After closing up shop in the mid-80s, Australia’s first-ever skateboard company, Surfa Sam, is back in business.
We were all set to celebrate the grand relaunch last month, but then there was a slight hiccup—all the boards sold out before we could hit publish. Pretty good problem to have, if you ask me. But why would you? I’ve got nothing to do with it. The man behind all the hard work is QLD-based designer, Nick Dart, who painstakingly scoured through the phone book to find Surfa Sam’s original founder, Dr Leo Kalokerinos, to discuss reviving his iconic brand.
The Surfa Sam story starts back in 1963 when Leo—who was then studying to become a doctor—started making surfboard-shaped skateboards out of his parent’s house in Rose Bay, NSW. Dubbed the ‘Landsurfa’, Leo’s original design became Australia’s first commercially produced skateboard, and caused quite the commotion among surfers and non-surfers alike. Leo’s small side-hustle soon became big biz, with Surfa Sam selling over 250,000 skateboards before closing up shop in 1985 so Leo could focus full time on his medical career.
The new iteration of Surfa Sam mightn’t manufacture boards out of Leo’s parent’s house, but it vows to honour Dr. Kalokerinos’ original vision while introducing a whole new generation to one of the OG’s of Australian youth culture. With a fresh batch of classic hand-shaped sidewalk surfers restocked, we talked to Nick about bringing Surfa Sam back from hiatus, honouring heritage, and what the now 86-year-old Dr Kalokerinos thinks of all this.
Hey Nick! How did you get involved in relaunching Surfa Sam?
I first became aware of Surfa Sam through collecting and having an interest in 60’s era skateboards. Being a designer by trade the logo instantly caught my attention as I saw similarities with Rick Griffins iconic ‘Murphy’ character that was featured in John Severson Surfer magazine in the early ’60s.
After digging around I discovered that Surfa Sam was Australia’s first skateboard company from 1963 but had somehow been forgotten and was only known to people of a certain generation. For a company that had such an impact on Australian youth culture throughout the ’60s and 70’s, I felt it needed to be revived so future generations could learn about it. Fast forward a few years, I decided to try and track down the original founder Leo Kalokerinos by going through the phonebook and calling every number with the same surname. After finally tracking him down we spoke at great length about his old company and I made it my mission to revive the brand so Leo’s legacy could be cemented in history.
What was Leo’s reaction when you told him you wanted to bring his old business back to life?
To this day, Leo still doesn’t quite understand what all the fuss is about. I meet with him regularly and bring him magazines from the UK and Japan that have featured Surfa Sam and he can’t believe so many people care about what he did all those years ago.
The history of Surfa Sam and its Rose Bay origins is pretty cool. Is this new iteration of it still a small, grassroots operation?
Surfa Sam is a one-man operation that is now based in Queensland, but I am lucky to have a good network of talented friends back in London and Tokyo who run successful brands who’ve been invaluable in terms of offering advice and guidance throughout this whole process. The plan is to spread the company’s wings by moving into Japan, US, and the UK and continue to expand the product line by introducing more apparel and accessories that will be heavily influenced by 1960’s counterculture.
I know you’re committed to honouring the integrity of the brand and its heritage—how does that translate into practice?
As the company expands into other areas there are no plans to move away from making traditional solid oak skateboards. Throughout the evolution of skateboarding, Surfa Sam never tried to evolve their product and continued to make 60’s era boards and that’s what the brand is all about for me. Keeping Leo’s name in the story just as Vans does with the Van Doren family is something else I feel strongly about. This isn’t my story, I’m just helping tell Leo’s the best I can.
Do you make the boards the same way Leo used to?
Speaking with Leo regularly I had a pretty good understanding going into this of how the boards were to be made. Instead of getting them made offshore for a fraction of the price, I made a conscious decision to have the boards made in Australia using Tasmanian oak, just like the originals. Even the artwork has been carefully recreated and silkscreened instead of heat transferring the artwork like a modern skateboard.
In regards to the trucks, they were updated with period-correct roller skate trucks that are manufactured in California by a company that has been making roller skate parts since 1945 and were a staple for many companies during the 1960’s skateboard boom. They look the part but are also functional. The wheels also received an upgrade by using a buttery soft urethane instead of hard rubber like the originals.
I know Leo’s in his 80’s now, but has he tried out one of the new boards?
He definitely hasn’t, and that’s probably for the best.
You can bag a board here before they sell out…again.