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Lightning Bolt Surfboards


Surfboard and surf accessories company founded in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1970, by Gerry Lopez and Jack Shipley, and turned into an industry powerhouse with the help of California surfwear executive Duke Boyd. Lopez and Shipley were both working at a Honolulu shop called Surf Line Hawaii in early 1970; the 21-year-old Lopez was on the cusp of becoming the universally acknowledged master at Pipeline, and had been shaping surfboards since 1968; Shipley was an ace Surf Line Hawaii salesman and a surf competition judge. They joined up and bought the old Hobie Surfboards outlet on nearby Kapiolani Boulevard in the summer of 1970. Lopez had been using a colored lightning bolt emblem on his boards since 1969, and since the dark-haired goofyfooter was going to be the new company's one and only marketing tool, they named the new shop Lightning Bolt Surfboards. (Hansen Surfboards in California had introduced a short-lived Lopez-designed Lightning Bolt model in early 1970.)

Bolt quickly became a kind of showroom/co-op for many of the best Hawaiian shapers, including Bill Barnfield, Tom Parrish, Reno Abellira, Barry Kanaiaupuni, Tom Nellis, and Tom Eberly, all of whom worked out of their own houses (Bolt had no factory of its own) and brought their finished boards to the Bolt retail store, each one trimmed with the distinctive lightning bolt logo on the deck. A second Bolt outlet opened on Maui in 1972. 

Shipley also began distributing free Bolts to nearly all the top surfers who visited the North Shore each winter to compete in the pro contests, which meant the Bolt logo was endlessly featured on magazine covers, and in surf movies. The overwhelming majority of the world's best surfers rode Bolt surfboards from 1973 to 1978 while in Hawaii, including world champions Mark Richards, Wayne Bartholomew, Shaun Tomson, and Margo Oberg, and ace North Shore riders like Jeff Hakman and Rory Russell. Bolt board sales never went above 2,500 units a year (mainly in Hawaii), but no label before or since has dominated the surf media the way Bolt did in the mid-'70s. By 1975, the Bolt logo had been copied by so many boardmakers around the world that the company took out a full-page ad in Surfer magazine asking that manufacturers "create their own symbols, and not use ours." (Bolt boards were even used to political ends during the tension-filled North Shore winter of 1976–77, when Hawaiian surfers, upset at the way visiting Australians had crowed after winning the big competitions the previous year, demanded that Bolt no longer distribute free boards to visiting pros.)

Former Hang Ten surfwear magnate Duke Boyd had by that time come in as the controlling partner of what was now called the Lightning Bolt Corporation, and the company branched out into surfwear, surf wax, leashes, backpacks, wallets, skateboards, bodyboards, towels, even jewelry. ("We came out with some really shitty stuff," Lopez later acknowledged.) Friction between company heads caused Lopez to sell his share of Bolt in 1980; Shipley stayed on longer, but Bolt was soon viewed by most surfers as bloated and out-of-touch. Bolt products continued to sell well overseas, particularly in Japan and Europe. As of 2014, Lightning Bolt USA was headquartered in Venice Beach, California.