually fell apart. Thanks for the reminder of how to bring truly individual style into your life and “up-middle-finga” the big box industry.

  3. Great blog!

    The so-called surf industry is just a fashion show wrapped in marketing BS.

    Nobody really cares what you wear.

    Boycott surf garment industry.

  4. being in the graphics industry and always wanting to get into t-shirt design, i think its brilliant! i started doing my own shirts and sellin them for $10 and all i used were home made stencils and a few cans of spray

    big name t-shirt design has too much design sometimes and things that don’t make sense…. a skull with wings, flourishes, some plaid, and starts… where is the surf involved with that?

    good on ya for taking into your own hands

  5. I purposely stay away from corporate-branded surf clothing. I come nowhere near the demographic those companies portray as surfers. Nor do I support companies which diss (i.e., won’t sponsor) good surfers because they don’t look the part. I’ll never look the part. And I’m not going to pay a grip for clothes I don’t even like. People look at me and see an over 40 female with brown skin and dreadlocks. No one ever identifies me as a surfer (unless I’m seen in the water). I like that.

  6. Ok I gotta make a comment even though I feel it’s obvious. The subject matter you choose does not have to be your local spot. Creativity is the operating word here.

    I chose to make a shirt about a spot that I surfed with Lawless years ago on our first surf trip together. The waves at this spot are not epic; if they were you’d know about it. It has meaning because of the details -whales in the backdrop, boulders covered in vana, good friends, and so on.


  7. Yeah. Home made T’s Rock! Much better than the stencil is a cardboard box, UV lightbulb, photoink, and a screen and bingo you got a screen printing studio!
    I love making/wearing/selling my limited T’s. much better than the QuikBong rubbish pushed on the surfing community.

  8. I totally agree! I’d also like to add another point. Why are we spending anywhere from 15-30 dollars for a t-shirt that has a company’s logos all over it? It’s reverser logic – we’re paying them to advertise for them! Shouldn’t it be the reverse?

    Great post. Nice to see other free thinkers out there in the surfing community that recognize surfing is the act of riding waves … nothing else.

  9. I have dabbled in making my own t-shirt designs, but I am guilty of buying t-shirts from the likes of Split, Zoo York, etc. My “QuikBong” wardrobe is limited to more button-up type shirts. I have an office job (ugh) and it allows me to display some “individuality” among the seas of golf shirts and traditional button downs.

    I have added a couple of Derek Hess (Strhess) t-shirts to my wardrobe lately. He’s pretty amazing. You can sometimes find them in surf shops, but he is more tied into the art/music scene. A warning to BR above, you might find some skulls with wings here!

    I am inspired by this thread to get my plastic bin of screen printing supplies down off the shelf, dust off some designs, and make some new shirts of my own.

  10. great article fellas! This is going to make my life so much easier (and cheaper!). I’ve stopped purchasing things with logos on them once I got out of high school and started shopping at Frenchy’s, I’ll never look back!
    thanks again.

  11. Very cool! I’ve started to get into stenciling recently (canvas and stickers) and was looking for ideas on how to make shirts. Wonderful idea, thanks for sharing!

  12. Thanks for the inspiration! I got some Pentel fabric crayons, a stencil and made me and my surf bros some t-shirts for X-mas. No more store bought designs for me.

  13. I agree, I’ve felt this way since the nearly the beginning of my surfing days in the early ’80’s