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Street Beat: Lightning Bolt

In this week’s Street Beat, we’re going retro. The time is the 70s, the place is Hawaii and the brand is Lightning Bolt. What began on the Hawaiian Islands spread rampantly throughout the world. Unfortunately, many infringed on the usage of the Bolt brand logo and it slowly faded away.

However, these past few years there has been a Bolt resurgence. By embracing it’s heritage and utilizing some tactical sales practices, the Bolt is back. I recently visited the Lightning Bolt headquarters in Venice Beach, CA, and President Jonathan Paskowitz was stoked to answer my questions. Enjoy!

– Danny Spyra


BNQT – LIGHTNING BOLT’S ROOTS RUN DEEP IN SURFING. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHEN AND HOW THE BRAND EVOLVED?

Jonathan – The majority of the evolution of Lightning Bolt is famous from its relationship with Gerry Lopez and Rory Russell. They were the most stylish and elegant surfers anyone had ever seen. It was their ability and relationship to Pipeline that was the epicenter of surfing in the late 60s and early 70s.

Gerry’s relationship with Pipeline and thus the relationship from Pipeline to the world was like a segway for Lightning Bolt as a brand. Pipeline was the key then. That incredible fuse of being the right product in the right spot with the right guys riding it coupled with the ingenuity of Jack Shipley working with Gerry to create an actual business that core surfers liked was the genesis of the cool, stylish product that was Lightning Bolt. But it did not hurt that the Bolt itself was a primeval symbol and element of nature that everyone related to.

BNQT – FAST FORWARD TO LATE-2007 AND THE RE-LAUNCH OF LIGHTNING BOLT. WHY NOW?

Jonathan – A couple of reasons. It was late-2007 and I met with the guys with the Lightning Bolt trademark in Europe. When I went there and saw the Lightning Bolt surf shops and surfboards, I was very impressed. The only thing that was missing was their American side to it.

So we wanted to bring it to the US, but do it right. Start out as a grassroots, homespun re-launch. When we started the economy was bad, so it didn’t make sense to go and throw money in ads. The original Lightning Bolt product was really the stuff we wanted to emulate. We wanted the core Bolt stuff that was done in the late 60s and early 70s.

We knew the economy was going to get better so we wanted to have our R&D experience under out belt. Now we really know who we are and what we’re making. This vintage replication is going to be our main thrust for this year and next year.

BNQT – LIGHTNING BOLT PRODUCES CLOTHES WITH A VINTAGE FLAIR. WHAT TYPE OF CONSUMERS DO YOU TARGET?

Jonathan – We don’t necessarily target a certain segment. It’s kind of like Field of Dreams: build it and they will come.

We want to make the best products we can. We want to make products domestically. We don’t want to outsource surfing.

Our target audience is whoever sees what we make and it appeals to them in a seminal way, it touches them and they recognize our heritage. Whether it’s an older guy and they love Bolt for the days gone by and say “Look, these guys are making cool stuff.” Or it’s a young guy who’s into style and surfing, who respects the 70s, the traveling and the lifestyle.

BNQT – LIGHTNING BOLT HAS UTILIZED UNIQUE POP-UP SHOPS IN LOS ANGELES AND NEW YORK. HAVE YOU SEEN SUCCESS WITH THESE? ARE THERE PLANS FOR FUTURE POP-UP SHOPS?

Jonathan – The pop-up shop is a really smart invention. They allow you to get in to an area that you probably wouldn’t be able to afford. They give you a chance to expose your product to an area and niche of customers that otherwise might not have that opportunity.

From a Marketing and PR perspective, it’s amazing. With the Los Feliz pop-up shop, we introduced ourselves to a lot of new shops and customers. We got a lot of great press. It’s a profit center and it’s a great marketing opportunity, so it’s a no-brainer for us. Also, if you do them right, they can become long-term relationships. I think we’ll definitely see more pop-up shops in the future within the surf industry. You can run them for as short as a day or throughout the holiday season.

BNQT – I SEE SOME COMMON THEMES IN YOUR VINTAGE SHORTS. WHAT IS THE LONGEST PAIR OF SHORTS YOU PRODUCE?

Jonathan – Ha! The longest cut we currently have is a 15″ out seam on the JP. From a surf industry perspective, this may be a shorter short. But we feel they are a more flattering cut for a man. We’ve gotten great press off our shorter shorts because they are a little more masculine than a short that covers half your body. I see us always making a shorter short and I feel a mid-length short is good.

Street Beat Archive:

Charlie Setzler with Rusty

Damon George with ERGO

Chris Brunstetter with Goldcoast Longboards

Matt Harkins with SPY OPTIC

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