The image of photographer Ron Stoner’s September 1967 SURFER cover — of pointbreak expert Lance Carson gliding across a glassy Rincon set as the sun touches the horizon line — is the stuff of gold, both for surfers and for collectors of iconic surf imagery. So you’d be understood for thinking that a display stand full of those September issues at your local retail store is some sort of mirage.
That vintage display is actually the newest project between SURFER and Reef: a collaboration to print four iconic covers from the magazine onto pairs of premium sandals, framing the rubber molds in a magazine shape.
“We were inspired by the concept of framing an old album cover or vintage magazine and hanging it next to your surfboards in the garage,” says Paul LaBarbera, Reef’s director of footwear design, in the brand’s product press release. “Something a surfer would think of as art versus just another sandal that would sit by the front door. By keeping the magazine shape, we were able to bring the artwork to life.”
The idea for the partnership came after members of the Reef creative team browsed through classic SURFER issues of the ’90s and commented on the contemporary Reef ads of the era, which harkened back to loud boardshorts and progressive surfing. For Reef Creative Director Tait Hawes, adding the artwork of classic SURFER covers to a new footwear line felt natural.
“We all aligned with the fact that the company has been around since 1984, and how the beginnings of the brand always returned to the surf and beach lifestyle," says Hawes. "We wanted to reach back to our heritage and give a nod to the past and to the people who’ve gotten us here. A lot of our loyal consumers are surfers who’ve been with the brand since the beginning. They read SURFER religiously, so this is for them and for the newcomer who may not know the rich history.”
The next step was to revisit the archives for a decadal flip through the magazine, and, invariably, through surf history. Photos from SURFER founder John Severson, photo editor Ron Stoner, and more told the visual account of surfing’s narrative–from its island roots to the counterculture boom of the ’60s and the electric ’80s, right up through Reef’s founding by Argentinian Fernando Aguerre.
Taylor Leopold, Reef product line manager for men’s sandals, brought in a team of designers to decide on four covers that captured the varied path of surfing’s evolution. The images brought back distinct memories from Leopold’s childhood, as well as a fascination for memories he had not lived through, told through snapshots of surfing’s deep past.
The challenge, then, was to preserve the integrity of those images while fitting them to the problematic contours of a sandal. Reef’s then-lead designer Jeff Boster was tasked to figure out how to protect the original magic of the covers. Rather than distort the art by forcing it onto inconvenient curvatures, why not take advantage of more material?
“When we put the images on just the sandal footbed, the result didn't look or have the same impact as a magazine,” Leopold says about the tinkering behind the presentation. “Knowing how the manufacturing process is for a particular type of sandal, Jeff came up with the idea to simply leave the full image in a rectangular shape. It could be both a collector's piece, or be something that people could pop out and wear. Once we saw that, the vision clicked. We thought it was such a neat way to do this.”
What resulted was a sandal that finds a unique balance between memorabilia and merchandise. Holding the first release of footwear in his hands, Hawes was reminded how, even in the flurry of decision-making involved with the creative process, much of the appeal for the product was already preserved in the photos. Reimagining the nostalgic attraction of surfing’s history wasn’t the goal. The objective was to, literally, reshape it.
“The project was our way of saying, 'Wait a second, let's talk to the consumer we know already, and who loves us, and give them something that they love. The collaboration was the right fit. That's what Reef’s always been, and that's what SURFER’s always been — by the beach.”
[For a full list of retailers that carry the Reef X SURFER collection, click here.]