Jack Martinez and His Black Flys Are Back!

The '90s may be long gone, but not OC's infamous, lunatic eyewear brand

But partying was only one thread of the story, Lamph says. "Everyone earned their money at Black Fly; no one was bullshitting [his or her] way into a good salary," he explains. "There was a huge flexibility there. If you could prove that you could do something well, you should try that thing. There was an ability to pull the trigger on things and react fast. Making money and making fun out of having money, not doing it corporate-style."

It was a boys' company, but sometimes the best man for the job was a woman. Caia Koopman was hired as the house designer for Fly Girls and Hot Lava. Drinking beers and surfing was a crucial part of their lives, but they wanted to make a statement—a manifesto of raunch, laughs and a commitment to new style.

They were lucky to arrive when the culture was ready to try their point of view. The crude jokes of such TV shows as Beavis and Butthead and Married With Children fueled small talk at every office and school. Extreme sports such as snowboarding  gained grudging respect. A snarling punk attitude was seemingly on the curled lips of every musician. Black Flys wanted to prove itself badder than the baddest boys in the nominally outlaw world of surf and skate.


"It was so boring. Surfing was more of an athletic thing," Martinez says of the industry at the time. "We wanted to show the rock & roll side of surfing."

And then there were the the strippers. In 1993, Black Flys raised the hackles of religious and feminist groups with ads featuring strippers in porn poses. Magazine publishers often printed black bars over parts of the ads deemed too risqué. The company considered that an invitation to a duel. It put together an image that showed artist Bill Wall hanging on a cross, with fishhooks tearing apart his mouth and flesh. He looked like a crass saint, if there is such a thing, being tortured for wearing Black Flys.

Surfing's Zeldin remembers how it all started. Martinez and Paskowitz submitted a generic-looking ad featuring surfers tearing up waves. On the day of publication for the October 1993 issue, Black Flys notified him the advertisement was going to be changed at the last minute. Zeldin felt as though he was being primed for a heart attack; last-minute changes are bad news. For a long time, there was no word from the Black Flys guys, just another jolt for an oncoming coronary. Then, an hour or so before the mag was to be sent to the printers Black Flys delivered the Wall ad.

The Surfing editors examined every sick inch of it.They cringed, laughed and cringed again. They did not want to run a house ad, and they could not face a blank page in the mag. It was late, and Martinez's defense of the ad was beginning to make sense. No foul language was used, and he promised to pay for a bunch more ads in the future. The editors decided to slam Black Flys' Kool-Aid.

"We caught an insane amount of heat," Zeldin recalls. More than 16 skate and surf shops run by religious people said they would no longer rack the magazine. But a little controversy never hurts in the media biz: People were talking about Surfing magazine, Zeldin says. And after the issue was sent to Europe, Black Flys signed its first European distributors.

For Martinez and his friends, turning business as usual upside-down carried a certain performance-art thrill. At the Action Sports Retailer (ASR) trade show in San Diego, the Black Flys crew set up a booth, spread sunglasses over the floor, and then left just as people started walking through the doors. The ploy worked: panicked retailers were so worried they'd lose out on a chance for Black Flys' merch they hounded the company's salespeople, who ended up taking orders from their hotel rooms or poolside.

* * *

Sometimes, though, the Black Flys boys forgot to reel in the anarchy.

On the first day of the August 1998 ASR show, a rowdy crowd gathered at the Black Flys booth to get smashed. Burly security guards demanded Martinez stop the party and throw out the liquor. He refused, throwing his drink in the air and trying to run away, dressed in nothing but black ski gloves and ridiculous, red, 1970s-style, bell-bottom jeans. The company president was picked up by four security guards and hauled out of the venue as though he were a battering ram.

After the guards pushed the convention center's back doors open with Martinez's head and tossed him onto the pavement, he got up, pushed his way back into the convention center and threw a chair at some guards. Then 20 of his sales reps and friends rushed to help him. More chairs and tables were thrown. Martinez remembers taking on three guys before a gang of security guards restored order.

Security guards tossed the liquor, and Martinez's sunglasses displays and all of the samples of Black Flys glasses were stolen.

The Orange County Business Journal published a story about the debacle under the headline "A Black Eye for Black Flys Company President."

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