Pukas // The True Story
The 70s had just started. Iñigo Letamendia (San Sebastian, Basque Country, Spain), Raúl Dourdil (Bakio, Basque Country Spain), Merodio and Carlos Beraza (Cantabria, Spain)… long hairs, shirts, music… surf fashion… they are: “Tanganazo Boys”. Surfing, the waves, the girls, the beach, they like them all, the world is there for them to devour it and the jackets and ties are banned… Life is tough and they need to make a living, but the living they wanted: beach life. As surfers, making surfboards is their biggest aspiration. In Casa Lola, Santander, the first legit surfboard factory is born and the boards are called “Tablas de surf Santa Marina”. This is the beginning and settles the core values of Pukas.
Mid 70’s. Surfers from all around Spain know each other (there might be around 100-200 of them). Iñigo Letamendia gives birth to a surfboard brand by the name of Jeronimo Surfboards partnering with a californian friend called Jay Schodrowski. The man in charge of the art is Txema Elexpuru. Cantabrian Gonzalo Campa “Zalo” enters the game by 1977 and they switch the name to Geronimo Surfboards with “G”. Could have been for “guay” (meaning “cool” in spanish), or because of Gonzalo, you choose it.
They also open a surfshop in Zarautz by 1977. The second ever in Spain. A man known by the name of Hilario from Madrid had opened the first one at that exact same local a year before. The two parties associated share the tasks; Iñigo and Marian on one side and Zalo and Laura on the other. While Iñigo and Marian run the shop through a two-week period, Zalo and Laura take care of Casa Lola. Following that patern, they switch responsabilities every 15 days. In the end, cantabrians settle in Casa Lola (Cantabria), and the basque couple settle in Zarautz (Basque Country).
In 1979 Miguel Azpiroz joined the movement. He is Marian’s younger brother, alias “Pajarua”, and left the tough occupation of anguilla fisher and became a key player on the improvement of the brand they called Pukas (which literally means “hole” in hawaian, not in basque). A new shop is opened in San Sebastian (at Ramón Maria de Lili Street), in front of the infamous Maria Cristina Hotel. A surfboard is put as a sign and it only lasts two days. A surfer without means probably had a blast on it.
During this years the making of surfboards was always a part of the business. Garages, houses, industrial premises, any place was good to have a factory and build surfboards for summer.
New people and new ideas and fresh energy is constantly added to the team. Carmen Irizar is a “etxeko andre” (in basque, way more than a woman of her house) that define Pukas, or maybe the Basque Country, in the early 80’s. The presence of dynamic and active women improve the shops and give the team a stronger approach. Others like Gabi Ugarte “profesor Tornasol”, playboy, fan to topics as diverse as photography and canaries are the “alma mater” of beach chaos. Shortly after Gabi leaved us carried by an incurable disease. He whispered to his closest friends: “What annoys me is that you stay.” Hold on Gabi, sooner or later we will get there!
Surf contests are organized more often like those held in Bakio, organized by Club Kiroleta, or the one in Zarautz by “Nito” Biescas. Perico Sanchez de Albornoz, former president of the surfing association (1st ever), who passed away after an unfortunate accident at sea, gave a great push to our surf scene and made the crew fly and enter into international events (UK, Ireland…). What we saw abroad inspired us to launch our own event with a clear goal: getting everyone together.
In 1978, after a bunch of Gin-tonics at Bar Moto Club, next to the Pukas shop, the crew at Pukas, Javi (Bar Tanit) and a bunch of friends venture to organize a contest “hell yeah!”. First prize a trip to Bali, raucous surprises for the finalists and a thousand more stuff; the unseen! Fortunatelly the winner is Iñigo Letamendia and the battered economy of the contest does not have to assume the expense. “Everything stays home this time!”. Since then Iñigo (co-founder of Pukas) has had time to recover through its surf safaris around the world. Years went by and every new edition of the Pukas contests grew in importance. It became the state’s most outstanding event and everyone wanted to be part of it. Prizes and charisma spoke by themselves. The PUKAS events, as history has demonstrated, were more than mere contests.
A few years later the crew opened a new shop at the old part of the city in San Sebastian, and a new one in Zarautz. Surf fashion, lots of work and creativity are the determining factors to become the main surf shops in the country. With the flow at its highest, Pukas, in collaboration with Rip Curl, organized the first professional surfing contest in Spain. It was 1988. The world’s top professionals gathered at Zarautz (not too many athletes, but lots of pro surfers at that time, if you understand what we mean). PUKAS is the only surf shop and surfboard factory in the world to host an event of this kind. PUKAS is also the embryo of other emerging ideas and companies; fruit of which OLATU was born. With the time, Olatu would become Europe’s leading surfboard factory, licensed to manufacture and distribute the best international brands in Europe.
Olatu (Oiartzun, Guipuzcoa) becomes a major platform for a bunch of the world’s best shapers: Ron Roush (Local Motion) shaped for former World Champs; Ronnie Woodword, an aussie making a living in Hawai; Brian Ingham, shaper for Town&Country Australia, etc. But the list kept growing; Pascual Brothers, a raw hawaian breed, multifaceted geniuses who played music, draw, painted and drove jetskis at ease.
All the local crew working at the factory had proven experience. Just to name a few: Eduardo Etxeberria, alias “Zips” or the popular Juan Carlos Gutierrez, alias “Guti”, a very complete surfer and a better craftsman with polyester. Surfboards at the factory were sold by hundreds and they took a solid reputation. Pukas was home to surfers and working with surfboards became encouraging and transmitted a feeling of pride to the entire team. Over the years the list grew with shapers like DHD, Pat Rawson, LSD, Gunther Rohn, Matt Biolos, Peter Daniels, Chilli, Tokoro, Mikel Agote, Johnny Cabianca, Axel Lorentz and an endless list of sanders, glassers and profiles of all kinds, from geniuses to crazy geniuses, all of them from different nationalities. Hard to understand what was going on if you didn’t speak english.
But it wasn’t just about surfers supporting the brand. Deep in the Basque Country, in Aginaga, Boni and her sister sew with expertise what Marian Azpiroz and her crew decided to produce. The bikinis coming out of this hidden factory overlooking the river Oria were custom tailored (still today), and “Taller Txiki” (meaning Small Factory in basque) it’s a secret that keeps Pukas unique and key for its success. Pukas is “surfboards & bikinis”.
The design, that untouchable magic, was a factor that distinguished the brand: forms, colors shapes or any other kind of customizable parameter were not left untouched. It was our way to communicate. Incredible artists like Daniel Holguin “Chapuccetti”, an in-house collaborator whose Pukas Pro posters and board-paintings and logo creations set an era. Impressive photographer and artist Jose Maria Zabala, whose pictures captured the unseen of the crazines that came along the 80s and 90s. Zabala also contributed to the realization (together with Trank Pascual) of two of the most memorable Pukas Pro posters on two of its best editions.
And PUKAS is, above all, a great family creating and working. Surfboards and Bikinis. The team environment, based on mutual need, was forged from their deepest origins: when a couple of families encouraged a truly inspiring way to live. It has always been about the family and their friends, people who don’t want not to feel awesomeness in a good day of surf and enjoy it as if it was the first. PUKAS is SURF.
As published in the 1989 Pukas Pro Magazine
“The True Story” is an article that was published at the official Magazine of the 1989 Pukas Pro contest. It was part of the editorial content and tried to show the crowd what Pukas was all about. More than 20 years later, those words reflect where Pukas is coming from, but more important still; it reflects the soul of the company today. This is exactly how it was published.