I decided to investigate. I think it’s safe to say that I found Birdwell’s most loyal and long-standing customer.
Jamie: Your father was a lover of Birdwells?
Tom: Big time. One of my lines from my eulogy was that if you met him, my father, Bill Duquette, was probably in one of three uniforms: either khaki pants and a blue Oxford collar shirt; if the event was at all formal, khaki pants and a blue Oxford collar shirt with a blazer and tie; and if you met him on the beach, Birdwells and a blue Oxford collar shirt. And his tastes were altogether conservative except for his Birdwells, which, as you notice from the picture, were in all colors of the rainbow. He spent summers in Ocean City, Maryland. From May 15 to October 15 he lived in either Birdwell Beach Britches or Birdwell walk shorts—four months of the year for 60 years maybe.
Jamie: When did your father discover Birdwell?
Tom: I was trying to backtrack that but I think I probably discovered them before he did. My father was 85 when he passed away, this past January. He had probably been wearing Birdwells since ’65, ’66, something like that. I’m not really sure when Birdwell was formed, ‘68, ’69? [It was actually ‘61] Since I graduated from high school, which was 1969, the only thing I ever saw him in in the summertime were Birdwells. The collection was interesting because they varied in size from 36 to 44 as his body type changed as he fell in and out of love with exercise, as he shrank in old age. And he had every color of the rainbow. He didn’t get them in surf shops; he ordered them straight from Birdwell. He was more than just a dedicated fan. I don’t have every new pair he bought every season but the number of pairs he had was bordering on ridiculous. We kept finding them as we were sorting through his stuff, so I laid them out in the living room and decided I would take a few pictures of them. We still haven’t decided what we’re going to do with them. My oldest son, who lives on the west coast in San Francisco; he’s probably going to frame a pair of them to put in his office because that was one of his fondest remembrances of his grandfather: spending time on the beach in his Birdwells.
Jamie: How did your father discover Birdwell? Was he a surfer?
Tom: No, he was an avid body surfer. And the beach at 14th Street where he hung out and we hung out as a family, there were a few guys that ran the beach stand there that were surfers and I guess he saw them and they look comfortable. My dad was a fixture on the beach at 14th Street in his chair with his Birdwells and his blue oxford collar shirt tucked underneath his umbrella. He was a body surfer, he taught me how to body surf, he taught his grandchildren to body surf. They’re all surfers now; I remain a body surfer.
Jamie: What kind of guy was your father?
Tom: Let me give you another line from my eulogy, I think this will probably do it: My father had an unshakeable conviction, and with enough information, patience, time and the right tool, he could do anything.
April 13, 1929 - January 18, 2015.
The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow and Becoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.