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Jim Jenks Remembered for Catching a Wave of Surfwear Success With Ocean Pacific

By Deborah Belgum,


Who could forget those corduroy shorts with the OP label on the front? Wearing them made you feel you were truly California dreamin’ about the sun, sand and surf, even if you lived in Chicago.

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The man behind those shorts, Jim Jenks, passed away in San Diego on March 19. He was 83. The cause of death was a form of lung cancer, his family said.

Jenks had a long history with the surf world. When he arrived on the scene, surfwear was mostly men’s board shorts and wetsuits and maybe a Hawaiian shirt here and there.

But he decided to develop a short that could be worn by surfers and nonsurfers alike. At first, they were nylon trunks with a scalloped edged. But he soon was onto something more explosive — mid wale corduroy shorts. The design quickly took off, especially when an elastic waistband was incorporated.

“He hit the nail on the head,” said Bob McKnight , cofounder and former chairman and chief executive officer of Quiksilver, which originated in Australia in 1969 before moving its headquarters to Huntington Beach, California, and changing its corporate name to Boardriders Inc. “He was a part of that early-stage generation of apparel makers who developed a surf look with his own colors and styles.”

McKnight remembers that every surf and beachwear shop up and down the California coast carried the OP brand. “But he found out that selling to surf shops wasn’t making a lot of money, so they started distributing to a wider range of stores, including department stores like Macy’s.…You can find OP all around the world today.”

Ocean Pacific was founded in 1972 when big hair and bushy mustaches were trendy and long surfboards were the way to ride the waves. Professional surfing was just starting to take off.

Jenks, who was born in San Diego and grew up in Linda Vista, California, embraced all things mechanical and intricate, including surfing. He was deeply into rebuilding cars and was on the cover of “Hot Rod” magazine, said his son, Jim Jenks Jr., known as Junior. “He was always a motor guy,” Junior Jenks said. He was also an avid fisherman with a 90-foot yacht.

In the 1960s, he started working with Don Hansen and Hansen Surfboards. “My dad and Don started talking about doing an apparel line because there was only Hang Ten then. They acquired the defunct surfboard label Ocean Pacific and used the name for their apparel brand. That started the dynasty,” the younger Jenks remembered. Jim Jenks later acquired the OP name from Hansen and grew it with various business partners.

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The secret weapon for Jenks’ business style was his effusive sales technique used to talk up the brand at trade shows and sell to retailers. “My dad was the ultimate salesman and could talk anyone into anything,” Junior recalled. “He was basically an idea man.”

The company grew to incorporate Hawaiian shirts, T-shirts and knit shirts. Then came the Aussie invasion of surf brands Billabong and Quiksilver and more competition.

Jenks retired from OP in 1980 just before the brand started licensing out the label and grew to about $400 million in annual revenues. He returned briefly in 1988 when OP president Larry Ornitz died. In the early 1990s, Berkeley International Capital Corp. took over majority ownership of OP. The surfwear brand was later sold to Warnaco Co ., which then sold it in 2006 for $54 million to Iconix Brand Group , the label’s current owner.

When Jenks left OP, he retained the Newport Blue trademark, an OP men’s line the family sold five years ago, his son said.
Jim Jenks being inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, California, in 2017. Courtesy SWOF

Jenks was not only known for creating a popular surfwear brand but for shaping competitive surfing. “The one thing that is overlooked is his influence in the world of professional surfing,” said Peter Townend, the executive director of the International Surfing Museum in Huntington Beach. “OP created the first sanctioned world surf championship in 1982, known as the OP Pro. The next year he bankrolled the formation of the Association of Surfing Professionals [which today is known as the World Surf League.]”

OP also sponsored professional surfers with money instead of just board shorts and surfboards. “No one had done financial sponsorships of surfers before,” said Townend, who is also a world champion surfer. He said Jenks’ financial support helped Tom Curren and Kim Mearig in their quest to become world surfing champions.

In honor of that first OP Pro tour, the International Surfing Museum last year organized a 40th anniversary exhibition that outlines the beginning days of the competition as well as honoring the 50th anniversary of the OP brand. It will be up until July.

Jenks is survived by his wife, Marilyn Jenks; sons Michael and James Jr.; his sister, Jean Taylor and half-sister Stacy Jenks, as well as four grandchildren.

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