From Bike Geek to Surf Chic: How Oakley Conquered the World – Wavelength Surf Magazine


Legend has it that Oakley founder Jim Jannard was driving on PCH in the summer of 1983, the late afternoon sun glistening off the Pacific coast, beaming straight into his ring road. Raising a hand against the car window to block out the Californian gold so he didn’t have to squint while he was driving, a thought occurred to him: why not bend his glasses to the sides, for one. full protection?

Jim started Oakley – named after his dog, an English Setter named Oakley Ann – in the ’70s from his garage in California with $ 300 in starting capital, making props for the moto-x racing scene and whipping them up. from the trunk of a Honda Civic. , like his Oakley Grips, made from a rubber compound he had developed that became more grippy, not slippery, when wet, dubbed Unobtanium. Then, in its line of racing accessories, came the glasses. With an eye for the brand, he silkscreened Oakley on the strap in large letters, which became a hit with BMX kids who wore the goggles on their helmets, just to get the brand name strap congratulations.

Vintage Oakley advertisements, as recognizable and iconic as the glasses themselves

After all, road cyclists tend to be so thin, with a toddler’s biceps and torso, that they don’t look good. Not exactly oozing nonchalant, laid back, cool or badass, 80s beach vibes either, grimacing and growling like a cubist abstraction of a trench horse tangled in barbed wire as they ascend the hellish ascent of Ventoux. And yet, what started out as road racing gear quickly became a staple of beach wear in every surf town in the known world.

The release of the Frogskin certainly helped, combining the performance of plutonium lens technology with a more traditional spectacle frame. Suddenly, sunglasses were at the forefront of the new world of the 80s. Shiny, futuristic, efficient. Lenses like Red IridiumTM had bold names and big performance claims backed by R&D. Until then, flagship glasses like Raybans were basically throwbacks to classic style icons of the past, the Rat Pack or Jackie O, black, heavy and voluptuous, or they were more skinny, Tom Cruise in Top Gun, aviator style. , also a return to the classic styles of yesteryear. There was nothing retrospective about Oakley’s ever-growing offering other than reminding their ad readers that the sun was in fact a nuclear fireball producing radiation for the past 5 billion years.

You sure didn’t want to go out like this looking like your father, and unprotected, right?

Along with this decade’s penchant for the brilliant, brash badass esthete of MTV, a growing desire for over-performing gear. People wore running shoes to drive to get a cheeseburger, kids did paper rounds on aluminum-frame mountain bikes with 21 gears. Oakley eyewear puts performance beyond performance at the heart of the product, patented lenses that exceed government guidelines for UV protection, while providing unparalleled visual clarity throughout the lens curve.

Aside from having a mad scientist rep, Jannard and the Oakley sports marketing team (another first, previously called the “Promotions Department”) were not afraid to think big on sponsorship deals, surfing is no exception. The winners were smiling, and for some of surfing’s most iconic winners and their larger-than-life demeanor, Oakley was the perfect fit.

TC, Pipemaster; Richie Collins in full swing from the Blades / Fluoro / Webs era. Quiksilver Pictures // John Conway

Tom Carroll defied death and destruction at the Pipe Masters with stellar performances, the razor blades he wore on the podium to hoist the trophy seemed another part of his superhuman arsenal. TC and other lords of the day like Elko and Richie Collins blazed new trails on the water, while on land, Oakley’s iconic eyewear kept harmful UV rays out of their eyes.

I remember seeing Mark ‘Sanga’ Sainsbury winning the trials for the Newquay competition in ’91, sporting a trench coat, spiked flat top and Mumbo frames for presentation, looking fucking amazing. The fact that the weather was overcast and it was raining only added to its appearance. As I stepped off the beach, blown away by these exotic animals shredding the waves of distant lands, I couldn’t help but notice Thermonuclear ProtectionTM neon stickers on the backs of the motorhomes.

I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew I needed it now.

Italo went from top to bottom to be the most relevant surfer on the planet, with very little backswing. Photo: Luke Gartside

The list of world surfing champions who have had O at their temple at some point in their careers is quite exhaustive, from TC, Parko, Layne, Italo, Gabriel, CJ, Mick, Lisa, Occy, and it’s not only competition animals either. Cult icons of free surfing like Bruce Irons, Taj, Bobby Martinez, Nathan Fletcher and Kalani Robb have also helped redefine the sport in High Definition OpticsTM. In fact, Kalani riding the Mug Tube in a pair of Water Jackets might be one of the most recognizable commercials in surf magazine history.

Styles and fashions come and go, but Oakley’s relentless dedication to perpetual innovation has kept the brand central to the culture of a global beach lifestyle.

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