A serious spring clean of the garage unearthed some long forgotten wetties, including my first surfing wetsuit, a Frontline 4/3, bought waaay back in the day at the surf shop opposite Ster Kinekor in the Bridge. The shop has long gone, but the wettie was still in good nick over 20 years later. Which got me thinking; they made stuff to last back in the day. After posting a shot of the old wettie on social media it seemed like plenty of peeps had fond memories of their Frontline suits – with some still being in use today. So decided to track down the man behind the epic wetties of yesteryear. Say howzit to Gary Cosh…
Gary, when did you start Frontline, and what made you decide to start making wetties?
It all started back in 1987. I moved to SA in ‘85 and still had a surf shop in the UK and thought the wetsuits in SA weren’t as good as those in the UK. So I started Frontline, together with Lisle Coney of Country Rhythm Surfboards, in Margate.
How did the name Frontline come about?
Originally we were going to manufacture a brand under license but decided to start our own brand. A few friends from Country Rhythm were having a coffee break and someone mentioned it should be a name loosely related to surfing and said how about Backline and at that moment, on the radio, "Frontline states" were mentioned and we all looked at each other and said that’s it!
Did you have any background in wettie manufacture or was it a case of live & learn?
I knew what I wanted from a wetsuit. Having surfed in the Atlantic and North Sea I knew what was needed, especially for Cape Town, so I did some research and took it from there. When we started I didn’t know the difference between a washing machine and a sewing machine but we were keen and over a reasonable short period of time we started improving what we had started with.
The surfing market started taking notice both here and overseas (Europe and USA), so a reasonable export market opened up for us. Lisle wanted to concentrate more on Country Rhythm early on, so we parted ways but still had a good relationship and many of the surfers we sponsored used both of our products.
In the mid 90’s the exports started to grow and Ray Wulff, my factory landlord and buddy, joined me and we did well and had great fun. The business got us to the beaches of Europe and the States each year. Lots of travelling and hard work, but well worth it and managed to surf some great breaks.
We had an offer on the business in 2000 which we initially declined, but when Shazzzzzzzzzz (one of our key staff members) decided to leave we reconsidered and decided to call it a day - and sold the business.
Miss it often, and have very fond memories, but I think with the onslaught of cheap manufacturing in the East we timed our exit perfectly, more by accident than good judgement! We made lots of buddies around the world and have only good memories and no regrets.
Nope. But still got me boards and a few suits and who knows, when my son comes back over from the UK for a visit I am sure he will drag me back in the water.
Thanks to Zigzag for kindly supplying the print ads. Gary's hard drive died so he lost all his shots from back then, although did manage to snap a shot of an old ad in the Zag (the "Dream on" one )