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Lightning Bolt USA

The legendary surfboard brand is hell-bent on catching another wave in the U.S.A.

Interview By Aryn Beitz, May 31, 2013

Jonathan Paskowitz was born and raised in Hawaii and has spent much of his life on a surfboard. He has suited up with some of the world’s best surfers and even taught celebrities how to catch a wave. Now, he is also the man responsible for resurrecting the Lightning Bolt surfboard brand.

Founded in Hawaii in 1971 during the shortboard revolution by surfing icons Jack Shipley and Gerry Lopez, Lightning Bolt was first a hardcore surfer's brand and became much more than that. Eventually, however, the "Pure Source" lost momentum in the very country in which it was born and bred. In Europe, though, it flourished.

In 2007, Paskowtiz (a former U.S. longboard champ) helped produce Surfwise, a documentary based on the lives of Jonathan’s father Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz, his wife Juliette, and Jonathan’s eight brothers and sisters who lived in a camper, surfed every day, and founded the Paskowitz Surf Camp. A friend put Paskowitz in touch with the Portuguese textile group, TMG-SA, who held the rights to Lightning Bolt and asked Jonathan if he was interested in uniting the brand and bringing it back to the States. Paskowitz jumped on it.

The Lightning Bolt resurgence has set a slow pace, playing off classic designs and using pop-up shops in places like Los Feliz to build a clientele. In 2010, it shot its first catalog in the States in many years. Today, with a shop (1510 Pacific Ave) stocking  T-shirts, board shorts, hoodies, and surfboards and an HQ in Venice, California, and a largely American-made SS13 collection that’s strong on both vintage style and functionality, it's safe to say that Lightning Bolt USA is back.

Paskowitz spoke with us about the evolution of surf culture since Lightning Bolt's heyday and why bringing the brand back to life in the States was particularly meaningful to Hawaii’s surfing community.

Mark "BK" Richards and '70s-era Lightning Bolt surfboards

You’ve witnessed the evolution of surf style since you were a kid. Any particular era that stood out as particularly noteworthy?
There are many moments in the evolution of the sport that were really noteworthy, like the first time I saw a surfer duck dive, or the surf leash, or the shorter multi-fin boards. But the time and global environment was never more exciting than in the seventies; everything was possible, you could do whatever you wanted and it was cool.

How important is style when it comes to surf culture? How would you define Lightning Bolt’s signature style?
Just like in school where you have the preps, jocks, goths, and hipsters, there are different cliques in surf culture. I think Lightning Bolt has always stood for the guy that was so good he could be whatever he wanted to be and you accepted him. Gerry Lopez was like that. Same with Rabbit Bartholomew and Rory Russell. It’s a functional and cool looking style that reminds me of Steve McQueen or someone you can tell has travelled a lot and knows the lay of the land, or in this case, understands the ocean. Today, we try to make comfortable, wearable, and casual sportswear for that kind of man.

Why do you think Lightning Bolt lost momentum in America, but managed to thrive in Europe? What were your main goals when you re-launched the brand here in the states?
Lightning Bolt was discontinued in the U.S.A. because the owner didn’t understand the lifestyle and the brand. Because Lightning Bolt thrived all over the world, you can find places where it never went away. Our main goal is to reclaim that Bolt style and share it with our friends around the world. The brand was born in America and Hawaii is the inspiration and its birth home, so we want to make quality clothes that people can be proud to wear, here in Hawaii and all over the world.

Did you follow the brand during the period of time you weren’t directly involved?
Of course! Was always looking for signs of it. Besides the items from the '70s there was very little like Lightning Bolt until we brought it back.

Did it keep going in Europe, Brazil, Australia?
Yes, in different ways. Europe was pretty strong, Brazil had a good core board program and lots of good surfers riding boards. Oz was a bit of a mess [with] kind of cheaper product, but it disappeared there.

How has the design of the Lightning Bolt surfboard evolved over time?
Lightning Bolt surfboards are iconic surf instruments. We try to design and manufacture fun boards that people want to ride: twin fins, fish, stingers—anything fun. We also have some legendary surfers helping us make replicas. Mark "BK" Reynolds, Gerry Lopez, Reno Abellera, Rory Russell, and Tom Parrish have all shaped boards.

Do you still keep in touch with the original Bolt guys? Are they still involved at all in the process?
Mostly Rory Russell. Gerry Lopez is a dear family friend and has helped a lot but he is Team Patagonia and I love Yvonne and would not want to conflict with him. Reno Abellira and BK (Mark Reynolds) have both shaped boards as well as shaping legend Tom Parrish. So yes I do…

Reno Abellira and original Lightning Bolt boards

Who are the guys shaping the new boards? Are they famous guys that were associated with Lightning Bolt before?
Craig Hollingsworth, who has shaped Bolt for 35 years and is a master of the fun shapes, is very involved. And of course Gerry, Rory, Reno, BK, and Tom. Look out for the Collectors Series they made for us to be displayed around the world this summer.


Lightning Bolt T-shirts aren’t cheap, but they sure are soft. Where are your garments manufactured and how important is quality in the overall picture?
We love T-shirts. We love soft, buttery tees, so we use a special knit fabric. We wash it to dye it and then we wash it again to make it even softer. Almost all of our T-shirts are made in Los Angeles with a few select others being made in Portugal because of its cotton expertise. Lightning Bolt tees have been, and will continue to be, one of the most important items of the brand.

Jonathan Paskowitz

Surfing has influenced pop-culture in pretty significant ways––everything from fashion to music, literature, art, and film. In your opinion, what is it about surf culture and style that inspires so many people on a creative level?
That’s for sure. I think even now more than ever we are seeing nabobs coming over to surf. My family had the first surf camp outside of Hawaii on the mainland, so over the years I have worked with some pretty amazing people. Tom Sachs, the world-renowned artist from New York, came to camp some years ago and it really changed his life. I watched him turn into a real different person from learning to surf and committing to it. The primal reward from surfing is like nothing else I have ever experienced and teaching someone to surf is really rewarding. I’m still stoked from my experience taking Vogue editor Hamish Bowles surfing; it was like giving a kid the best ice cream cone in the world!

Shaun Tomson with '70s Lightning Bolt boards

Who's carrying Lightning Bolt?
Bloomies, Isatan in Tokyo, Garbstore in London, Colette in Paris, Unis in NYC. 

Learn more at Lightning Bolt USA.