Corduroy to the Horizon

In liquid, poetic surfer speak, “corduroy to the horizon” is how amped up wave riders describe even bands of ocean energy, marching from over the horizon toward shore—big swells heading for reefs where they will break with thunderous energy.

In technical terms, corduroy comes from the French corde du roi—cord of the king. Corduroy is a manufactured textile similar to twill or velvet in which twisted fibers are woven into the base fabric to form vertical ridges called wales. The wales are built so that clear lines can be seen when they are cut into pile. They lie parallel to one another to form “cords.”

Wet or dry, for surfers and landlubbers, corduroy is a durable cloth used for pants, jackets and shirts. During the 1950s, M.Nii had rolls of corduroy fabric alongside palaka-cotton and all those rolls of striping and ribbon. Corduroy wasn’t really functional in the surf, but surfers had other needs.

Bruce Brown is a pioneering surf movie maker responsible for The Endless Summer in 1963. During the 1950s, he took trips to Hawaii as a Navy submariner, a surfer and surf movie maker. Brown would visit M.Nii for a variety of needs: “M.Nii and his wife were great people. I have a vivid memory of him hopping around on one leg with one crutch while taking measurements. “I ordered a suit (not trunks) from M.Nii. He made it out of corduroy! It could stand up by itself! He put in shoulder pads that looked like I had a 2×4 in there. I think I might have got married in it. If you sat down in it, it would try and spring you back to your feet.”

Surfers of the 1950s wore corduroy for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs and luaus, but the best occasion was standing high in the desert, volcanic hills overlooking Makaha—looking out to sea, hoping to see corduroy to the horizon: winter swells bringing giant surf to Makaha.