Interview with Surfa Sam

Joe connected with Nick to delve deeper into the intriguing story behind Surfa Sam.

Surfa Sam holds the distinction of being Australia's oldest skateboard manufacturing company, crafting traditional hand-shaped "Sidewalk Surfers" since 1963. The brainchild of Dr. Leo Kalokerinos, a 29-year-old medical student from Rose Bay, Sydney, the company was born when he observed a friend's son riding a makeshift skateboard fashioned from a plank of wood with a roller-skate nailed to the bottom. Driven by this inspiration, Leo transformed his parents' modest family home into Australia's inaugural skateboard company. For two decades, Leo navigated the delicate balance between his medical practice and Surfa Sam. However, as his professional career took precedence, the factory had to cease operations in the early 1980s, having successfully sold over 250,000 skateboards during its initial stint.

We’re so excited to be stocking Surfa Sam at Urahara, I’m curious to know more about Surfa Sam and how things came to be?

It actually all started when I was in London. I've always loved hunting for vintage skateboards, clothing, and antiques. Years ago, I kept seeing these skateboards on eBay in Australia, and I don't know why but I just kept seeing them pop up. Being a designer, the logo on the boards really caught my attention. I just saw that little smily character, and thought he was so cool! He reminded me of Rick Griffins Murph character that was created around the same time. The more I saw the boards and the more I learnt from other collectors, I realised it was Australia’s first skate company. I found myself doing more and more digging and then tracked down the original owner Leo through the phone book. We ended up chatting a number of times, and then no shit, realised he lived 5 minutes from where I was moving to... I’m actually looking at his building right now as we speak. So when I ended up moving back to Australia from London, I met up with Leo and told him my plan and it all started from there, and we now catch up regularly.

Surfa Sam 24" Classic solid Tasmanian oak Skateboard. Shown here in Blue, Natural & Red.

That’s crazy, what was his reaction to that?

It’s funny because it was so long ago for him so to be honest, he was a bit confused. He's like, this was a thing from so long ago, why do you care about this? But I think as time went on and we dug into stuff a bit more, I'd show him press articles from this magazine in the US, and you know, he really liked that because for me it was about keeping his legacy alive and telling his story to a new audience. I could have just left his name out of it, and just brought back Surfa Sam. But I very much wanted to tell his story as its an important piece of Australian skate and surf history that had somewhat been forgotten about. It’s similar to other brands, like Vans, with the Van Doren family. It's still a big part of their history, as our heritage is to ours.


Fully. It’s in our DNA as well, I’d say the vast majority of our customers not only care about the products they’re buying, the quality of the product, but the story of it as well.

How many people are buying the boards to use? They're such beautiful objects in their own right that they almost stand alone as a design piece.

That’s the thing. It's not only a skateboard, but it’s a really beautiful object as well. I wanted to make something that people would cherish and take care of unlike other skateboards most people own. It’s a skateboard which was built to be used, and does get used as such, but then it also crosses over into that nice, beautiful design object.


We’re glad you’ve not stopped making them! How many original boards do you think are still out there, lurking in a loft somewhere? Do you have a good collection of originals?

Funny story, a guy in NSW contacted me saying he's got a bunch of old Surfa Sam’s. He found them under a house, like a deceased estate or something, as he was doing the demo on the house.

No way!

After getting the address of the house, it turned out to be the next suburb over from where the original factory was. They weren't complete boards, just the deck, and some of them had never been drilled for the trucks either, so it makes me think they might have come from someone that worked at the factory back in the day or when the factory closed down they just took a bunch. So I've got a bunch of those which are cool as well of some very rare early variations that were made from water ski off cuts that were supplied by world renowned water skiing legend Fred Williams. For now, I’m just after the super rare ones, like ones that I know staff members made small batches of experimenting with different colour combinations. I've got this idea that one day, a little pipe dream I guess, but I would like to display the collection somewhere and do an exhibition.


We’d love to see that! Speaking of collectors, I was looking through your Instagram, and I saw Steve Caballero's not only got an original, but he’s also got one of the new boards too. That must be a good feeling?

Yeah, it's crazy. A lot of the collectors in the US have them, you know. I think a lot of it comes down to how good the artwork is too, they’re instantly recognisable as a Surfa Sam board. I get people in their 50s and 60s or even 70s emailing me saying, here's a photo of my board that I got for Christmas back in 1962! I think because of that chubby little character, they connected with it. It's like this core childhood memory that really means something to them after all these years. For people to hang on to a skateboard their whole life, and they probably only skated for a very short period of that time, is amazing.

It’s so great you’re not only preserving the history and integrity of the brand, but you’re pushing things forward too. What’s happening next for Surfa Sam?

I'm going to Tokyo and then I'm going to Yokohama, I'm doing a little pop up at Mooneyes, which is amazing as the owner Shige Suganuma is a big fan of Surfa Sam. Every year they do a massive car and motorcycle show, so they invited me to have a booth as part of their international guests. Then over the next few months there’s plans for some collaborations with different brands and artist that are in the pipeline, plus a few more exciting things so watch this space...

Shop the Surfa Sam collection below