Bobby Vaughn. Photo: Corrina Vaughn
Bobby Vaughn was born to no parents. Snatched straight from the womb in a dingy central California valley hospital and sent to an orphanage. His birth father was Mexican and his birth mother was Japanese or vice versa. Who really cares? He was an orphan. But rolly and cute was soon adopted by a Methodist pastor. His new family lived in French Camp, California, though moved often to other central California towns equally depressing. Tracy, Stockton, Fresno etc. Hot farming towns that smell of fertilizer and shattered dreams. And then, when he was nine years old, his father moved to a church in Santa Cruz and Bobby Vaughn was born again.
Growing up on the mid-town he straddled both east and west sides, surfing where he wanted. He loved it. Loved every minute of it and excelled. Soon he was surfing NSSAs, mopping foam at Pearson Arrow for boards and gear. Surfing all the time. He climbed the ranks, cracking the top three in the northwest. He was on the full pro route. Doing it. He became sponsored by Venice Beach brand Bronze Age, which had a certain reputation. People whispered it was simply a front to move mounds of cocaine. Again, who really cares? He was living the dream.
But things went sour at home and at twelve he moved in with his girlfriend. He also started hanging out with the toughs, and while he never became a fully-fledged gang member himself, never jumped in, they were all his friends. And his surfing slowly faded away. He was going hard.
One night, at the Burger King, they were all cruising around, and things started to get weird. Some boys from the other side of town tried to run them over with their car and it turned into a brawl. His best friend pulled a gun and shot one of the offenders in the neck. And then everyone dispersed. Bobby was standing three feet away. They went on to party that night thinking “no big deal.” Until the next morning when they heard the offender had died. Shit.
The whole crew bee-lined to Mexico to drop the shooter off. He was done and he knew it. He planned on spending the rest of his life in Mexico. And he was Bobby’s best friend so the goodbye was bitter. Sure he might outrun the law but the two might never see each other again. Bobby drove back north, back to Santa Cruz, thinking, “I’ve got to really be a gangster now but all I want to do is surf again.”
And so he booked a one-way ticket to Hawaii. When he landed, he had twenty dollars in his pocket, no surfboards, no nothing.
A friend got him a job on Maui at the Marriott and he just surfed all day long. Back to his first real love. He soon moved to Oahu’s North Shore and lived at Log Cabins and kept surfing, meeting all the boys. Jason Majors, Johnny Boy Gomes, Bobby Kailii, Shawn Briley, James Labrador. And for two years he surfed without break. V-Land, Pupukea, Pipeline, Sunset. Chris Malloy even got him a job on a TV show, Birds of Paradise. Things were fine. Bobby Vaughn had returned to the water.
But back home his friend had grown tired of life on the run and turned himself in for murder. Because the event happened when he was under eighteen he was convicted as a juvenile and received juvenile life as a punishment, which is seven years. And it may not sound very stiff for a murder rap but he had to do his time at Chads. The worst facility in California’s Youth Authority. It is called a mini Pelican Bay, the most notorious prison in the United States. Guards would stage cage fights among the inmates. Ugly.
Bobby refused to testify against his friend and, in turn, Bobby’s friend refused to testify against him. And with the matter temporarily settled Bobby departed from his island sabbatical and flew back to Los Angeles.
He met an actress whose best friend was married to the manager of the Cult. She was beautiful and things were good. He reconnected with the owner of Bronze Age who himself was just out of prison on drug charges and trying to turn the brand legit. Not a front anymore. Bobby did everything from repping to running the team to running marketing. He moved to Malibu and soaked in the business side of surf. He learned the business. But the brand was in a rough spot, saddled with debt and sinking. One day, while sitting in their downtown Los Angeles offices, a guy wandered by trying to sell Von Dutch patches. Von Dutch was a crazy artist from back in the day who was well known in the moto and custom car world. He would paint hot rods and get weird. Bobby and the Bronze Age owner liked the design of the logo. They thought they could make it something. And so they trademarked the name. Von Dutch’s daughters were still alive, spun out trailer trash living in Arizona, so Bobby flew out and signed a licensing deal with them, flew back to Los Angeles and started working on the new brand. Von Dutch.
He wanted to do some custom denim and was friends with Pamela Anderson’s brother in Malibu so he asked to get in a room with Pamela. He knew she would dig what they had going on. But her brother was not the brightest and had gotten Pamela into some bad deals before so was reticent on making another introduction. In the meantime, Von Dutch was making hot rod flame boardshorts for Matt Archbold and the like. Bobby had met Archie in Hawaii and it was the perfect complement to “built for speed.” They did more North Shore underground stuff until one day Pamela’s brother made a meeting happen. And Pamela loved it, she bought a trunk load of denim, but she also knew the real person who could send Von Dutch sailing was her ex, Tommy Lee. And so Pamela introduced Bobby Vaughn to Tommy Lee.
They hit it off instantly. Bobby had had a child and Tommy had children so they were both single fathers, good fathers, but also loved to party. They would split their weeks hanging out with the kids and throwing wild benders. Crazy parties. Tommy introduced Bobby to his friends, Snoop Dogg etc. and Von Dutch started appearing in music videos and on red carpets. Things were rolling.
One morning after spending the night at Tommy’s, after a wild party, there was a knock at the door. Bobby opened it and saw an MTV camera crew outside. They were there to film Cribs. Nobody was prepared. The house was littered with girls. Partied. But Tommy let them in anyway and Bobby’s entrepreneurial mind began to spin. He ran up to his room, grabbed the biggest Von Dutch logo t-shirt he could find, threw it on Tommy Lee and sat back. The episode became the highest viewed ever on MTV. A perfectly rock n roll Tommy Lee wandering around his perfectly rock n roll house wearing a white t-shirt with a giant Von Dutch across the chest. Across Tommy Lee’s rock n roll heart. Bobby Vaughn can be seen in the episode lounging on the leather couch, sandwiched in between strippers and models.
Tommy Lee on MTV’s Cribs. Bobby Vaughn cameo at 0:42
Return tomorrow for part two of Bobby Vaughn’s story, where he goes belly up, joins the Navy SEALs and kills someone.