George Freeth was brought to California from Hawaii, to demonstrate surfboard riding as a publicity stunt to promote the opening of the Los Angeles-Redondo-Huntington railroad owned by Henry Huntington, who gave his name to Huntington Beach. (Cheers to my hometown, hehe)
Until the 1960's, surfing only had a small following in Hawaii, Australia and California.
Popularity rose drastically with the release of the film, Gidget, and the underground culture became a national fad. The Safaris and Beach Boys boosted the image of Southern California beach culture.
Surfing is closely linked with skateboarding, which started to develop around the early 1950's. California surfers wanted something to "surf" when the waves were flat, thus the invention of "sidewalk surfing" or skateboarding.The beginning stages were nothing like that we see today, with kickflips, ramps and skate parks.
It took 20 something years until the Z-Boys (my favorite) came along and showed the world what skateboarding could be. As the Z-Boys, notably Tony Alva, Jay Adams and Stacy Peralta, gained fame with their abilities and edgy appearance, skateboarding took on a strong anti-establishment outlook that continues on today.
Some might argue, "Okay.. so what do these Lords of Dogtown have to do with fashion? Or for that matter what do skateboarding and surfing have to do with it?"
Granted, Michael Kors or YSL might not be interested in how these two counter-cultures evolved into everyday society, but their influence is present.
People began to take notice of how many surfers/skaters flock to the laid-back, casual style. A kind of style that allows mobility, freedom of expression, and parallels with the effortless cool vibe. Targeting this market, many surf/skate brands arose that emphasized the ideals of "California Cool."
HURLEY, VOLCOM, BILLABONG, QUICKSILVER/ROXY, ELEMENT, RVCA, O'NEIL, VON ZIPPER.. just to name a few.