When he finally pulled up in his pop’s old ’54 Chevy, a Police chopper behind him, Thom was a good 10 minutes late for our meeting — fashionably late, I supposed. I first met him at his outpost in Ventura, where he ran Iron & Resin, a motorcycle shop a stone’s throw north of Los Angeles. He and his gang of well-dressed gearheads were fringe and frothing in that rolled-out-of-bed way: tanned faces behind five-o’clock shadows, unkempt hair tucked under five-panel hats, and I suspect if you got close enough there would be a tinge of whiskey lingering from a five a.m. kind of night. Then there were the cuffed jeans and three-quarter sleeve baseball tees. Canvas jacket to tie it all off. Missing was the pomade. I half-expected a pack of Reds to be tucked between his teeth as “Grease Lightening” came on a transistor radio.
And a good 10 minutes late for our meeting. But fashionably late, I supposed.
From what I saw, I was either back in the fifties when the truck he came in was built, or home in Brooklyn where I lived at the moment. I had become rather accustomed to what I assumed was these types: those who people call “hipsters” — whoever they are — with their contrived carelessness coupled alongside a better-than attitude, hanging onto whatever is “in” at the moment, only to let go once the sun sets. And, don’t you know, surf is in at the moment. It was easily gleaned from the upright hand-built Timberline boards in the shop, between the bandanas and riding boots. And many would and do call those who represent this motorcycle shop with a swelling interest in surf and others like it “hipsters,” the most critical of them even going as far as to lumping them in with the equally meaningless “kooks.” As I would soon conclude, “many” are wrong. Plight of the stylish.
And, most importantly, I was wrong. First, he was not fashionably late, but familial-y late, having a situation at the house. Then, as I learned in the next hour – and this would be confirmed in a few different ways – this thing of theirs was not so much a demeanor and even less of a better-than appearance, but rather a natural occurrence of circumstance and longstanding, parallel passions. These guys weren’t playing a part, they were simply dudes living their lives, and cool dudes at that.
“There are so many similarities between surfing and riding,” founder Thomas Hill, or Thom, says. “It’s that sensation you get, that experience where you’re really alive and living in the moment. You get that with snowboarding and skiing, but for me, for us, its surfing and riding. We’re lucky here — we have this point break up the coast as well as wide open roads.”
For Thom (who moved from North Carolina when he was 17) and his gang of well-dressed gearheads, Ventura in and of itself was a common ground. It was a place that spoke to and allowed for their passions which happened to include motorcycles and surf alongside camping and music. The shop was simply built on this shared foundation, an Americana offshoot to its predecessor and Australian brethren Deus ex Machina, who have a good presence south down the Pacific Coast Highway there in Venice. It all makes sense. Like a locals-only dive bar without the closed-door pretentiousness — instead keeping the garage open to anyone who wants to swing through. And there is a natural progression from surfing to motorcycling, taking from the open sea to the open road. It’s also a growing community. Ironically, though, it’s a growing community steeped in solitude.
“I’m not real big with surfing with crowds,” Thom says. “If the surf’s really good, but it’s crowded, I’ll hop on a motorcycle instead. And same with motorcycling with crowds. Whether it’s carving down a mountain road or gliding down a glassy point, I want to be able to unwind. The community inherently happens. Surfing or motorcycling: the people are just passionate about it. When people are passionate, it draws them together. We’re there as a catalyst, but people are drawn to likeminded people.”
It’s with this gung-ho camaraderie that they thrive, having folk to their place, or throwing down at remote locations, big shindigs like their Hooligan Hoedown, an annual/bi-annual campout, the most recent event being held this past fall. With “a bathtub full of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a barber chair,” and a whole lot more where that came from, it has all the makings of trendy party, but the main difference is these dudes don’t give a damn what you or naysayers think.
“I can’t say that I’m not aware of it, but it really doesn’t bother us at all. We do what we do,” Thom says. “We have a vision and a belief. It started as a reaction to the lifestyle we like to live around here. Camping and outdoor activities. You throw in a little bit of music. It’s what the brand’s about. You either buy into it or you don’t.”
And that may be their most likable and relatable point for a surf community also founded in doing their own thing. If you don’t like it, then don’t bother with it. But for now, onward.