Surf, Sand and Style at Okanui

Image source: Photographer Megan Gill

Those colourful boardies with the hibiscus flower pattern are synonymous with beach and surf culture. John Caruso discovers the local origins of the now famous Okanui brand.  

A bloke called Dick Ash was a keen surfer off Avalon Beach just north of Sydney in the 1960s. Back then swimming attire, especially for men, was tight – think Warwick Capper of the Sydney Swans tight! 

Spending hours on your board in the surf became uncomfortable so Dick had an idea.

“He grabbed a large canvas post bag from the Avalon Post Office and he made a pair of boardshorts better suited to surfing – they were really the first Okanuis and everybody that saw his creation wanted a pair,” explains Jo Phillips, Okanui Regional Retail Manager for Queensland and New South Wales.

Dick experimented with a few different brightly coloured fabrics, most of them featuring the hibiscus print which linked back to all those surfing locations that were memorable to surfers and ocean lovers and thus the Okanui brand was born and trademarked in 1978. 

“The business is still ‘in the family’ with Simon and Wendy Kasprowicz owning the company; Wendy is Dick’s niece and current CEO,” says Jo.

The iconic Hastings Street store opened almost four years ago however Okanui has had a presence in Hastings Street Noosa since the early 1980s, in a few different locations including Bay Village. 

The Okanui range includes stylish, comfortable fashion and highly functional swimwear for men, women and kids, as well as a line-up of linen pieces that match perfectly with our iconic and vibrant printed patterns. 

We make you feel like you’re truly on holiday, everyday. 

The famous surf and swim fashion label also operates stores in Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast, Byron Bay and Manly in Sydney. 

Manufacturing has been kept onshore too, where possible.

“The fabric bolts for the cotton classic shorts were made in Australia and then shipped to Fiji and that’s where they’ve historically been made, however with the impact of COVID we’ve brought all that manufacturing home to Australia, so those cotton classics are 100% Australian made these days,” said Jo. 

Okanui’s green credentials are hugely important to the business, so operating in a sustainable fashion is paramount. 

“We’re very proud of our women’s swimwear which is made using Repreve, the world’s leading recycled fibre, transforming plastic bottles into an amazing collection of Australian designed swimwear. 

“It looks and feels great,” said Jo.

With retail stores in some of the world’s most desirable locations, Okanui isn’t simply about providing retail therapy to the thousands of tourists that visit. 

Embedding themselves into that local community is an important part of the brand’s modus operandi. 

“With the Noosa Festival of Surfing for example we were supporters of Chiggy’s Skateboarding event and were part of the IN Noosa Fashion Parade on Main Beach,” explains Jo. 

“Staying true to our roots, we’re also proud sponsors of world-class surfers such as Declan Wyton, who’s currently tearing it up on the World Tour.” 

Next time you spot a brightly coloured pair of boardies with the hibiscus pattern you’ll be able to connect the dots on Dick Ash’s creative and entrepreneurial journey, from 1960s board rider to Post Office canvas bag customiser, all the way through to the popular modern day beach lifestyle brand.

About the Author /

After 30 years in radio, John now runs the Conversations IN Noosa podcast and in between being our writer, sanity checker, accounts manager, event MC, and delivery boy; he spends time with his first love, recording a daily Drive program for regional radio from home (often in his pyjamas); and presenting Saturday mornings on Hot 91.1. He has previously worked for FoxFM Melbourne, Triple M Brisbane and SeaFM, as well as managing and presenting on ABC Sunshine Coast.

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