In 1954, Nancy and Walter Katin opened a small boat cover business called Kanvas by Katin in Surfside, California, just north of Huntington Beach. Walter, a tenaciously friendly man, both short and robust, always donned an iconic ensemble of a powder-blue jumpsuits zipped up to the neck with a captain’s hat. Earning the nickname the “Captain,” for both his style and passion for sailing his boat “The Southern Seas,” proudly took on the title of craftsman within the business. Walter’s wife, Nancy, standing less than five feet tall, yet possessing a personality far greater than her stature and had a mind brighter than her crimson hair, was the salesperson.
Walter and Nancy’s canvas boat covers were practically bulletproof, using hundred-pound-test, waxed-nylon thread and nickel grommets. Locals soon took note of these sturdy canvas covers and sought alternate uses for the canvas.
After special requests from a select few friends, the “Captain” constructed a couple custom boat shorts. Although impressed with the short’s design, Walter chose to continue his focus on the canvas boat covers. However, a couple years later, things were about to quickly change for the Katins when a local teen, a “wave rider” as surfers were originally called, walked into the Katin’s shop asking for a new kind of short, made specifically for surfing, using the same indestructible canvas as covers. The young surfer explained his struggles with surfing in cut off jeans, and how he found that the denim threads would unravel quickly, leaving him nearly nude when exiting the water. This determined teenager’s name was Corky Carroll, who unbeknownst to Walter, would go on to be one of the world’s first professional surfers, and the custom surf trunks Walter made for Corky would become one of California’s first surf trunks.
After Walter’s canvas surf trunk creation for Corky, word spread like wildfire throughout the watermen world, and soon, Walter’s shop flooded with young surfers seeking their own pair of canvas trunks. In true Walter fashion, he personally measured and tailored each pair of custom surf trunks for every surfer. Overwhelmed with hopeful wave riders pleading for a pair of trunks, Walter sought the help of a local skillful seamstress, who, is still the shop seamstress today.
The sport of surfing reached mainstream popularity in the mid-1960s with the help of the film and television show Gidget and the music of the Beach Boys. The Katins were firmly entrenched in the surfing community and known for creating the best surf trunks around.
Champion surfers of the time, Shaun Tomson, Peter Townend, Reno Abelliro and Gerry Lopez, to name a few, wore Katin surf trunks, purely out of passion and deeply rooted respect for these impressive trunks, and love for their creators, Walter and Nancy. Even notorious surfer Eddie Aikau was photographed wearing Katin surf trunks.
Passionate about all things surf, the Katin couple helped sponsor early California surf contests and organizations, including the "Katin Underdog Contest" for competitors who had never won a contest. When Walter passed away in 1967, Nancy not only kept the surf shop business intact, but she also expanded her involvement in the surf world by providing surfing scholarships. She even went on to start the Katin Pro/Am Team Challenge in 1977. The annual Pro/Am held at the Huntington Beach Pier not only featured some of the world’s best surfers, but also provided an arena for the young, talented surfers from beaches all across the U.S. to compete alongside their heroes.
By the early 1980s, the surf industry had officially skyrocketed, and many manufactures were quick to take advantage of the trend, aggressively attacking the market with advertising and worldwide surf promotional blitzes. Though there were many offers made to Nancy to sell her business, she was determined to keep Katin a cherished surf haven for all. Nancy continued to make the surf trunks in the back room of the Surfside Kanvas by Katin store, selling them up front and relying on the existing loyal network of surf shops for additional distribution.
Over time, Nancy became known as the “First Lady of Surfing,” not only because of her quality clothing, but also because she genuinely befriended the surfers that came to her shop, and even acted as second mom to most. Despite the initial local dislike for the sport of surfing, Nancy always made sure that Katin’s small surf shop had a counter, with a couch and chairs, for any and all surfers to kick back, relax and swap stories.
Sadly, in 1986 Nancy passed away, leaving the surf industry and all of the Katin-wearing surfers with a heavy heart. However, when Nancy passed, she left the company to Sato Hughes, her loyal seamstress since 1961, who is still sewing strong today at that very same Kanvas by Katin surf shop at Sunset Beach.
Sato and her son Glenn have since continued to run the original surf shop with the same love, dedication and care as Nancy and Walter, sewing custom surf trunks with the same quality, durability and good looks since 1954.