Surf Shacks 078

Cynthia Rowley
Montauk, NY

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Cynthia Rowley is a household name in the women’s fashion world. Her namesake brand was built on the philosophy that fashion should be an adventure. Growing up in the Midwest, Cynthia was introduced to surfing later in life, but like most of us, she caught the bug real good and the surf lifestyle has deeply influenced her personal life and work equally. She was the first to bring a true sense of fashion and style to the wetsuit, which was previously expected to look utilitarian, black, or overly athletic in design. Sustainability plays a large role in the brand’s production process; limited quantities are produced in every piece to avoid excess inventory. Deemed the pioneer of “surf-leisure” by Vogue, the brand’s signature wetsuits and neoprene swimwear are produced using recycled materials and green technology for a gentler and more sustainable environmental impact. Cynthia’s playful nature permeates every aspect of her designs, and her eclectic vibe is also reflected in her cozy Ditch Plains salt box.

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Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a fashion designer and mom of two sweet girls that can shred like crazy. I’m from a small town in Illinois that never even heard of fashion or surfing. How did I get so lucky?

When and how did you get into fashion design? When did it go from a passion to your profession?

I started sewing when I was seven and never looked back. I always thought it was just arts and crafts until I was studying painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was stopped by a high-end store buyer wanting to know about the jacket I was wearing. I said I had made it; she wrote me an order, and the rest unfold- ed in a real life fake-it-till-you-make-it true story. With nothing to lose, I just did whatever seemed fun and felt right—and still do.

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What inspired you to dabble in wetsuit design in the first place?

I started surfing about 19 years ago and I just couldn’t believe that no one was even trying to make women look great in the water! We make our suits in limited editions with sustainable practices in the same facto- ries that all the best suits are made in. We’re constantly pushing the design boundaries while trying to improve functionality and performance with each release. I love this part of the company so much that I often forget I have other responsibilities.

Coming from Chicago, how did you first get into surfing? When did you fall in love with it?

When I bought my first tiny house in Montauk, my friend and neighbor said, “You can’t have this house and not surf, so I’m taking you out tomorrow.” That day changed my life. There is nothing better than being in the water surrounded by my friends and family. It’s my happy place. As a family, we’ve traveled the world, met beautiful people, and seen magical things all because we surf.

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How long have you had your home out here in Montauk?

When I was single, I had a big house with a big pool, and all I ever did was wash towels and entertain. One day I was just over it, so I drove to Montauk and said, “I want the smallest house you have on the beach.” So my first surf shack was only 480 square feet with no room for guests! After we became a family of four we thought it was time to upgrade. We spend all our time at the beach and don’t need much more than what we have now.

What are your favorite parts of your home?

My favorite part of the house is the view. Looking right out onto the best break on the East End of Long Island, then walking the dirt path to the beach.

A lot has changed out there since you first got your place in the 1990s. What are your favorite parts about Montauk and the area in which you live?

Honestly, not that much has changed in Montauk. Yes, there are some swanky restaurants, but not a lot. When I moved my store from East Hampton, people thought I had lost my mind, but it’s the favorite of all my stores, with plywood floors and an outdoor coffee bar. There are definitely more girl surfers out here now, and that makes me very happy.

Any parting thoughts, words of wisdom, or sage advice?

People always say “What about sharks!?” And I say, “There’s a simple test to see if there are sharks in the water. You stick your finger in the water, taste it, and if it tastes like salt water—then there are sharks!”

Discover more creative surfers’ homes in our books; Surf Shacks® Vol. 1, and Vol. 2 out now!


Matt Titone

A goofy-footed graphic designer who hails from the first state, Delaware. After attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL then graduating from SCAD in Savannah, GA with a BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration, Matt moved to NYC and found work as a freelance designer and art director. In 2006 he moved west to Venice, CA where he co-founded ITAL/C Studio and now resides a bit further north in Oxnard.

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