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Warshaw: “It’s just kind of humiliating!”

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

"At some point, when the money is flatlining, you gotta say the market has spoken and get out."

Two days ago, the custodian of recorded surf history, Mr Matt Warshaw, announced he would quit and take his archive with him if thirty thousand dollars wasn’t donated immediately.

Thirty k seemed a very arbitrary number, a figure pulled from the jaunty cap of a boy who’d shift, suddenly, from adorable to jaded.

What happened? How did we suddenly find Warshaw on the precipice?

I had to ask.

BeachGrit: What precipitated this sudden lunge for thirty gees? Did your wife say you’d have to go out and get a real job if you didn’t make some cash?

Warshaw: Jodi and I made a deal in 2011 that EOS had to be in the black — expenses paid, me earning 30K a year minimum — by 2012, or I go back to print. I got five extra years. But here we are. Time’s up.

It’s humiliating to be 57 and making what I make. It feels like a judgement. EOS, I think, does a such a good job at showing the world of surf in full. Look at us, maybe the most fucked-up wonderful interesting thing on the planet, it’s all here on the three sites I’ve made, in photos, video, and words — and for building that I get less than I did as a SURFER intern in 1985.

Does it feel a little odd that you, the custodian of the sport’s history, one of the sharpest writers in the game, can’t peel off a living from a multi-billion dollar industry?

Well, you and I made that decision a long time ago, right? Anybody who’s ever asked me about going into surf writing, I say some version of “keep your day job,” or “marry well.” In 2017 you’d have to do both. But I love the work. Ever since the sites went up; this is the happiest I’ve ever been just in terms of doing the job. Not just the writing, but doing video and working on photos and all the back-and-forth with readers. I literally throw the covers off in the morning and run to the computer. I will happily do what I’m doing for 30K a year. But less than that — and I don’t know why 30K seems like the magic number —but less than that and my mind wanders to the place you mention, to a darker place. It’s just kind of humiliating, to be 57 and making what I make. It feels like a judgement. EOS, I think, does a such a good job at showing the world of surf in full. Look at us, maybe the most fucked-up wonderful interesting thing on the planet, it’s all here on the three sites I’ve made, in photos, video, and words — and for building that I get less than I did as a SURFER intern in 1985. It’s humbling. When I step away from the computer a few hours and think about it, I can get depressed.

Anyway, why thirty grand? It’s a very arbitrary number… 

The subscribers I have right now, as it happens, pay just enough to cover EOS expenses. The 30K will go to payroll. Which is me.

Two days in, what’s the balance?

Two days in, 12 grand. Which is great, more than I expected. But these things burn hot at first, and cool off really fast. The numbers are going to drop today, I’m sure. The trick will be holding some momentum for the rest of the month.

What if you hit 20? That enough to keep it going?

Before pulling the plug I’d probably get in touch with subscribers and see what they think of a rate hike, from say three to five buck a month, something like that. That idea actually came from a subscriber. But I don’t really know. At some point, when the numbers are low enough, when the money is flatlining, I think you gotta say the market has spoken and get out.

What happens, like seriously, if you don’t get enough cash? What’s going to happen? Are you going to pull it offline? Would it turn into a print product? 

The last real money I made, $125K, was the advance I got for History of Surfing. Which I think was 12 years ago, and I know book publishing is the sick man of media, but I’ll go back anyway and make deals for EOS and HOS. Whatever I can get. Those are the two projects I feel really strongly about. I’d much rather have them online, but they’re still in print already, and if I can do new editions to keep them circulating, that’s fine.

Who’s dropped the biggest donation so far and how much?

Sam McIntosh, one-thou. It came in like three minutes after the donation button went live.

Sam always was a generous boy, and I certainly don’t mean it in the facetious way it might be taken. Anyway, we’ll match it, wait…one…thousand…dollars? How about we drop five c-notes into your hole when a certain 120-day overdue invoice gets paid?

Maybe not in my hole, but yes!

Now, you said, Jodi, your wife, gorgeous thing by the way (how’d you land someone so terrific and ripe?) gave you until 2012, and then gifted five more years. Did she come home from her serious job one day recently, see you in your pyjamas and dipping biscuits into your bowl of Lucky Charms and…fuck this?

She’s not much for the salty language, and I was wearing my Team Body Glove track suit, but in so many words, yes.

In September, you said, in regards to Surf Ranch, that we’d traded “magic for perfection.” With the passage of time, and obviously further contemplation, what’s your current position?

Upon closer inspection, my current position is . . . Kelly Slater could solve EOS’ financial problems with one click. Let’s you and I make a date to talk about the Surf Ranch on February 1. Full disclosure. Deal?

Describe your current mood.
Tyler Wright when the donations comes in. Sally Fitz the rest of the time.

And listen to Warshaw perform on this very good podcast here.

 

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