For twenty years, my very favorite bathing suit has been a pair of simple nylon board shorts made by Birdwell Beach Britches. I was turning over a pile of big, floppy, neon-colored Jams in a surf shop on South Padre Island, Texas (this was maybe 1991), and underneath them was a single pair of black, square-cut shorts with red lining, constrasting stitches, and a really fantastic woven label: “BIRDWELL BEACH BRITCHES since 1961”, and an American flag. And three grommets. Basically, they were (and are) the simplest, most badass shorts ever, and they have remained my favorites ever since, though I haven’t been able to fit into them for fifteen of those twenty years.
I’m in Avalon, NJ, right now, on vacation, which is one of the many epicenters of American surf/prep culture. Kate’s dad Bob was a member of the hallowed Avalon Beach Patrol — sitting on white wooden lifeguard thrones, rowing heavy wooden boats out into the surf, and generally exuding coolness.
The Avalon Beach Patroll is still here, and still cool. I was admiring their really cool square-cut nylon jackets with issue numbers on the back (because the patrol doesn’t get to KEEP the jackets, you see, the jackets are too sacred for that.)
On the waistband of the jackets, I noticed a familiar woven label — WAT OMG Birdwell makes jackets!? — sure enough, the label on the band was Birdy, and the Avalon Beach Patrol jackets (hooded, flannel-lined) were genuine Birdwells.
So naturally I started spazzing out, because that’s what I do, and started Googling for “Birdwell Jackets.” I discovered that even though Birdwell has been in business since 1961, and at one time the jackets were a staple of every west-coast surf team, they are so niche that the only good photos are in Japanese style-research magalogs, reblogged by American traditionalists. It’s no surprise, either — the jacket the square Ken-doll cut that you could expect to see in Take Ivy.
So I’m spazzing out about Birdwell jackets at least as much as I did over my grandfather’s Iceland salmon-fishing jacket. Fortunately, Birdwell is very much alive and well and making clothes, which you can see at their defiantly low-tech website.
Right now, I’m navigating the intimidating, fifty-foot wall that is the ordering form. I’ve traded a couple of emails with Evelyn Birdwell, who has nicely agreed to send some Surfnyl swatches, and I can’t wait to have a jacket made and sent out for the fall! Whoo!