Why Do So Many Surfers Wear Chains Now? - Stab Mag

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Ezekiel Lau (whose chain chat is found below). As Coco Ho said, "Hawaiians love gold". Look for Mr. Lau and his shiny friend on Tour next year. Photo: Quiksilver

Why Do So Many Surfers Wear Chains Now?

We asked, they explained.

style // Dec 6, 2012
Words by Christian Bowcutt
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Necklaces only became cool to me after I saw a Hawaiian kid half my age get shot out of an evil cylinder at Pipeline last winter.

The wave did that thing waves do where they hesitate a millisecond, spitting later than you predict. This put him in front of the plume as the wave erupted behind him, shooting columns of water up over his head and colliding with the sun above. Not unlike an action movie scene where the protagonist jumps from an explosion, never looking back. Through it all, a silver chain necklace danced up and down — shimmering. 

Oddly heroic. 

Tom Curren. Two types of celebratory, symbolic neckwear. Early 1980s. Photo: Encyclopedia of Surfing

But is it strange to talk about chains on Stab? 

Smells a little GQ-ey, I know. But since surfing’s fashion opportunities can be counted on one hand (Rubber leotard, swimsuit, watch, tattoos, and hair?) we’d be remiss not to cover chains, especially since we’ve been seeing so many in the water. 

So let’s have a little fun with it.

Where do we begin? 

The Lei — traditionally worn by Native Hawaiians to signify societal rank and royalty, as well as to honor friends and the Gods — has been placed on champions since the dawn of professional surfing. 

Not a Lei, but nonetheless regal. The “Duke” (Kahanamoku). A theme appeared as I conducted these interviews — it appears neckwear, including chains, is perhaps most common among Hawaiian surfers. Maybe this history has something to do with it. (I reached out to many Brazilian surfers as well, but did not hear back). Photo: Hawaii Magazine

Beyond that, necklaces have always sort of been there (looking at you and your puka shells, 2004 Julian Wilson). You can also spot shiny metal on surfers in films as early as Morning of the Earth. But the chain — a necklace of interwoven links, usually gold or silver, stitched together in a variety of different ways (Cuban Link, Box Chain, Cable Chain, etc.) — has never been as widespread in surfing as they are right now.

Why? Blame it on the mainstream.

Our metal subject appears at 0:09. A chain-filled excerpt from Quiksilver’s Saturn. Al said, “I wear a silver chain, nothing too special. I’ve always worn one, ever since my grom days. But I got my newest chain when I went to Australia for the first time after my heavy head injury in early 2020. I’ve just kept it on ever since.

From Hip hop to Soccer to Skate culture — (99.9% of skaters in Supreme’s latest movie, Play Dead, wear customized necklaces) chains are on trend. In music, a chain is traditionally purchased after acquiring a record deal, with a new diamond being placed in it after each subsequent achievement, like a Grammy.

This music influence drew Barron Mamiya in. “I listen to a lot of rap and hip-hop and a lot of artists have them, so I get a lot of influence from that. I have two chains — one is a beaded gold chain and the other is a rope gold chain.”

Aside from Barron, I reached out to a handful of other chain-wearing professional surfers to ask them why they choose to dangle metal from their necks.

Andy Irons, Team Gold. Circa 2001. Photo: Surfer Magazine

Aside from Barron, I reached out to a handful of other chain-wearing professional surfers to ask them why they choose to dangle metal from their necks. 

I found that, in some cases, it’s not just a “flex”. Many of these necklaces are micro-stories hidden in plain sight, waiting for a chance to be told. “The chain I always wear was actually my dad’s, who passed away when I was six years old. So I feel like he’s always with me when I’m wearing it,” said the polarizing Stab Highway star, Jacob Szekely.

But to be fair, a handful of surfers are also driven by cosmetic reasons — or even superstitions. Griffin Colapinto’s chain has a Tiger’s Eye crystal pendant on it. “The crystal is for attracting waves,” he told me with a laugh.

Bronson Meydi, who sides on the purely cosmetic chain-wearing tribe, battled his way into the Vans Stab High Presented By Monster Energy by winning the Trials. “I wear a silver chain. It’s a pretty small one but I like small chains personally so that I can surf or do anything with it. I got this chain two years ago and I’ve never taken it off. I go everywhere with it.” Photo: Bronson Meydi

Others, like Finn McGill (and Mason Ho, who we hear from below) wear it to placate their significant others. “To be honest, I have no clue where it’s from or what kind it is or anything. My girlfriend got it for me last year and I’m just too lazy to take it off.”

Fair enough. 

Here are the more loquacious, lore-filled answers that deserved their own sub-heading:

Tom Carroll:

The turtle became a strong symbol of resilience for me after getting smashed at Waimea Bay in 1986 while riding my first board from Dick Brewer. I finally surfaced after falling on the drop, only to come face to face with an ancient old green sea turtle smack in the middle of the impact zone, its head littered with crusty barnacles. He was staring me down.

I felt suddenly calmer… able to take whatever was coming to me. I never saw that turtle again. It left a mark on my memory bank and a sort of understanding around the turtle in Polynesian mythology — as well as their history at Waimea. Legendary Waimea surfer Rodger Ericsson (father of the charger, Emi) told me that there was an old turtle they affectionately named Eddie that only cruised the lineup on big days. I have a tattoo from Tahiti with the “Honu” story and I wear this silver, thick, snake-like chain encased with Tahitian black pearls to stay close to this memory.

“The Honu is considered a form of ‘aumakua, or ancestral spirit, offering lifelong protection, wisdom, and guidance.” Photo: Mark Tompson

Zeke Lau:

I wear a rope chain with a Hawaii Coat of Arms pendant — both 14k Gold. 

I got my first gold chain from my grandfather when I was a baby. Once I was old enough to wear it, I never took it off. But I lost it when I was 18 surfing Kewalo Basin. Then, when I qualified for the Tour for the first time I bought another one. Fast forward to three months ago and I was surfing the same spot and lost it again! So, present day, I’m unchained. [laughs]

After re-qualifying for the Tour at Haleiwa, it’s time for Zeke to buy some new bling. Photo: Quiksilver

Coco Ho:

Hawaiians love gold! I grew up seeing my mom and aunt at the beach just layered in gold necklaces. I think that’s why, from time to time, I’ll go huge and layer them. I grew up wearing a cross layered with a thin gold chain from my tutu (grandmother). It’s got the cross for protection, and it’s sentimental to me because my tutu gave it to me. 

Lately, Herringbone gold chains are the best to layer with. This summer, I paired it with a fun flowery beaded necklace. But my favorite necklace the past few years has been the “Aloha Always” necklace by Kate Pere. She’s from here on the North Shore and it’s by far the sickest pendant.

Coco Ho. E.A.S.T star and Hawaiian royalty.

Kui’o Young:

I’ve worn two chains for the past two years. The first is a loop link from Chrome Hearts with a dagger pendant. I got it as a gift to myself after surgery, when I folded my foot in half in 2020. It was a really tough time in my life cause I didn’t know if I was going to be able to surf again. I got the dagger as a reminder that life can cut you down, but you will survive [laughs].

The second chain is a rope chain. There is a silver ring looped on it. The ring was given to me by my ex-girlfriend, shortly before we broke up. There was a lot of inner turmoil going on and I was in a strange place. I’d go surfing to feel better, and in the moments before I’d throw myself over a ledge, I’d look down at the chains and think, ‘Fuck, there are way scarier things to go through in life than sending yourself over a ledge’ [laughs]. That small reminder makes it easier to push myself in the water.

Hawaiian charger and Stab employee Kui’o Young. Photo: Titus Haug

Jett Schilling:

Right now, I wear two thin gold chains. They were my grandmother’s, who recently passed away. So it’s a way to remember her. I also just like the way they look surfing, it adds a little extra flair. Plus a lot of my idols like Lebron and Michael Jordan and even Griffin [Colapinto] all wear them.

Jett Schilling. 2Chainzz. Photo: Vans

Mason Ho:

I’ve worn chains and pearl necklaces in the past. But recently I’ve just been wearing rings. I wore my chain when I was young because my mom got it for me and said I’d get good luck from it. I also liked it because I noticed that some of my favorite surfers wear them. But when I outgrew the chain, my dad got me a ring and I’ve rocked that ever since. I like to wear jewelry thinking maybe it has some good luck — and if my chick likes it I’m stoked [laughs]!

The Apple and the Tree. Frame grab: Riordan Pringle

The Verdict: 

The reasons why surfers wear chains appear to be as varied as the necklaces themselves. But here are the common denominators: Hawaiian heritage, family heirlooms, sporting/music idol worship, and a genetically ingrained desire to feel shiny

But the answer to why there are more chains now has to do with a larger phenomenon at play — professional surfers are interacting with mainstream athletes and celebrities more than ever before. Lewis Hamilton surfs Kelly’s tub and hangs with Gabriel Medina. Mick Fanning starred in a Disney+ show with Chris Hemsworth. Italo Ferreira and Kanoa Igarashi were both chosen as Men of the Year by GQ Brazil and GQ Japan, respectively. 

I’ll end this by conspiratorially musing — Stab received a leaked email from the WSL that announced this possible change for the 2023 season: “No wearing hats and holding bottle/cans with brands that are not sponsors of the WSL on the award podium”. I don’t see any wording regarding necklaces there. Could we see Italo with a gigantic, iced-out, Red Bull chain on the podium next year?

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