Vans shoes collection highlights African surfing and culture

Bruce Brown’s 1966 classic, The Endless Summer, is perhaps the most iconic surf film of all-time, and is widely credited with turning South Africa’s Cape St. Francis into a global surf mecca. The film also gave many Westerners their first glimpse of wave riding in places like Ghana and Senegal. But since then, African surfing has been traditionally portrayed in surf media much the same way—as a destination for (mostly white) Western surfers to visit, and not a distinct culture of its own.

South African pro surfer Mikey February has been working for years to challenge and change that perception with film projects with Vans. For instance, his ongoing “Sonic Souvenirs” series features not only surfing and surfers in South Africa and Ivory Coast, but also local music and art to go with it. In 2020, February and his wife, Zelti, launched Juju Surf Club, a nonprofit aiming to bring awareness and support to existing and emerging African surf organizations and programs.

Now, Juju has launched a collection with Vans that includes shoes and apparel, taking its designs and mission to the global brand’s massive audience.

“We really wanted a capsule that people in Africa would be excited about and proud to wear,” says February. “The Africa patchwork on the high-tops, and the Africa on the back of the T-shirt, the African-inspired patterns on the board shorts. It’s really just trying to celebrate Juju and Vans coming together.”

Justin Villano, Vans’s senior manager of action sports marketing, says that supporting February—one of its brand ambassadors—and Juju’s mission was a no brainer. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but expanding surf culture is also good for business.

“It’s our responsibility. As the leader in action sports globally, we owe it to the culture to progress it, and progression means adding to the diversity,” says Villano. “When we look at the white space that exists in the surf industry, it’s in diversity. For us, we got that feedback from our athletes and we want to be that change, and do what we can to be a part of it.”

The brand has worked with February’s Juju before, with board drives to supply equipment to African surf programs, and using its content to tell their stories. Starting with the 2020 short film Can’t Steal Our Vibe, and continuing last April with a spotlight on Juju beneficiary Surf Ghana.

February’s goal for Juju Surf Club is to establish long-lasting relationships with organizations like Surf Ghana, and be a middleman between these organizations and brands, in order to provide consistent support. “We’re trying to really follow through on the support, and help it be sustainable and focus on that for the next few years,” says February. “I think that’s really important, not just dropping in with one push and then jumping out.”

These efforts join others in recent years that have gained momentum in expanding the boundaries of traditional surf culture, like African surf brand Mami Wata, including the amazing book Afro Surf. For Juju Surf Club, the new Vans collection is the latest project using brand collaboration as a megaphone. It’s had a special-edition towel with beach brand Slowtide, and just launched a limited-edition surfboard with Positive Vibe Warriors.

“There are some really amazing people from these countries and communities that are doing incredible work, and it’s exciting to see so many people want to be a part of it now,” says February. “It’s a very optimistic time for African surfing, and it’s exciting.”

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