Pelle Klein: Costa Misery's Mad German

Pelle Klein: Costa Misery's Mad German
John Gilhooley

Pelle Klein wants to preserve the punk-rock roots of one of Southern California's greatest exports: skateboarding. So when it came time to choose a name for his latest skateboarding venture, Klein—a former European World Cup snowboarder and current voting member of the Surf Industry Manufacturing Association—had an obvious choice: Costa Misery.

The logo, he says, speaks to the irony of a coastal Southern California town wedged between Newport Beach—one of the nation's richest, most-Republican yachting enclaves—and Santa Ana, the barrio-heavy city of mostly Mexican immigrants. "The anchor being upside down is a salute to the fact that most of the core people in skateboarding don't live on the beach because they can't afford it," Klein explains. "It's a symbol of distress."

It's also possible the black-and-white-checked pattern on the company's skating decks is a tribute to the first pair of checkered Vans that Klein purchased in San Francisco in the early 1980s, before he immigrated to the U.S. from his native Germany. There, by dint of high-school camaraderie, he became an honorary American: His hometown of Frankfurt happened to be home to the country's largest American airbase, and several of his best school friends were Yanks. They shared his early passion for skateboarding.

"Tropicana Skate Park used to be about an hour from Frankfurt, and my friend's mom would drive us there," Klein recalls. The park turned out to be the nucleus of the budding German skate scene, producing the most famous non-American skateboarder, Claus Grabke. "We'd skate pools and vert ramps," says Klein. "All of my happiest memories as a kid involve skateboarding with friends."

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After first visiting California at age 9, Klein came back for college, earning a degree from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena before working as a music producer and creative director, later founding a series of skateboard and other action-sports-related companies, as well as providing design services for his friends. After sojourns in New York, he settled permanently in Southern California, specifically Costa Mesa. Klein married and raised a daughter, and he now spends every free, non-working moment surfing, snowboarding, stand-up paddling or skating around town.

"I've been doing this forever," he says. "With Costa Misery, I want to preserve true skateboarding. I don't want people to buy complete skateboards, but buy the boards and assemble them just like when I was a kid. We make everything right here in Costa Mesa."

Klein's keep-it-small, keep-it-local philosophy means Costa Misery produces only 30 or 40 sweat shirts or hoodies at a time, and then it moves on to something else. The objective, he says, is to never be on the big racks in chain stores, so the only retail outlet where you'll find the company's clothing is at Attic Skate Shop in Costa Mesa and Laguna Beach's Handplant. His biggest goal for the company is building its own skate team and promoting the Costa Mesa lifestyle worldwide.

"Ninety-nine percent of the world's population hasn't heard of Costa Mesa," he says. "Everybody loves to hate on Costa Mesa. All the other cities with beachfront property call it Costa Misery, but now it's come full circle. Nowadays, people carry it as a badge of honor. "

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