Stab Magazine | Imperial Motion started from the garage now they’re here:

Imperial Motion started from the garage now they’re here:

Story by Theo Lewitt Reinventing a staple is tough. Trunks have been around since the 60s. They grew, then shrunk, then stretched, and hold every color. Teos are even more dried out, and pants flood higher or sag lower with each season. Unique approaches don’t come around all that often, but when a newcomer pops up […]

style // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Story by Theo Lewitt

Reinventing a staple is tough. Trunks have been around since the 60s. They grew, then shrunk, then stretched, and hold every color. Teos are even more dried out, and pants flood higher or sag lower with each season. Unique approaches don’t come around all that often, but when a newcomer pops up with aspirations to take over a whole industry, questions must be asked. There’s bound to be a story of interest in there somewhere.

Eric, Steve and Spencer started Imperial Motion in 2002 before any of them cracked 20 years old. College dropouts with a few credit cards to max out, they began their brand from a parent’s garage – with the founding idea that “you don’t need to be somebody to make something.” Since we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of them in surfing, we figured it was time to meet the fam.

Stab: How does a company from Tacoma in Washington fit into surfing?
Imperial Motion: Growing up, going surfing was no different than going snowboarding for us. The waves and the mountains were both two hours away, and both worth the drive. So, surfing has been a part of the brand since day one. Our first custom item ever produced was a boardshort, which is still the cornerstone of the brand.

Here's: Billy Kean.

Here’s: Billy Kean.

Everyone has a line. Yours is “representing the underachiever.” What does that usually-negative word mean to IM? When we dropped out of school to start the brand, our friends and family told us to go back to school and not be underachievers. We put that slogan, “representing the underachiever,” behind the first tee we ever made and haven’t stopped using it since. To us, it’s a reminder to choose your own way in life.


Brent Bielmann. Photographer. Fisherman. Model (seriously… he models.)

For IM’s first surf-team rider, Jake Davis, the brand’s sentiment “speaks for itself. When IM came to me, we all got along so well and everything clicked. It just made sense to go with it because they represent the underachiever, which I felt like I was.”

Alex Smith, another v good addition to the IM fam, sees it differently. “I’m really passionate about qualifying for the World Tour and putting out the best edits I can, so I’m not aiming to be an underachiever. But I think I definitely haven’t achieved what I know I can, so I think that’s what I can take out of it.”

Alex Smith, Jake Davis, Evan Thompson, and photographer Brent Bielmann are flying the IM flag in the world of surf. How’d you pick em? We wanted a group of guys that, as individuals, we felt were in a similar place to us and where we are as a company. I think we all wake up every morning with a bit of a chip on our shoulder, and start each day feeling as though we have something to prove.

For Jake, this chip is a major driver in his career: “I’ve gone my whole life getting just as good results and as barreled as anyone else, but never got all the fame or the same outcome with sponsorships that all of the other kids got.” 

Similarly, after years of injury and lacking sponsor support, Alex has something to prove.“I tore my meniscus and had some knee surgery a year and a half ago, so I feel like the world hasn’t really seen my best in a while. I’m working really hard to show everyone I’m still here,” says Alex.

What’s IM do that the competition don’t? I think, putting it into music terms, we put out one great album every year, though you’ll probably never see us with a number one billboard hit. In doing this, we create trust with our customers. They know that if a piece has our name on it, it’ll be quality. We’ll still be putting out great records ten years from now.

What’s your niche? We want to bridge the gap between fashion and function.


Jake Davis, less social presence than older bro Luke, but certainly no less enthusiasm above the lip.

Alex appreciates that “they’re not super flashy and poppy like a lot of other brands. They kind of just do their own thing based up in Washington, away from the surf industry, which creates a different kind of vibe from what you see in a lot of other surf brands.”

What’s IM’s specialty? Seven years ago we introduced the ‘tight & right’ boardshort featuring the first and only drawstring that goes all the way through a fixed waistband, making it the best fitting board short on the market. We’ve made improvements on this short every year and it’s still the best fitting short today.

The word “imperial” implies a takeover. Are you a planning global surf takeover? Yes…

Check out the brand’s site and full line, here.


Comments are a Stab Premium feature. Gotta join to talk shop.

Already a member? Sign In

Want to join? Sign Up


Most Recent

An Ode To Aussie Chick Pros From The Nineties 

A celebration of stoicism, resilience, grit, core lordship, and unconditional love.

Dec 3, 2022

Update: John John Flushes Everyone Down The Haleiwa Toilet Bowl

And the CT qualifications for 2023 are set.

Dec 3, 2022


Riaru Ito Is Cooler Than His Cucumber Garden

Meet our passion pick for the Vans Pipe Masters.

Dec 2, 2022

5 New Surfers Confirmed For The Vans Pipe Masters

Who's out, who's in?

Dec 2, 2022

Unlocked: Kael Walsh, Rolo Montes, And Al Cleland Jr In ‘Saturn’

Quik’s new 20-minute surf film is so good you’ll want to burn a DVD of…

Dec 2, 2022

How Surfers Get Paid, Episode 4

The energy drinks are here. They’ve got millions of dollars, and they want your head.

Dec 2, 2022

‘Saturn’ Orbits Into Southern California

Quiksilver's newest film made landfall in Encinitas, and we were there to document the occasion.

Dec 1, 2022

The Vans Triple Crown Of Surfing Returns In 2023

Can anyone beat John Florence and Carissa Moore in a three-week window?

Dec 1, 2022

What Will Airs Look Like In 10 Years?

The final installment of our editorial exploration into the nuances of airborne surfing.

Dec 1, 2022


Can A South African Cavern Queen With No Pipeline Experience Do Well At The Vans Pipe Masters?

Sophie Bell will have a steep learning curve in Hawaii.

Nov 30, 2022

After Years Of Tragic Shark Attacks, Surf Competition Returns To Reunion Island — And A CT Event Could Follow

"We compete at J-Bay and Margarets where there's the same problem." -Johanne Defay

Nov 30, 2022


Sharing Tubes And Hummus In The Middle East’s Surfing Jewel: Israel

No Contest does Tel Aviv!

Nov 29, 2022


Joao Chianca Wants A Pipeline Rematch With JJF

And ain't afraid to ride more foam to do it in the Vans Pipe Masters.

Nov 29, 2022

An Unorthodox Marriage Of Science And Surf

Cliff Kapono and The Mega Lab are changing stereotypes on all fronts.

Nov 28, 2022


Harry Bryant Dumps Crutches, Visualizes Pipeline Pits After Snapping Leg

“For once in my life, I’m taking something a bit more serious."

Nov 27, 2022

What If You Bought This Sumatran Surf Camp For $690k?

Making a blue print out of surfing's most recurring day dream.

Nov 27, 2022

Sierra Kerr On Greasing Full Rotes, Making Dad Cry & Her Concussion @ VSHPBME 

'I haven’t got my license yet, but I'm thinking of buying a little truck.'

Nov 27, 2022


“There Definitely Needs To Be More Girls That Try Airs”

Caity Simmers' thoughts on her Vans Pipe Masters debut.

Nov 26, 2022