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Surf shop fashion sense

By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2002

TREASURE ISLAND -- It took a while, but I finally mustered the courage to ask, "Do you sell T-backs?"

TREASURE ISLAND -- It took a while, but I finally mustered the courage to ask, "Do you sell T-backs?"

Geri Carl, owner of Suncoast Surf Shop, appeared shocked, then disappointed.

"Are you sure you don't want a pair of surf trunks instead?" Carl asked. "A T-back?"

Call it sexist, call it machismo, but there is no denying there is a social stigma regarding men who wear bathing suits that show their bare buttocks.

"To be quiet honest," Carl said, "we don't sell a lot of T-backs to guys."

On most beaches you won't see many Speedo-style bikini bathing suits, except on Europeans and old men who have lived long enough to no longer care. Blue-jean cutoffs are out too. Throw them in the box in your attic with your 8-track of Frampton Comes Alive.

Most men and boys, Carl said, prefer the classic surf baggies. When it comes to beach trunks in 2002, the bigger and baggier the better.

You can tell a real pair of surfer's shorts by the pocket -- it is set off to the side so surfers don't have to sit on their bar of Sex Wax waiting for the next set of waves.

"The old-style nylon is out," said Bill McKenna, owner of Mandalay Surf Company, a fixture on Clearwater Beach for more than 25 years. "Today's board shorts are knee length and made of quick-dry micro fiber, brushed nylon, and (they're) real soft. The bright colors and floral patterns are our biggest sellers."

The hot sellers are Quicksilver, Lost, Billibong, Counter Culture and Rip Curl. But Birdwell, one of the oldest surfwear companies, is still popular with "groms," younger surfers, looking for some "old-school" class.

Volleyball shorts, most easily identified by their elastic waistband, also are on the way out.

"Even the volleyball players don't wear them anymore," McKenna said. "They are all wearing board shorts."

But while cutoffs, a '70s standby, and volley shorts, an '80s mainstay, are no longer cool, the corduroy shorts from Ocean Pacific are making a comeback. Carl showed me five pairs of O.P. cords, cut too tight to be comfortable, in some pretty horrible colors.

"We can't keep them in the store," she said. "I sold a pair of yellow ones yesterday. They are going like hotcakes."

When it comes to men's shirts, nothing beats the traditional Hawaiian. Brands such as Reyn Spooner and Quicksilver Silver Edition manage to capture the Aloha spirit and look good with khaki shorts any time of day.

But McKenna, who also owns the Quicksilver Store on the ground level of the Clearwater Beach Hilton, said cheap, knock-off Hawaiians have made the market soft.

"If you want to see if you have a quality Hawaiian shirt, look at the pocket," he said. "If it matches the rest of the pattern, you know you have the real thing."

Rash guards, the skin-tight, nylon shirts surfers wear to keep their chests from getting chafed as they paddle, have become increasingly popular with children of both sexes, even those who don't surf.

"Parents like them because they dry quickly and they keep the sun off," Carl said. "We sell a lot of them to all kinds of people."

When it comes to women's fashion, bikinis and T-backs are still the suits of choice.

"Most women will buy a 'wrap' with the T-back," Bruce Davies of The Island Shop on Indian Rocks Beach said. "It is just enough to cover them up as they run across the street to the 7-eleven to buy a bottle of water."

Davies said that while cutoffs may be out, Daisy Dukes, the short, tight shorts favored by girls in the early '80s, did not go the way of John Schneider's singing career.

"Let it be known that Daisy Dukes are back," Davies said. "We have a couple of pairs in stock right now."

Carl said the hottest-selling swimsuits for girls are made by Roxy, the first surf line just for women.

"Everything by them is popular," Carl said. "It is one of our biggest sellers."

But the moo moo, once a standard for American women, is hard to find at most surf shops these days.

"Moo moo?" Davies said. "You are going to have to go to a women's store for one of those. You won't find one in a surf shop."

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