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Surf, military and Vietnam: Nigel Cabourn’s vision

The ‘China Beach Surf Club’ collection takes its cue from one of America’s most fascinating military and surfing histories

‘China Beach Surf Club’ is yet another visionary intuition of Nigel Cabourn. For his personal SS22 collection, the brilliant British fashion designer wanted to draw inspiration from one of the most original and fascinating stories in American military history: the legend of an atypical surfing community.

Icon Collection Juventus

Cabourn’s aesthetic, traditionally contaminated by workwear, military and vintage elements, in this case focuses on the distant 1967 and the tragic Vietnam War. Guerrilla warfare, terrorism and political-military failures… In the hostile Vietnamese territory, the American military also decided to relax their nerves and bodies by relying on the benefits of surfing.

It was Larry Martin, a warehouseman in the US Navy, who came up with this intuition. The young soldier was stationed in the strategic port town of Da Nang and proposed to his superiors to let his fellow soldiers ride the waves of China Beach, code name for My Khe Beach. The request was granted, boards began to glide over the South China Sea and the ‘China Beach Surf Club’ quickly took shape.

The Marines who returned from trying offensives, such as the famous Têt, and from the terrifying front line mowed down by the Viet Cong, used surfing as a primary therapeutic tool and became an unconventional symbol of American surfing culture.

Icon Collection Juventus
Icon Collection Juventus

Many of the boards used by those servicemen now populate the stars and stripes museums, many of those guys even went back to Vietnam to relive the sensations felt on the waves of China Beach. Nigel Cabourn is not the first artist or creative to draw on the pop influence of this iconic club: another example is the masterpiece film Apocalypse Now, directed by the sacred monster Francis Ford Coppola.

Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, comes into contact with the surf element in some of the movie’s most iconic scenes. In one of these, referring to his enemies, he utters the historic phrase “Charlie don’t surf”.

In Cabourn’s new collection every product becomes history, every photographed board becomes a reference, every detail becomes a trait d’union between the present of fashion and the sport-military past, creating a combination of high cultural and aesthetic value.

Icon Collection Juventus

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