With the weather getting better and temperatures climbing in the Mid-East, summer seems to be within our grasp. For some reason, as soon as the summer looms over the horizon, my heart races with nostalgia. Within the flood of memories something floated to the top this morning that I haven’t thought about in years. Town and County Surf Designs.
Started in 1971, Town and County Surf Designs began as a small surf shop located in an old barber shop by Craig Sugihara. By the 1980’s the Hawaiian company had exploded onto the scene with T-shirts, swim wear, shoes, stickers, hats, skate boards, and the thing that started it all, surf boards. With the birth of a new “extreme” sports culture making it’s way from the West Coast beaches to “Small Town” America , skate boarding, surfing, and BMX bikes were growing in popularity by the mid-80’s. Mall shops like Wave Dancers were popping up everywhere, selling the latest in the “extreme” sport culture’s clothing, skate board decks, and beach wares. T&C was at the crest of this wave during the time period and they had one of the most recognizable logos and some of the best mascots to lead the charge, “Da’ Boys”
Created by illustrator and cartoonist, Steve Nazar, “Da’ Boys” were a misfit group of surfers and skateboards that were put into almost any and all situations. The leader of this rag tag group was Thrilla Gorilla, this “every-man” of the group who was usually at the fore front of their adventures. The next most popular character was the Tiki Man, a masked man who would use voodoo dolls and was the loose cannon attacking/biting everything in sight. Next was the Caveman with his stone surf boards and dinosaur antics. Joe Cool was the sunglasses wearing, well, cool guy. Not depicted too much was the three-eyed surf mutant and the 80’s power suit wearing pink cat dude named Kool Kat.
“Da’ Boys” were an adventurous group that were the poster children for T&C throughout the 80’s. They appeared mostly on T-shirts, and stickers for the company. I was rapid for anything with their image on it during their hay day while I was in middle school. The above design for “T&C Shark Repellant” was my favorite shirt until it got holey and needed to be pitched. It was always hard for a husky kid like me to even find them in a size that would fit (In the 80’s I guess t-shirt manufacturers only thought skinny kids liked skate boarding and stuff.) , so it was a very sad day when I had to say good bye to my favorite shirt. But I didn’t have to say good bye to the characters I grown to love.
In 1988, T&C Surf Designs and their colorful cast of characters, known as “Da’ Boys” were at what seemed like the height of their popularity. So popular that they starred in their own video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Titled ‘Wood & Water Rage’, the game was a surfing and skateboarding game that included playable characters Thrilla Gorilla, Joe Cool, Tiki Man, and Kool Kat. Published by LJN, the game was incredibly hard and used a lot of cheap tricks to make it “challenging”.
As soon as I knew this game existed, I needed to own it. Back in those days a local video rental shop in town would buy your old games. They would give you pennies on the dollar, but I was young and I lusted for this game. I can’t remember what games went up on the chopping block, but I do regret ever selling ANY of my games throughout the years. But hey, it was the only way for a poor kid to keep up with recent titles. Anyway, after the scrounging and saving and selling, I finally went to the KB Toys in the mall and purchased ‘T&C: Wood & Water Rage’. Damn, I was disappointed. This game was hard, like really hard and would cheap shot you into a rage. (maybe that’s the rage from the title) But oddly enough, I still own this game. That is the appeal of these characters and this time in my life.
There was a follow up game in 1992 called ‘Thrilla’s Surfari’. By then I had left my NES behind for the Sega Genesis. I never got a chance to play this one, but I wish I would have. Not that it was suppose to be any better, just so I could have some more time with “Da’ Boys”. From what I can see online this game changed things up and went the platforming route. Might have to track it down one day.
After ‘Thrilla’s Surfari’ came and went, so did “Da’ Boys”. For a decade they were the face of a growing culture that bled through to comic books, music, movies, and television. This wasn’t the first time skateboarding and surfing arose to the mainstream but this was the time it stuck and is still going strong today. So is Steve Nazar. He still is a wonderful artist and is the brains behind the ‘Big Dog’ t-shirt brand. He is also an artist for hire for skateboard/surf/snowboard companies and designs t-shirts, stickers, and logos. He still brings “Da’ Boys” to life and offers many, many awesome prints of them and their adventures on his website, www.stevenazar.com . Check his stuff out, it’s amazing work.
When asked “What happened to the T&C characters?”, Nazar said this on his website…
“In the late eighties, for reasons unknown to me, there was a dramatic split within the T&C organization. The net result was that the Hawaii-based group, who founded the company and owned the rights to the T&C name and logo went one way, and the California-based group, with whom I had developed the classic characters went another, retaining the rights to the characters only.”
“The Hawaii-based people have continued to prosper as T&C Surf Designs, although their clothing line has never duplicated the success they achieved when they were using the characters.”
“Despite several attempts, the California-based people had very little success marketing the characters on their own, without the brand recognition and loyalty that the T&C brand justifiably commanded. Having sold my interest in the characters, I was largely excluded from any attempts to revive the characters as a separate entity from T&C. Their efforts suffered from the work of artists who had no real appreciation or understanding of the characters, and the results sadly speak for themselves.”
“In short, the Logo never did as well without the Characters, and the Characters died without the Logo.”
It’s a sad end to the characters that meant so much to me in my childhood, but most of the characters we loved in the 80’s all share that grim fate. Sometimes when I get a whiff of a screen printed vinyl sticker, my mind returns to 1986 and I’m looking through the stickers at Wave Dancers, hunting for a “Da’ Boys” sticker I haven’t seen before.
I still comb through eBay to look at the shirts and sadly I haven’t gotten any smaller or richer so they are either really expensive (Rightfully So!) or too small. Maybe one day I’ll pick up a print but until then I have my memories of summers gone by and of a huskey kid in his bugle boys and his favorite T&C Surf Design T-shirt.