It was 1998 and I was using royal blue Duke University basketball shorts as beach volleyball shorts. I had been living in South Mission Beach (San Diego) for several years and had been playing at the famous Cohasset court for most of that time (mostly on the workup court, to be completely transparent).
These courts were the highest level of beach volleyball in the city, which is a high-level volleyball city. It makes sense to think that if you want to see where a fashion trend is coming from in a sport, you go to where the top players are playing and take note. These guys were wearing the beach volleyball shorts of the 90’s.
Short shorts are out!
Back to Duke U. and basketball. My friends and I were at the top of our game, living at or very close to where we all played. We were sleeping, eating, and drinking volleyball. We played a lot too. Guys were wearing elastic waist volley shorts with a logo on the butt. These were the years of Mossimo, Redsand, Sideout… Primitive prints even made them with furniture and drape trim hanging off the legs. They were kind of short and all of the sudden they seemed dumb. Many of us were surfers as well, and the surf shorts were cool to play in but were restrictive. They were hard to move around in. The fit back then was more of a Birdwell style- tighter, shorter, and made with bulletproof, non-stretchable nylon. Not what you want with beach volleyball shorts. I had a few pairs that I would wear to play, but I moved on to set my own failed trendsetter idea of Basketball Shorts. They were terrible when wet. They got dirty fast. They were hot. They rubbed your skin raw where it counts. They WERE long enough though. And the Duke blue is super cool.
I was surfing a lot at the time and became amigos with a few good surfers at the South Mission jetty. This break is kind of like a point, there is a small take-off area. The wave is very good, fast, a true high-performance wave. The guys here guarded their secret like the good players at Cohasset guarded the court against Barneys. Don’t come here. You can’t play here. Go back home and don’t come back. It sounds brutal, and it is… but that’s the way every sport is at a high level. Try and break into a basketball game in Venice, Ca. Suit up and hit Hookipa with your windsurfing gear. Get in some ice time with the guys at the local hockey rink in Boston. You get the idea… each tribe has its chiefs, and those chiefs hang out at the top. ‘Nuff said, let’s move back to what was happening with beach volleyball shorts.
Surf style moves in…
Lots of time in the water (I was still a terrible surfer) gave me a peek into the surf culture. I became a little but surfer. One of my surfer buddies owned a company that made jackets for a yachting company, and I helped him with patterns, cutting, some sewing, and sweeping the floor. I had a favorite pair of boardshorts that I was trading on and off with my Duke shorts and I had some ideas for improving the fit. There were several players wearing boardshorts by this time, especially in Orange County. My roommate was from OC and undoubtedly helped me on my way to thinking that boardshorts were the thing to wear for volleyball.
I asked my Jacket manufacturing surfer friend to help me make some boardshorts. He taught me how to copy a pattern, and introduced me to a Chinese guy named Stanley that worked out of his garage in Poway. Stanley knew clothing production. I worked with him to widen the legs, lengthen the drape, contour the waist, and I added the trim that I wanted. The fit was very difficult to get right. Each time a change is made to the pattern a sample needs to be made. Samples are expensive because you are making just one. It was almost the end of days for Stanley and me, but we worked through it and ended up with a product that I would wear. I was very picky, which ended up being good.
The fabric was insanely hard to find for a guy that didn’t know anything about clothing production much less designing beach volleyball shorts, but I finally found it in a ‘jobber’ shop in LA. This guy bought fabric overstock from clothing companies, and he had some from Quicksilver. It was called Flight Satin. I bought Red, Gold, and Navy. I made a stripe on the side with some Grosgrain ribbon (also confusing to find) and put a pocket on the side with an American patch, I found in an overstock warehouse in downtown LA. At the time I felt like there was a slightly un-American feeling with my generation (maybe just like now?) and I wanted to make a statement. I also had a lot of military friends (this was San Diego after all) AND I was from the Midwest. It was a bit risky to put the flag on it, and I get some people that won’t wear it and don’t buy it because of the flag to this day. Small price to pay for being able to write my own article, in my own voice about my own company in a free nation. Go USA!
When the Sample was done I was ready to begin production. I was a 34” Large fit model (a mannequin with flesh and crappy pay) and the shorts fit exactly the way I wanted, so I had a good 34” pattern. It was much later that I learned what I was actually doing was changing an industry. The surf shorts are made to fit a surfer. Most of these guys are short, skinny kids and not a lot of muscle. Beach volleyball players are built more like basketball players and needed more room in the legs and butt, more length, stretchier material, and a flared waist. Surf shorts come in all shapes and sizes nowadays, but back then it was revolutionary. Had I known, I wouldn’t have argued with Stanley about making me 4 pairs of shorts. Stanley said I needed to make at least 50 for him to make any money. 50 shorts! That wasn’t a hobby, it was a commitment. I jumped in and made those beach volleyball shorts!
My friends bought the shorts. I made some tees and caps. They bought those too. I put some love back into the sport by sponsoring some local tournaments. I sold more product. I put some money into developing new products (different story) and was able to sell those too. I sold gear to friends who were top pro players and even gave some away for free. Those guys represented in a huge way; got my logo into the magazines, and pushed the name PLASTIC from a one-man garage show to a three-man garage show, and the rest is history. Beach Volleyball shorts gave me a chance to get involved in shaping trends and fashion within the sport, and I’m forever thankful for that opportunity. I promise to continue to push the envelope of creating beach athletic gear and to give back to the sport and its players as long as we do business. Thanks for your support, see you on the sand!