Archive for Sunday, July 25, 2004

Life’s a beach for Jams family

July 25, 2004

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— Forty years might not be an endless summer but it's pretty darn close.

That's how long the Rochlen family has been hanging at the beach, wearing the brightly colored board shorts they -- and now the rest of the world -- call Jams.

The full name of those trademarked, loose-fitting surf trunks actually is Original Jams, made by Surf Line Hawaii, the company that patriarch Dave Rochlen founded in 1964.

Everything about Surf Line and its Jams started at the beach.

Rochlen, the son of a Russian immigrant, loved the ocean. He worked as a lifeguard in Santa Monica, Calif., and as a stuntman on the movie "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

A Life magazine photograph of Russian tourists at the Black Sea in bathrobes and pajamas then inspired Rochlen to create proper surf trunks.

He and his wife created a short, loose, pajamalike pant in cotton with a sewn-up fly to be sold at a small surf shop they opened in Honolulu. The name, Jams, was selected because it was quick, young and only one syllable.

Rochlen wore these board shorts on nearby Makaha Beach in Hawaii. Soon after, surfing champion Mike Doyle starting wearing them, touching off a trend that eventually landed Rochlen and his trunks onto the pages of Life. The story, and accompanying photographs of surfers wearing their colorful Jams, focused on the burgeoning surf culture and its move to the mainstream.

"The company started off on a Hawaiian beach. We've crossed the beach and boardwalk and moved into a boutique setting," says Pua Rochlen, president of Surf Line and the youngest son of Dave Rochlen, who died three years ago of cancer.

The motto behind Surf Line Hawaii&squot;s Original Jams board shorts is
"color, freedom, difference and love."

The motto behind Surf Line Hawaii's Original Jams board shorts is "color, freedom, difference and love."

"My father raised us all in the ocean, and it's been the foundation of everything we do. There were no GI Joes for toys, but we had a lot of Boogie Boards," he says with a laugh.

"Now the company just goes along. It's small, it's privately owned. We can take a beach trip. I try to get in the ocean almost every day," he says. "No matter what kind of day you've had, getting in the ocean will refresh you for the next day."

(This interview was conducted by mobile phone while Rochlen was on a beach on Mexico's Baja Peninsula.)

Since the beginning, color has been the key to Jams' signature prints. In fact, color figures prominently in the brand's rotating mottos:

  • "Our credo is color, freedom, difference and love."
  • "The seems to be what life is all about."
  • "Color expresses life, art and the joy of living."
  • "Color is a performance, it entertains and it isn't fattening."
  • "Put some color in your life."

In the 1960s, Jams were produced almost exclusively in floral patterns; in the '80s, geometric prints dominated. More recently, the company worked with DuPont to develop a durable, waterproof, nylon fabric that feels like cotton.

Two years ago, Rochlen went back to the original florals as a way to mark the death of his father -- and so he could get some new trunks in his favorite look. "My own nostalgic, classic Original Jams print surf shorts were wearing out and I wanted to continue wearing them," he says.

Next thing he knows, Jams are hot again.

"It's been around me all my life so I don't see this as 'the next big thing.' But we are getting attention again, I guess because there's nothing else like this in the market," Rochlen says.

"I keep hearing Jams called 'fresh,' but to me, it's what I've always worn."

But while Jams never went away, they were on a hiatus in most of the retail world during the 1990s. Rochlen attributes the downturn to salesmen and other business types who didn't get the company's laid-back approach to everything. Jams' customers, however, did get it and they remained loyal, wearing old garments until new ones surfaced."

"We're kind of like Bob Marley music. We're good on the beach anytime."

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