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The Beat #37.5: Southern California Street Culture, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our Southern California Street Culture series! Our friends, the artists Rachel Beall Pac and Thatcher Unsworth continue their artful dive into the finer points of SoCal coolness, from surfers to bikers.

Surfboard Shaping

Surfing was brought to California by Hawaiians who performed on heavy wooden boards whittled down with saws and hand planes. Building a board was altered forever by the invention and availability of polyurethane foam during the second world war. This foam and resin was used by craftspeople to create lightweight boards and in record quantities. One of the most popular and versatile styles of boards is known as the “Fish”. A San Diegan named Steve Lis cut and shaped the first ever of its kind out of a salvaged broken board. The unique outline and shape of the boards tail was cut by Lis to mimic the shape of his swim fins as he kneeled. This small maneuverable board altered the trajectory of surfcraft and is still a popular board design. Southern California craftspeople continue the craft in large factories and backyard sheds, building boards whose core purpose is communing with the energy of the ocean.

Biker / Outlaw

Like the car culture in Southern California, the weather was also ideal for riding and owning a motorcycle. The fuel efficiency, smaller size as well as price and ease of modification and maintenance made motorcycles truly “freedom machines.” Ability to travel freely as well as the thrill of danger appealed to men and women uninterested in the pursuit of the American dream their parents held so dear. Individuality as well as camaraderie and pride was found in motorcycle culture in Southern California, and the rejection of the status quo was further expressed by the practice of tattooing. The two went hand in hand. Tattooing with its history of being collected by military men deployed overseas was considered by polite society as low class. California with its many coastal military bases and influx of fresh men escaping the rigidity of military life offered havens for people living on the fringes of society and a thrilling escape for the occasional tourist.


In Southern California our car and motorcycle culture was bursting with individuality. Ed Roth was making one of a kind fiberglass car bodies, tv and movies showed custom vehicles built by famous builders like George Barris. A vehicle off the factory lot was boring. A way to individualize your car and accentuate the lines without major modifications was found in pinstriping. Early usage of brush applied lines were simple and followed standard rules. A new form was popularized byVon Dutch,” a second generation sign painter creating symmetrical mirrored lines commonly applied at the center of a vehicle's body panel. It is an art form whose secrets were closely guarded by the arts gatekeepers. You would find them at car shows surrounded by crowds applying with a slender knife shaped brush original patterns in one or many different colors.

Tall Cans

24-ounce light beers sold everywhere. These are what you grab on the way to the skate session, backyard parties and beach bonfires. Let’s face it. The last thing you want when you’re doing something potentially dangerous is a large amount of caffeine running through your veins. A staple of Southern California social life and loved by many. To quote Mike and Tack from the movie Stoned Age“ These ain’t talls, get us some talls!”


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