NEW YORK — Surf legend Laird Hamilton ditched the Hawaiian waves last week for some wind and snow in New York City where he was on hand to announce the upcoming debut of Wonderwall, a men’s surf and skate line for Steve & Barry’s. 

Hamilton’s extreme sports–oriented lifestyle collection will hit over 270 Steve & Barry’s stores on April 1. All of the spring items will retail for under $14.98. Fall pieces, which will include down jackets and performance fleece, will inch up closer to the chain’s maximum price point of $20.

“A wave is a wall of wonder,” said the tanned, sun-bleached Hamilton in explaining how he came up with the name for the line. “All the things I gravitate toward are walls of wonder.” 

Hamilton, who greeted press at the launch event with a friendly “Aloha,” expects the line to speak to men aged 15 to 50. “It’s real simple stuff that will appeal to everyone,” he said. “It will cross all ages.” Additionally, adult men of today are still active and young-at-heart. “The 30- and 40-year-olds are not the same as they were 20 years ago.” 

Scott Hoffman, chief merchandising officer for Steve & Barry’s, agreed. “Guys in their thirties and forties really relate to Laird. And the 10- to 12-year-old skater kids see the videos he’s made and really look up to him as an idol.” 

The 200-piece men’s wear collection includes a full range of woven and knit tops, cotton pants and shorts, denim and even accessories. “Comfort” is the operative word throughout Wonderwall, explained Laird, but the collection is divided into two main aesthetic themes: surf and skate. 

The surf line, anchored by fully functional boardshorts, features brighter colors and lighthearted graphics referencing Hamilton’s Hawaiian roots and the California surf scene. The skate-themed gear channels a darker frame of mind, with deeper colors and punk-oriented prints. “It’s like two separate mental states, for two different moods,” said Hamilton. 

Although the boardshort can be used to ride the waves, Hamilton said the majority of the collection is just comfortable sportswear. “You can only surf for so many hours a day,” he said. “You need a lot more.”

For fall ’08, Steve & Barry’s will release snow-oriented apparel under the Wonderwall name, completing the boardsport trifecta that personifies most action-sports brands. 

Many of the graphic T’s include what the company called “Laird-isms,” that reflect the surfer’s “spirit and spiritual side.” For example, sayings include “Ride the wave, Respect the ocean” and “We are all equal before a wave.” 

Wonderwall’s logo, which Hamilton described as a pyramid with an eye in it, is eerily similar to Quiksilver’s, but was created by Hamilton and the retailer to capture a feeling of motion and the intersection of man and the environment. “Nature is all about curves and man is all about square lines, and they flow together,” said the surfer. 

Hoffman said Steve & Barry’s, which is taking the country by storm with its mall-based superstores of casual apparel at low, low prices, views Wonderwall as its primary men’s initiative. “Bitten is our women’s brand and Wonderwall is our men’s brand,” Hoffman said. 

Bitten is the women’s line endorsed by actress Sarah Jessica Parker and is just one of several celebrity collaborations for the Port Washington, N.Y.–based retailer. The first, Starbury, was launched with basketball star Stephon Marbury in 2006, and was followed by Dear by Amanda Bynes and EleVen by tennis phenom Venus Williams. 

Andy Todd, president of Steve & Barry’s, declined to provide a volume figure for Wonderwall, noting that the retailer is a private company. 

Steve & Barry’s has 245 units today and will be up to 270 by year-end. Plans call for opening another 70 to 100 in 2008. 

In store, Wonderwall will be merchandised in separate shops, creating surf-oriented environments to house the collection. Props like driftwood will give the space surf authenticity, and plasma screens will feature Laird taking on the waves. 

Wonderwall marks the retailer’s first foray into the action-sports lifestyle, an increasingly popular category in the young men’s apparel industry. According to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA), the surf industry raked in $7.48 billion at retail in 2006, while SnowSports Industries America (SIA) pointed to $1.8 billion in snow sales last season. Authentic action-sports brands like Quiksilver, Burton and Volcom continue to increase their national and international penetration, but kids in Middle America are also being exposed to the California surf lifestyle via Abercrombie & Fitch’s popular (though not-quite-authentic) Hollister Co. In spring, Wal-Mart will revive the surfing heritage brand Op, through a direct licensing agreement with Op’s parent, Iconix Brand Group. 

“We’ve been looking to get into the surf-skate lifestyle. We see it as a high-growth arena,” said Todd, who believes Wonderwall will be “as big a launch as there has ever been in this lifestyle. 

“Laird was our number-one choice for a collaboration,” he continued. “He’s an iconic figure who gets Steve & Barry’s ‘access for all’ mentality. He’s authentic, so we’ll attract that guy, but he also appeals to the masses.” 

In fact, Hamilton fits the Steve & Barry’s mold of partnering with celebrities who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. He was raised in an impoverished, single-parent home before his mother married the ’60s surfing legend Bill Hamilton. “My family was on welfare,” Hamilton said. “If I lost my shoes, I wouldn’t have another pair for a couple of weeks. So I can appreciate that people can’t afford to buy stuff that everyone else is wearing. I know how that feels. Your self-esteem is directly related to how you look.” 

Hamilton’s Wonderwall line, he contends, provides the same authentic surf and skate look, and the same level of technical performance, as any of its higher-priced, action-sports apparel competitors. Said Hamilton, who has experience in the apparel industry working in both a Los Angeles factory as well as being a sales rep: “If you can afford to run a business at these prices, why wouldn’t you?” 

Compounding Steve & Barry’s’ attraction to Hamilton is his purity in the surf industry. Despite worldwide recognition for his awe-inspiring surfing feats, Hamilton has never participated in any of the surf industry’s organized competitions and never acquiesced to being sponsored by any of the surf industry’s high-profile brands. “I’ve never really been a part of that surfing world,” he said. “I don’t want to be just another pony in a stable. For me to go be a part of a surf company would devalue all of my life’s work.”