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Suave Surfer Stokes New Style : Shane Dorian’s Dressy Look Is Making Waves in Sport and Design Circles

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Abandon all preconceptions of what constitutes surfer style. Versace lambskin boot-cut pants and an ankle-length Gucci peacoat might fit better on a Manhattan boulevard than a Hawaiian beach. But to pro surfer Shane Dorian, the designer togs are as coveted as his favorite pair of boardshorts.

“I won them in a bet,” said the 25-year-old Hawaiian native by telephone Saturday from his ocean-view apartment in the Big Island town of Kona. Dorian, ranked third in the world, arrived home two days earlier from Australia, for a break in an incessant contest schedule that takes him around the world.

He apparently missed the flight connection to Los Angeles, where “In God’s Hands"--and his acting career--premiered to a packed Cinerama Dome of peers, pals and fans involved in the surf industry. The Columbia TriStar film, which opened last weekend, is already being touted as a sure-fire cult hit. The surf footage inspires awe even in nonsurfers; as for Dorian’s debut performance, he could be the next Keanu Reeves.

Besides an extraordinary talent in the water, Dorian’s rep includes his penchant for fashion. He is among a handful of new superstar surfers defining themselves as much by their ability to surf as to dress. They love fashion, and they aren’t afraid to flaunt it.

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Dorian’s ability as a surfer has allowed acceptance among his peers and fans.

“He and a few other guys have helped redefine surf fashion and what a hard-core surfer can look like because they’re so good at what they do in the water,” said Bob Hurley, owner of Billabong, one of the leading surf-wear labels. “By their ability and taste, they allow us to make fashionable clothes, and the kids pick up on it.”

The Costa Mesa-based label has been one of Dorian’s sponsors for the last five years with good reason.

“Shane’s the leader, and his style speaks for his generation. He’s a big influence right now,” said Lian Murray, Billabong’s merchandising director. “Kids today are not into the old surf look--where it used to look cool to look like you didn’t try. What’s in right now is to look good. They like pretty dressy clothes. It’s really great for us girls. Shane just looks so babe.”

Dorian could very well be the next new face if Seventh and Madison avenues get hip. He’s got Adonis looks that surfer girls’ dreams are made of. And abs that Calvin Klein ads are made of.

During New York’s fashion week this spring (one of four trips Dorian made to Gotham in the last year because of his love for the city’s style), he volunteered to work the Anna Sui show just to catch a glimpse of one of his favorite designers. Unfortunately, he had to miss the show to surf for a European Levi’s commercial.

“I’m definitely going to volunteer at a show next year,” he assured.

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Attention, modeling scouts: He doesn’t have an agency or a portfolio--yet.

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Long overcoats, boots, and vintage gloves, hats and scarves stay behind in a friend’s closet in New York, where they suit Dorian better than in Hawaii or on tour. He can use the extra wardrobe space anyway, because the three walk-in closets in his apartment are already chockablock full of clothes, hats and shoes. Among the boots are four pairs of Kenneth Coles. Soon to arrive: a gray day suit and a black evening suit, both from Armani through a deal from a friend of a friend who works for the company.

There’s the free clothes he gets from Billabong, for which he consults on design and direction. A few seasons ago, the label offered a slinky nylon shirt named “Shane,” which, Murray noted, “draped really well on the right body--like Shane’s.” The collection overall has gone beyond a traditional surf aesthetic, in part due to Dorian, she said.

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Then there’s a deluge of vintage finery, much of it assembled on his adventures. A good find might run him $300, but he figures the gems he’s discovered are a fraction of what the latest designer counterparts cost.

“I really don’t care who makes it as long as it’s cool,” he said.

He’s known for a slim (“not tight,” he insisted) Rat Pack style--from the skinny-brim straw hats to the white loafers. “But you know what I’m a real sucker for? I can’t walk past a good Aloha vintage shirt. The authentic silk kind made in Hawaii, not those fakes from Thailand. They feel so good and they’re so fun to wear.”

Matt George, friend and movie co-star, calls Dorian’s MO “thrift store chic.” He noted the way Dorian can go out on a limb and pull off any ensemble. “He’s got tremendous personal style and a tremendous physique. He’s really upped the interest to dress up at [surf-related] events,” said George.

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But this new sense of style is rippling beyond the surf community, much like earlier trends. Surf style has long played a role in popular sartorial tastes. Since the ‘60s, each decade’s surf boom has had as much to do with landlocked kids in Kansas buying into the coastal lifestyle fantasy as with those actually living the fantasies. From striped Hang Ten tees and Lightning Bolt cord shorts to neon jams and, later, tribal motifs, surf style has repeatedly trickled upward from its subcultural beginnings to change the way mass America--and the world--dressed.

That has never been more blatant than this year as the fashion establishment has appropriated surf style for its vision of what’s modern, youthful and hip. Gorgeous pro surfers--men and women--are the new supermodels; surf clothes pop up in collections (such as the boardshort pants from Dorian’s fave Anna Sui).

Surfers represent something bold and free, a balance of hedonism and a respect for the environment. They do it their way, driven not by the mighty dollar but the mightier force of nature.

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“People inland and in the cities are fascinated with a culture that places importance on lifestyle over work style,” said surf historian Allan Seymour. “The bottom line is stoke. If you can achieve that stoke, that positive out of life, of having fun, then you’re closer to the experience, whether it’s surfing or not.”

George regards it in more primitive terms. An author, philosopher of sorts and winner of two Emmys for documentaries dealing with the human spirit, he believes the ongoing appeal of surfer style is tied to what he calls the “two strong male archetypes in the history of the U.S.: the cowboy and the surfer.”

“There aren’t many real cowboys left,” said George, who’s known for showing up on the beach in weathered cowboy boots and hat, a look he repeated in the film. “But surfers remain. I believe surfers are the cowboys for the millennium.”

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Whatever the reason, young surfers are catching Dorian’s wave.

Case in point: Joel Knoernschild, 18, of Costa Mesa who admits to adopting Dorian’s daily uniform of jeans, a white T-shirt--no logos--and Dragon sunglasses. In the movie, Dorian lives in that pairing and white boardshorts--a brave choice when wet if it weren’t for the extra lining. A white suit on a bronzed bod could easily pick up among sunbathers and surfers alike this summer.

“Shane dresses super cool, he’s always on the cutting edge. He’s my favorite surfer. I like how he dresses: super clean-cut with an edge,” said Knoernschild.

Said Dorian, “You don’t have to dress like other surfers to be one. In the past, it was all about keeping it real, ‘I’m a surfer so I’m going to dress like one.’ But my friends and I got bored. To us, it’s once a surfer always a surfer. I have no problem totally dressing up and when I go on tour I have so many clothes with me. Yeah, people trip out on me. They call me fashion guy, but it’s no big deal.”

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By the way, that bet that won him the Gucci coat and Versace pants? A model buddy of his in New York claimed that Cameron Diaz wasn’t in the movie “The Mask.” He stood to score four new surfboards if Dorian, a film buff and Diaz secret admirer, was wrong.

“The way I got them,” said Dorian, with a laugh, “I love them even more.”


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