Native Intelligence: O‘ahu

Dry Style

Story by Catharine Lo Griffin. Photos by Amber Mozo.

When Kyle Spencer was a senior at Baldwin High School, a graphic designer gave a job talk to his ceramics class. Motivated by the possibility of a career he might actually enjoy, Spencer applied to the Art Institute of California, a decision that landed him in Orange County, home to the action sports industry’s biggest brands. It was an ideal fit for the Maui surfer, who then spent the next ten years channeling his Island lifestyle into his work as a professional designer for Hurley and DC Shoes.

Along the way, he met his future wife Alana, a former competitive surfer from the North Shore of O‘ahu, who was interning at O’Neill. Alana—fresh from studying fashion merchandising—observed that the towels produced by surf companies were “crusty” and unimaginative. “I go to the beach with my favorite board and my favorite bikini. My sunglasses say, ‘This is me, this is my style,’ yet I’m still carrying the towel I got out of my grandma’s closet,” she points out.

Spencer immediately recognized the genius of it: Every lifestyle brand product makes a fashion statement—why not towels? He pulled his childhood friend and Billabong designer Wylie Von Tempsky and former Quiksilver marketing director Dario Phillips into the fold, and in 2015 the trio produced Slowtide’s first run of designer towels—portable art that complemented their surfing lifestyle.

The series features designs like “Marin,” a colorful pattern of lapping swells by San Francisco sign maker Jeff Canham, and “Waimea,” a bird’s-eye view of the storied big-wave spot by O‘ahu photographer Brandon “Laserwolf” Campbell. These art collaborations have been a hit, and Slowtide has since expanded “the art of drying off” to include round shapes, changing ponchos and blankets.