Australia arguably has one of the strongest surf cultures in the world – and over the years a large share of its artistic talent has come out of one company: Mambo.
Joining a lineage of artists such as Reg Mombassa and Richard Allan, Sam Coombes joined the brand as a designer out of university. One of the first team projects he worked on at Mambo was to design uniforms for the Australian athletes at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
It was at Mambo that Coombes met senior illustrator Jim Mitchell, and the two decided to start a side project. The Critical Slide Society began life as a blog but has morphed into a multidisciplinary venture that, at its core, is about clothing and product design, but has brought in surfers, musicians, artists and “anyone … interested in surf culture [that’s not] Rip Curl or Billabong”, says Coombes.
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“The blog was like an aggregate of content that related to a slightly more alternative surf or coastal scene – and it started building a bit of a community around it,” he says. “We started doing a couple of T-shirts; those T-shirts started selling and we thought, ‘Maybe this thing can be more than a blog.’”
Cut to 2018 and The Critical Slide Society has a nine-person team, distribution across Australia, Japan and the US, and influential Stab Magazine awarded Critical Slide with three “World’s Best Boardshort” titles. The brand has also just opened its first bricks-and-mortar store.
The Bondi Road store has the same collaborative spirit as the blog. Although about 75 per cent of its product is The Critical Slide Society’s own, you’ll also find a lot of stuff you might not find in your average surf store, mostly supplied by Coombes and Mitchell’s broad network of “mad king surfers”.
There are beach umbrellas from Gold Coast brand Business & Pleasure Co; footwear from Freedom Moses; towels from US brand Slow Tide; cushions from another ex-Mambo talent, Damian Fuller of Aloha to Zen; and vinyl supplied by Inertia Records.
There’s also a counter for Coombes’s other company Will & Co, where you can grab coffee, chai lattes and cold brew, and there are pastries from Chippendale’s Brickfields.
Coombes and Mitchell hand-pick all the brands, which are usually local projects they want to throw their weight behind. For instance, they only stock three brands of surfboard: Drag Surfboards, Joshua Keogh Surfboards, and Thomas Surfboards from Central Coast legend Thomas Bexon.
“You can’t get Thomas Surfboards anywhere else in New South Wales unless you go to him directly and get them custom [made],” says Coombes.
Events will also be an important part of what the store does. An art show in February, called Wax Off, will feature around 50 artists. “We’ve also released a series of band T-shirts working with Babe Rainbow, Bleeding Knees Club and the Gooch Palms. We just love taking on lots of projects,” says Coombes.
245 Bondi Road, Bondi
Mon to Sun 7.30am–5pm