Thursday , 18 December 2014

The Quest For Greg Noll’s Jailhouse Baggies

Greg Noll clad in his "Jailhouse" trunks at Waimea

I remember when boardshorts were called baggies.

Baggies, perhaps the most underrated piece of surf equipment, second only to your board in determining who you are out in the lineup. And no, I don’t wear a rash guard.

In the good old days, before rash guards, leashes and crowded surf, if you didn’t wear baggies, you weren’t a surfer. Hang Tens were the ones to wear, or maybe some Birdwell Beach Britches. I had both. And over the years, I hopped in and out of Quiksilvers and Janzens and just about every other brand of trunks to ever come out of the factory.

But I never had the ones I wanted.

Ever since the time I first saw Greg Noll screaming down a Waimea twenty-footer in Ride the Wild Surf during the summer of  ’64, I have wanted a pair of  “Jailhouse” baggies just like his.

For more than 40 years I scoured surf shops and thrift stores, department stores and mail order catalogs. Heck, by the 90s, I even had a “watch” set up on ebay to send me an email notification of any jailhouse baggies should they become available.

I never got one.

I did find a pair of vintage red, white, and blue Hang Tens in a thrift shop in Oceanside back in ’81. Size 32. I wore them for years, but alas, I’m not a size 32 anymore.

Back to the quest.

A couple of years ago I happened to be in Target, of all places, when I was astonished to see a pair of Jailhouse trunks. I couldn’t believe it! 40-some-odd years after the fact, there they were. At Target, no less!

They weren’t black and white, like Greg’s. They were actually navy blue and white, but once they got wet, they looked black and white, and…they were jailhouse baggies!

But Target? Really? Greg Noll would NOT approve. In fact, if he knew, he’d be totally pissed. I can envision him actually punching me out on the beach, straddling my bloodied body and asking me, “What the heck were you thinking, Marion?”

But hey, it’s been a long quest, and now that I have actually found them, I’m getting them. Darn it, I’m getting two pair. Unfortunately, they don’t have 33s. They come in S, M, L and XL.

I get the S and the M.

Go figure. The S is too small, and the M is too big. But even if they don’t fit, they are Greg Noll Jailhouse Baggies, and now, by golly, I’m Greg Noll. Well, sort of, anyway.

So I’ve got my Greg Noll Jailhouse Baggies, and they’re from Target. Nobody has to know. Especially Greg Noll. Please, for God’s sake, don’t tell him. I wonder where he got his…certainly not Target. They weren’t even around in ’64.

Time to do what I do best: Surfing…the internet, that is.

Much to my amazement, I actually find the story behind Greg Noll’s Jailhouse Baggies at a site called vintagegregnollsurf.com. And thanks to its webmaster, Mike Jipp, I am able to pass along the story – right from da Bull’s mouth, himself.

A pair of Noll's "Jailhouse" trunks are on display at son Jed's surf shop in San Clemente, CA

“Going back to when I was about 13 years old, everybody was wearing plain old trunks from JC Penney’s or wherever you bought trunks from in those days,” recalls Noll. “There was a pretty earthy group of guys at the Manhattan Pier who set the style for the South bay and that affected things all up and down the street. So what happened at Manhattan Beach is someone like Barney Briggs or Velzy started going to the Salvation Army to buy their clothes, because you could get an overcoat or Army surplus stuff for 25 cents. Well they started buying white sailor pants and cutting them off above the knees and started surfing in them.  And that caught on, and pretty soon everyone was doing it.”

“…Anyway these things got to be the standard surf attire for the guys in the South Bay and when some guys started going to Hawaii to surf Makaha they were still wearing their cutoff whites. On the west side of Oahu in Waianae there was a tailor named M Nii. He and his wife were Japanese or Filipino and they made shorts for the Hawaiian surfers. At the time some guys were wearing Outrigger Canoe Club shorts that had stripes down the side, but those were a big deal to get. You had to know someone or be a part of the club or get them underground somehow.”

“At some point we started going in there and looking at all the different-colored striping material – red and gold and green and all kinds of colors. I think it was Billy Ming who first got the idea to go to M Nii to get that colored striping into their white shorts. [Walter Hoffman refutes this and believes it was Buzzy Trent, Dave Mojas and himself who first went to M Nii]. The gaudier the better. One guy had red and another guy got blue stripes and some guys had trunks that looked like a clown suit. Well they wore those trunks as hard at Makaha as they did at Manhattan Beach and by the end of the winter they were so worn out, guys would go back to M Nii and get some more custom tailoring done before they went back to the mainland.”

“Guys were pretty much living in those shorts, so they evolved wax pockets and comb pockets and wallet pockets and all this shit. I went back to California with those white sailor cutoffs customized by M Nii and people really liked them. So the next winter I went back to Hawaii with orders and measurements from my friends and about $350, which was a lot of money back then. I got custom trunks made for myself and friends, and the rest is history, you know? I don’t know what other guys will tell you but this happened when I was 15, so that would have been 1952.”

So I come to find Greg had them personally made for him. Whodathunk? No wonder I couldn’t find them at Ron Jons.

But now, I have my own, and by golly, the next swell, I will be racing down the face of a glassy peak just like my idol, Greg Noll. I might even pose with my longboard, staring a huge breaker right in the face, just like that famous photo of him at Pipeline.

Noll donning his "Jailhouse" trunks in one of surfing's most famous photos

The fact is: At this point, I really don’t care if they came from Target. I’m finally Greg Noll!

Or so I thought.

As it turns out, between the time of the coveted Greg Noll Jailhouse Baggies purchase, and the arrival of the swell, it appears that a new movie is on the scene: Surfer Dude. And in a classic case of an ultimate slap in the face, its star is clad in, yep, you guessed it – Greg Noll Jailhouse Baggies.

I am not Greg Noll. I am Matthew McConaughey. In fact, I’m Surfer Dude!

Never!

Matthew McConaughey stole my thunder

I still own the Greg Noll Jailhouse Baggies, both pair in fact, but I refuse to wear them. I’m still not quite sure if Matthew McConaughey killed me or saved me. But either way, he definitely stole my thunder. I will never wear those godawful things.

Greg Noll, I have always aspired to be. Surfer Dude, I have no such aspirations.

Matthew McConaughey! Give me a break!

I bet he got his baggies at Target!

Special thanks to Mike Jipp and the good people at vintagegregnollsurf.com, and of course, to Greg Noll.

About Marion Stratford

Marion Stratford is a freelance writer from Jacksonville Beach, Florida. A surfer for 45 years, he has covered surfing as a correspondent for the Florida Times-Union and is currently a National Surfing Examiner with Examiner.com.

2 comments

  1. Dude, what web site can i get a pare of thoese Greg Noll Jailhouse Baggies? There awesome! Niall from Ireland

  2. Some years ago, that movie riding giants came out and like wise, I looked and looked in surfshops, all up and down PCH, online everywhere for months and years and never found them. I had a black pair of rip curls, scoured the internet for pictures of those shorts, and went to a sewing lady. Voila!!! THESE ARE SO COOL. I used to wear them at san O and guys would ask me where I got them. alas, I now live in pattaya(where’s there no waves) but stil wear them proudly to represent. Seems to be a trend now, because I am beginning to see some tourist hodads who can’t even speak English wearing jailstripes now, hmmmm?

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