Neil Dorward started Lifestyle Surf & Skate shop downtown in Peel Street (just off Govan Mbeki) back in 1976. Borrowing R500 bucks from his dad to do it. The only other “surf shop” around at that stage was Sandy’s; which might have been called “The Surf Shop” actually. It had moved from town into the Elizabeth Hotel by that stage and Neil felt there was a gap in the market for a hard-core surf shop so he decided to open his own.
He’d met Tich Paul (owner of Lifestyle surf shop in Muizies) at SA Champs a bunch of times, so when he started out he partnered with Tich as a shareholder/advisor, so that’s where the Lifestyle name actually came from. The original Lifestyle in Cape Town is still going strong.
Neil was good mates with Cheron, so got some of her Country Feeling good’s on consignment for his new shop, buying shell shirts, cord shorts and boardies for about R5.50 a pop, and selling them for R10.50! Lifestyle was Cheron’s and Country Feeling's first retail outlet.
They stocked boards by Larry Levine and Kenny Freeland (Faith), wetsuits from Reef and Zero, those were the pre-leash days, so none of that yet. Mike Larmont (Ripcurl) and Andy Thysman (JBay Ugg boots) were also early suppliers. Plenty of skateboards in stock, with sales helped by Turtle Morris and Dennis de Silva starting a local skateboard club.
After about 3 years Neil moved to 10 Main Street – opposite City Hall. Greg Smith recalls the early days "I started working at the only REAL surf shop in town, Lifestyle, when it was still in Main Str, and the smell of resin filled the air, as we used to fix boards in the cellar below the shop. Lefty was manager then, he would "charf" the meter-maids who would regularly pop in for a chat."
Steven Adshade (aka Chappy) was still a lightie and used to come hang around after school and his first job was to empty the bins! He used to catch the bus home from Grey School and had to connect to the Bluewater Bay one in town, so Lifestyle was en-route home.
Chappy takes up the story:
“I flunked most subjects in my first year at UPE in 1983. I clearly remember Supers being pretty good that season, or was it The Point?! I was on a “You pass, I pay” scholarship from my dad that first year so needed to find a job. I’d started hanging out at Lifestyle whilst still at school, emptying the dustbin until they felt obliged to offer me a part time job!
Neil Dorward owned the store and Tanya Weschta (Karl’s sister) was the manager. Wayne Emslie, Gavin Macaulay, Grant Myrdal and a few other skollies also use to work there. Trevor Hansen took over from Tanya as manager a little while later. We used to close up shop at 5, drive though to Jbay, surf til dark, then sleep in the car or any empty house we could find. Would wake up for the dawnie and then get back to the store to open at 9. Repeat until the swell dropped. Life in surf retail was pretty easy back then!
Ant Voster was the rep for Instinct, old man Kemp was the Bear rep.
I didn’t do much better at my 2nd attempt at UPE so went to Kimberley to become an officer and fight the good fight. Luckily managed to get relocated to EP Command in my 2nd year of National Service and also finally finished my accounting degree.”
Neil opened Beachbreak Surf & Sail in 1981, on the corner of Rink Street and Robson in Central (it’s a Nigerian café these days!) He had secured the agency in SA for the original windsurfer, so Beachbreak was a core windsurfing shop, also focusing on outdoor stuff. Vincent Davis, ex 'Summies Ironman and big wave charger, used to run the store. The shots below are of his 21st. Check out the surf fashion!
“Windsurfing had just started and then and every farmer and his dog wanted one so we made hay! Instinct, Gotcha, Bear were the 3 big brands, we could never get enough stock of the Instinct reversible jacket. Dayglo was cool, twin fins ruled until Simon Anderson arrived on the scene. Lippy was the main board supplier from Jbay, with his Seaflight brand, followed later by Local Motion, Glen D’Arcy, Wedge, Country Rhythm and Safari” said Chappy.
Suntrax, another windsurfing/Hobie Cat shop run by Brian Wilson, was also in Rink Street over the road from Beachbreak, so it was shopper’s dream walking up and down the strip hustling for deals.
Ocean’s moved from their Kine Park possie across the road to the corner of Rink Street and Park Drive in about ‘86, and Chappy joined Neil full time and opened the new Lifestyle in Kine Park. Carl Van Vuuren (Arno Lane’s brother) and Greg Smith (Tall Greg) used to run the store. Hagen Engler remembers working there for R2 an hour, and was saving his hard earned cash like a beast cos he wanted to go on a surf trip overseas!
Th ou's reckoned that Lifestyle had one of the biggest selection of sunglasses in town. Cool Rays were in, and Vuarnet was King. Smiler Smith chips in "And Espadrilles! Those funky Spanish slippers. Kept on marking them down but if I sold one pair it was cause for celebration....They were truly hideous! And Neil had bought tons of them."
Hagen recalls "Still remember when grass fedora hats first became fashionable, but they were impossible to get. I saw entrepreneurship at work. Turns out fedoras are actually quite similar to farmer's hats. Chappy sent us down to the farmers co-op in North End to buy all their stock of farmers hats. By the time they arrived back at Lifestyle, they were fedoras and they were all sold out in, like, a day!"
Oceans, which was now over the road had the Erasmus twins (Leofwin and Justin) as the main guys there, with Mrs B as kingpin. Chappy reckoned it was total warfare between the two shops! Arno Lane remembers at one stage Nick Pike, who was managing Lifestyle in town, thought ou’s weren’t taking him seriously enough, and started coming to work in a suit!
Neil and Chappy then decided to 'move west' and opened BeachStyle in the original Greenacres (between where Clicks and Edgars are today); which they thought at the time was a huge risk. Chappy remembers calling Neil one evening after a busy day saying “We could have sold second-hand underpants!” The rails were bare and they were scratching for stock before Christmas.
Lumo was in. Gotcha, Bear and Instinct were the big labels. The reversible Instinct jackets sold like hot cakes. Shaun Tomson boards were in the racks. Country Feeling was growing, and the surf market was firing.
Rink Street was slowing down and Neil had spotted a building in Russel Rd that he thought was a good buy, so after renovating it the guys closed BeachBreak in Rink St and moved it to the Russel Rd premises, whilst still keeping Lifestyle in Kine Park. The new shop stocked surf gear, but was also became the first mountain bike shop in Africa. Legend Turtle Morris came on board to run the surf side of the shop for many years.
The windsurfing industry had crashed in the early 80's, mainly due to the rigs becoming too expensive. Following this, a lot of the windsurfers went over from sailing to triathlon, which was just coming into its own as a sport. Beachbreak started up a division selling triathlon wetsuits and time-trial bikes. Gavin Vos, a keen surfer, was working at Beachbreak at the time and headed up the bike department.
In 1989 Chappy and Neil went over to the States on a fact-finding mission looking for new product opportunities. Mountain biking was big over there, although Neil remembers at the time thinking “Why would you want to ride in the bush?” Neil bought an 18-speed ‘fat tire’ off-road bicycle that he saw on display at a booth at a surf retail show whilst over there. He thought, "Hey, cool, a big BMX bike with gears!" Not realising mountain biking would become what it is today.
They brought it back to South Africa and gave it to Gavin to ride to work at Beachbreak every day. There was so much interest from people that they decided to start importing Wheeler and Cats mountain bikes. Despite things not taking off with a bang (their first few bikes sat on the shop floor for months before getting sold) a lot of the guys that were surfing began riding mountain bikes when there was no surf – and that's how it grew. Probably helped by the fact that there’s often “no surf” in PE!
And that’s how the first South African mountain bike company got started. Gavin came on board as a partner, and together with Neil and Chappy grew what was a surf shop into Beachbreak Pro MTB & Adventure Centre . They also started up the first MTB club called Fat Tracks, which is still going today. Together with fellow bikers Robbie Powell and Brandon Els, they started the 'Beachbreak Summer Series' MTB events which then led to the first national event called the Sedgefield Fat Tire Festival.
Never one’s to sit still, Neil and Chappy moved Radical Sports from Greenacres to the Bridge a few years later and also opened Eyeswise, a sunglasses boutique, upstairs at The Bridge. Oceans had by then also moved into in the mall and it was Round Two of the surf shops wars.
The glory days of surf retail started to fade as the big chain stores muscled in on the surf industry. After many successful years together, the guys all moved on to doing their own things. Neil left retail and went into importing and wholesaling Schwinn bikes, Chappy took up the opportunity to head up Oakley Africa and Gavin ended up in Taiwan where he now owns a premier bike components manufacturer called Spank (he'd gone to the Taiwan Bike Show with Neil and whilst there was offered a job with Wheeler, and never came home!)
No-one will ever forget the hey-day of Rink Street surf shops. Ou’s hustling for the best deals cos competition was rife. When you could cruise the strip collecting surf stickers. The Catchit one’s were my best. Made a lekker cover for my geometry-box-turned-pencil-case.
Lumo was in. Life was good. Surfing ruled. And still does.
Thanks to Neil and Chappy for their input. All the shots and clipping are from their albums.