Star-Bulletin Features

Tuesday, March 9, 1999

By Bernie Baker, Special to the Star-Bulletin
Hawaii professional surfer Megan Alouso sports a Coolie.

Coolies are hot!

By Greg Ambrose
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Patti Tudisco might still be making vibrant island-style rash guards in her Southern California garage if she had not been adopted by a guardian angel in the form of Waikiki beachboy Rabbit Kekai.

Actually, Tudisco still is in her garage cutting patterns for her poly-lycra garments, but now surf contest officials, contestants and ocean-sports enthusiasts are clamoring so vigorously for her distinctive gear that she is ready to hire helpers. "There are days I say 'I don't even believe it,' it has been crazy," she says. "I have met everyone in the industry, and it has led to so many things.

"I looked at the ocean this morning and thought, 'Oh my god, will I ever surf again?' "

Out There Tudisco's big break came a few years ago at a surf industry trade show in Southern California as she was walking around wearing one of her hibiscus print tops. Kekai was immediately drawn to the garment. His decades as jersey handler for the Triple Crown of surfing contests had given Kekai a keen eye for such garments, and he knew he had stumbled onto something special.

"I looked at her material, the sewing, the seams, it was so good, and it doesn't unravel like the rest of them," Kekai says.

He persuaded the sponsor of the surf legends contest Kekai hosts in Costa Rica to using Tudisco's jerseys, and then he convinced Triple Crown executive director Randy Rarick to use them for the North Shore contests.

"I'm very happy with the product," Kekai says. "It's so durable, the workmanship is a plus, and the designs are special."

Tudisco created aloha shirts for Tom Selleck to wear on "Magnum P.I.," but her inspiration for her rash guards came while she was resting on the cliff at Honolua Bay on Maui after a surf session. "I had wanted to do something to protect against sunburn and getting a rash from the surfboard's wax, and I loved aloha print and Hawaiian flowers.

"We were admiring the color of the ocean at Honolua and the name Coolies came out of the blue."

Coolies makes shorts, tank tops and short-sleeve tops for keiki, men and women who surf, bodysurf, paddle canoes and kayaks, sail, sailboard or do just about anything else in the sun. They provide protection from ultraviolet rays, and "it feels like you're not surfing in anything," Tudisco says.

They come in a variety of prints and colors that are constantly being changed. "The new print for next Triple Crown will be somewhere between flowers and fish with coral. I want it to be a surprise."

Regardless of what Tudisco comes up with, her creativity makes Kekai's job more difficult as he distributes and collects jerseys for competitors for each heat during contests. "A lot of the contestants want to grab ahold of the jerseys and take them home, but I hang onto them.

"I sneak one for myself every once in a while," Kekai says. "The sponsors all want them back to take them to their other contests. Patti insisted that the winners get to keep their jerseys. That is pretty neat of her donating the stuff like that."

The high visibility of her garments has generated a tsunami of interest, which Tudisco is straining to handle. "I almost had a heart attack when I saw the Surfer and Surfing magazine covers. I said, 'Oh my god, there's my stuff. There is Kelly Slater, Bruce and Andy Irons.' It's unbelievable."

Lifeguard organizations in Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and on Maui are using her gear, and the Firewomen of California also are interested. Students and instructors at the all girl La Jolla surf school Surf Divas are stylishly clad in Coolies, as were the contestants of the Reef Brazil big wave contest on Todos Santos Island, Mexico. And soon the amateur surf association members on Kauai will be competing in Coolies jerseys.

A few surf shops in Hawaii carry Coolies. But if you have trouble finding them call Patti Tudisco at (310) 546-1949; or visit the Web site at

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