Since its start in 1978, Laguna Beach-based Gotcha evolved into one of the most influential surf brands of all time. In honor of our collection of throwback Gotcha pieces we take a look back at the brand’s legacy with an interview with brand founder Michael Tomson we've tracked down. The original occurred in an Urban Outfitters blog.
Can you share more about the history/legacy of Gotcha in the surf world?
Gotcha’s impact on the surf world and youth culture apparel was nothing short of profound. I think the main reason was we were doing everything new – it was all fresh, there was no history to be followed, no anniversary of styles, or no businesses that had to be attended to. We were just doing it as it came to us, naturally. We would try something – and sometimes we would fail but then we would try again and we would move ahead. It was an incredible experience and incredible to be a part of. Gotcha was just different – we were not afraid, we went for it and we made good on our promises.
Gotcha was significant in reintroducing longer, baggier surf shorts to the market in the early 80s: can you explain more about how this was different than the other styles at the time?
We were significant in introducing longer shorts. We were doing it first. I remember going in to see retailers and showing them the shorts and they never knew what to say. They didn’t know if we were being serious or not, but I would say, hey, this is going to happen. It was in such contrast to everything that was going on out there, because the whole world was wearing shorts, but they were wearing them at mid-thigh and these were coming down to the knee. So they looked weird for the time, but they were cool. I got the idea from us trying to do something goofy seeing these old guys golfing in Palm Springs – I bought some plaid pants from a thrift store and cut them off at the knee, and the idea was born. It was pure satire but it took off and turned into a movement in Southern California, changing the way shorts were made and worn.
What other pieces has the brand been best known for?
Gotcha introduced the first stretch board shorts with a group of styles called Utility – that was the first time stretch had ever been introduced. Another style would be the woven pullovers, which were in a sort of fleece silhouette, but were actually twill – and those were huge. Then striped knits and fleece, we were the first in that category. We were quite prolific in terms of innovation. The looks we were creating, which were based on color and bold graphics, starting showing up on runways in Milan, Tokyo, Paris … and then it transformed retail floors in the U.S. Suddenly all these department stores were putting in surf sections. It was an amazing time for the surf business, and Gotcha was creating looks that were adapted across borders and categories.
Which famous or notable surfers / individuals have worn Gotcha?
I don’t think that any brand in the history of surfing has had as many decorated athletes as we had. We had a really heavy surf team that was prestigious and very well respected. Martin Potter, Derek Ho and Mike Stewart were all world champions while they were riding for Gotcha.
What’s the story behind the name Gotcha ?
It’s a good story. My first trip to America was in my teens and I really never saw television before, and I saw this commercial for Gillette razors where the guy cuts himself and he says, “Gotcha.” And, I thought that was amazing because where I grew up, everything was really strict and straight-laced and you could never pervert a word and use it in a context of a commercial in that way – it would have been unheard of. That always stuck with me, and years later when I was thinking about a name for the company – it just came up “Gotcha.” And that’s it and that’s what we’ll call it. It took about 10 seconds.