Text By Kathy A. McDonald
Images by Tim Aukshunas
Illustration by Shelby Hohl
Fashion brands are literally in deep water. Their branded surfboards are must haves for design mavens who shell out major coin for these ultra-luxury statement pieces that merge luxury fashion and functionality. Surfing’s worldwide popularity is the impetus behind these limited-edition, sport accessories created for the stylish surfer but also coveted by collectors, interior decorators, fashion fans, and those just looking to flex.
The boards are chic artworks emblazoned with instantly recognizable logos—Chanel’s interconnected Cs, Cynthia Rowley’s vibrant flower motifs, Louis’ iconic LV—interpreted by luxury casual clothing maker James Perse.
Traditional surfboard construction consists of a polyurethane foam blank at the core, surrounded by fiberglass cloth and glassed with polyester resin. Variations include length and shape, while some boards start with alternative kinds of blanks. Each element contributes to a board’s performance and maneuverability. Shapers are the skilled craftspeople who handshape (and sometimes paint) the boards after they’ve been cut, giving them unique personalities. Most professional surfers have relationships with shapers who cater to their requests. The goal is to create a ‘magic’ surfboard, one that almost supernaturally enhances a surfer’s skills.
New York-based fashion designer Cynthia Rowley, known for her vibrant floral prints and youthful dresses and blouses, developed a passion for surfing when she learned her Montauk, Long Island home was located near a famed surf break. For years she’s experimented with materials, silhouettes, and shapes in creating her signature wetsuits made from sustainable neoprene, water-based glue and recycled materials. Rowley’s surfboards also combine fashion and practicality; the brand collaborated with top surfboard shaper Jeff ‘Doc” Lausch of Huntington Beach’s Surf Prescriptions to translate its lively aesthetic. The result: a made-to-order, egg-shaped board, with a pulled-in nose and tail, embellished with Rowley’s colorful prints.
“The boards are all made to be ridden,” explains Lausch. “The design is very user-friendly.” Unlike a longboard which is more difficult to maneuver when paddling out to waves, Rowley’s mid-length board at 7’ is easier to ride and most importantly, fun, says Lausch.
Rowley’s design is printed directly on fiberglass, rather than fabric, and then adhered to the surfboard’s core where the colors and patterns really pop.
“It looks exactly the same as the fabric version,” explains Lausch. Prints go on the bottom of the board because the top or deck will be waxed. Lausch selects a prominent color from the print to paint matching pinlines on the deck. To finish, the board is glassed and then polished. “They look pretty cool,” Lausch affirms. Another awesome eye-catching outcome: boards match Rowley’s comely wetsuits.
Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton in collaboration with artist Yayoi Kusama, YSL Rive Droite, Juicy Couture, Shabby Chic and even Mercedes Benz have released upmarket surfboards in recent years. Often used for décor or promotions, all can catch waves too. Although most people may consider haute couture-inspired boards too spendy for everyday surf breaks.
Dior’s matte grey surfboard (offered online at $10,500) is a collaboration between France’s Notox (maker of eco-responsible surfboards) and the fashion house. A bold, 82”-long Dior graphic covers one-side of the surfboard is crafted using a bio-sourced foam core and plant-based resin. The wave rider comes with a bespoke display stand, upcycled fabric cover plus branded Dior leash and fins. Customers can pair their swank surfboard with a Dior-brand, neoprene Vissla wetsuit, eco-crafted from limestone and upcycled plastic bottles.
Saint Laurent Rive Droite (the lifestyle arm of fashion house Yves Saint Laurent) released a collection of surfboards for summer 2023 made in collaboration with France’s UWL Surfboards. These beachy essentials mimic burnished wood to sensational effect and are $6,000 to start. The burnt wood version, with Saint Laurent typography, is a playful trompe-l’œil and features what looks like wood planks, artfully singed. Designs come from the mind of Anthony Vaccarello, Saint Laurent’s gifted creative director. There’s also a stand-up paddle board available sporting a distinctive look reminiscent of a vintage, wooden Chris-Craft cruiser with the classic boat’s signature typeface incorporated too.
Malibu-based James Perse’s adherence to barefoot luxury in his clothing and product designs, where minimalism meets the finest materials, is evident in his more than 20 surfboards in various colors and lengths. Perse’s understated, unusual colors and finishes make his boards pop. Intended for the ocean, surfboard performance is optimized by the slightly narrower nose and pulled in squash tail. A custom crafted stand offers an elegant display option.
The longboards (7’ 10” and 8’ 6”) are topped with various designs from a checkerboard Yosemite pattern, matching Perse’s outwear, to iconic symbols long associated with the Grateful Dead (Perse is a fan). There’s a striking matte black with a tonal stripe option, while some models have 1970s-era striping and others are available in subtle camouflage hues. As with all customized boards, they can’t be purchased off the shelf, but are instead made-to-order.
“Surfboards are always evolving, we’ve perfected ways to make them ride better,” explains Robert Weiner of Ventura’s Roberts Surfboards, a custom surfboard maker for more than 30 years. While swank logos stand out, precision cutting and shaping are key to giving a surfer the all-important tool to feel right and get tight in the pocket. “Surfers are on a never-ending quest for a magic board,” he finds. And now they can ride an exquisite design while feeling the vibe.