Florida - With summer in full swing, we thought it might be the perfect time to look at one of the hottest collecting commodities in today's vintage and antique marketplaces. For years now, astute dealers and buyers have been quietly snapping-up what many consider to be one of the best untapped areas for collecting within the decorative arts field.
Surfing, its related forms, and wide array of potential memorabilia, has finally arrived. No longer just the domain of "dudes" and "dudettes" living along coastlines, the surfing phenomena has come to the masses. Whereas surf-themed dealers once relied upon a niche market of geographically similar clients to support their wares, the popularity of the sport and associated accoutrements, has now spread firmly across the globe... and inland.
Car commercials hawking Lincoln and cool-cat Matthew McConaughey as he heads for a "sesh," or Canadian potato-chip manufacturer Hardbite, showing surf-dogs on their chip-bags, are all part of the surfing allure and its new mainstream embrace. Films such as Mavericks, and Blue Crush have also helped to catapult the lifestyle sport to an even higher level with a younger generation, while pro surfers such as Laird Hamilton and Kelly Slater have helped push the "cool" factor into the stratosphere.
For dealers who got in early on the move towards mainstream merchandizing, surfing memorabilia has skyrocketed in value. Tommy Shantz a part-time picker (and surfer) from Santa Cruz, California, says it's all about the pick. "I started suss'ing stuff from local legends back in the 70s and 80s," says Shantz, "I just didn't realize that my signed Greg Noll surfboards would be a hot ticket in Des Moines twenty years later!" Shantz says that while he collects virtually everything related to surfing, some things are just more popular than others. "Boards are all the rage right now, especially Hawaiian woody long-boards from the 20s and 30s, which people are using to decorate their pads with." Shantz recounts that twenty years ago only surfers did up their digs with equipment, but that today he sees boards hanging over dining room tables like expensive chandeliers.
It's not just coastal dealers who are experiencing the boom though. Nancy Brown, a vintage seller in a summer resort town from Wisconsin, says that Great Lake surfers have been plying the waters for years in her area and are picking up anything she can find that's related to the history of fresh water surfing. "It's really kind of cool to see what this is all about," said Brown. "I never even realized that you could surf on a lake until recently!" Her latest sale involved a collection of black & white photos she came across at a cottage yard sale on Lake Superior, that showed a group of men surfing in what appeared to be the late 1960's. "You could see the old cars in the foreground, so it helped date the pictures to sometime from that era," she said.
A quick scan of eBay and Etsy listings shows just how strong the market has become for surf themed items, from classic beach signs to vintage t-shirts, posters, and even competitor trophies. Maddy Croft, an online retailer on Etsy says she began selling "surf-wares" when her brother started ditching all his old surf clothes. "One day he came home and cleaned out his closet, but before he could pitch them, I tried selling them online," she said, "and by the end of the week they were gone." Croft says items from older surf companies such as Quicksilver and Instinct, that can be shown to be truly vintage, can command high prices. "There's still lots of cheap product in most thrift and second-hand stores says Maddy, you just have to be willing to dig through it."
For those hoping to cash in on the recent popularity of the trend, Tommy Shantz says that it's still a great time as there are plenty of pieces out there that can be picked up cheaply. "Obviously coastal communities are going to have more of a selection, but I've picked up some really cool items inland too," said Shantz "...and at great prices."
As to how long the trend will last is anybody's guess, but surfing and its accompanying lifestyle has always been the domain of the cool kids, at least according to Maddy Croft. "Local surfers kind of ruled when I was young, and often set the trends, and I think they still do in many respects," said Croft. "So if coolness is a factor in longevity, then I think we'll probably see this trend stick around for quite some time."
C. Clarkson (AIA, AAM), is a former Asheford honors graduate and a New York-based writer/editor who's a self-professed mid-century modern junkie with more than a decade of experience covering the decorative arts scene. Ms. Clarkson also curates two Etsy shops and spends weekends hunting down the treasures with her dog Spike.
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