Surfing Mag: An Insider’s Perspective

An obituary of sorts.

In June of 2015 I went on a study abroad trip to Bali where Matt George introduced me to creative surf journalism. In December of 2015 I started interning for Surfing Magazine as a writer and web editor. Over time the internship developed into a part-time job and by July of 2016, nary three weeks after graduating from college, I became a salaried employee.

It couldn’t have worked out any better.

Surfing Magazine’s tone was youthful, tongue-in-cheek, and overtly positive. So much so that whenever I proposed an idea that hinted at negativity (i.e. stating that American pro surfing is extremely weak at the moment, mentioning the possibility of terroristic attacks at the US Open, dubiously approaching surfing’s inclusion to the Olympics), I was kindly shut down or steered in a more merry direction. I think that was mostly a good thing.

I’m not sure if this had always been the case, but since I started there the ethos of the Surfing brand centered around progression. I was always encouraged to seek out undiscovered talent or test revolutionary products and accessories. Our biennial Peer Poll was unique in that it allowed for kids to pick the best kids around the world. This stands in stark contrast to more antiquated forms of production, like Surfer’s Hot 100, where teens are ranked presumably by company ad dollars and Todd Whodatovich. 

In that way, Surfing was great. In other ways, Surfing was a little bit… questionable.

I should preface this criticism by mentioning that I joined the team in a very precarious moment, wherein producing a fluid stream of income took precedence over all else. It seemed to me that we sacrificed certain production quality and moral standards in order to grow our numbers and become, in the eyes of The Enthusiast Network, not a liability. This led to atrocious practices like a wetsuit “Field Test” with only positive reviews (can’t upset the brands that buy into your projects!) and social media schemes that were intended to drive traffic through any means necessary (like following people so they’d follow us back, and then subsequently unfollowing them).

This isn’t what anybody wanted, but it’s what had to be done to preserve the brand and, most importantly, all of our jobs. Guys like Peter Taras (photographer, professional road-tripper and social media mastermind) and Chato Aganza (graphic designer, great-hair-haver and big-picture guy) have been with TEN for almost two decades apiece! I’m sure they’ll be fine, but the way the surf industry is looking, it’s unlikely they’ll soon capture another position in the game. Imagine working your whole life in a particular field, learning everything there is to know about the subject, and then being told the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired are no longer of any practical value. This is the ongoing struggle of priests and surf magazine employees everywhere. I pray the latter find a way to survive, myself included.

So how will Surfing Magazine be remembered? I’m honestly not sure. But I’d like to thank everyone there for the opportunity to share my voice and try my hand at this surf journalism gig.

I’d also like to thank them for laying me off in December, so I could watch today’s shipwreck from the relative safety of my little Beachgrit dinghy. Onwards and upward!

Here’s one for the nostalgic types.

A video posted by Zander Morton (@zandermorton) on


Rivalry: Axel Irons v Koby Irons!

More revealing images from the North Shore reportage of NYC's Justin Jay… 

Don’t you just love a moment you know is going to be examined in ten, twenty years, every element peeled apart as if it’s going to reveal the secrets that’ll only form over the course of years, of events?

Justin Jay, the NYC shooter whose work on the North Shore we’re drip-feeding over the next few days, made this photograph at the sixth birthday of Axel Irons. Little Ax was born on December 8, 2010, the opening day of the Pipe Masters, a couple of months after Andy died.

Axel’s birthday has become something of a celebration of both Axel and Andy, who would’ve turned thirty-nine this year.

Bruce’s son reached over and began aggressively revving the engine at full throttle for five seconds at a time. Watching him hamming for the crowd and attempting to hijack the focus.

“For Axel’s birthday, Uncle Bruce and Lyndie gave him a motorcycle,” says Justin. “There was a huge luau at the Billabong house with a massive buffet, a snow cone truck, face-painting, games and virtually anything that the 50 or so kids present could ever want. When it was time to sing happy birthday, the family stood on the porch and covered Axel’s eyes. The bike was wheeled onto the lawn and the big reveal went down in front of the entire party. When Axel saw the bike, he stood motionless while his jaw dropped in awe for a comically long time.

“Eventually, all the kids gathered around in a supervised circle so the bike could be started. Axel, nervous at first, eventually began to revel in the roar of the motor and gave the bike several brief and cautious revs. Immediately sensing the attention that was at stake, Bruce’s son reached over and began aggressively revving the engine at full throttle for five seconds at a time. Watching him hamming for the crowd and attempting to hijack the focus, I was certainly not the only person to make the uncanny comparison of the fiercely-competitive behaviour between the two cousins and their respective dads.”

As for Lyndie, Andy’s gorgeous wife.

“Lyndie Irons is the the Jackie Onassis of the surf world,” says Justin. “She gorgeous, graceful and will always be inextricably linked to a larger-than-life deceased hero. I’m always thrilled to be welcomed into her orbit to shoot her.”


Just In: Surfing Closes Doors!

More than 50 years after its inception, Surfing Magazine is dead in the water!

This little nugget popped into my inbox this morning from the great artist Jack English whom you certainly know from his photographic masterpiece “The Crying Jordy.”

“Surfing magazine no more. If you do a piece please credit Jack English.”

And of course!

Surfing shuts doors brought to you by Jack English!

In truth, though, I’ve known this reality for a few weeks now. What? Just because I’ve been in Japan you think my finger strays from surfing’s pulse?

Never!

It’s just that I take no joy in dancing on Surfing’s grave. Plus I’ve been very busy dancing on ex-WSL CEO Paul Speaker’s. His grave is like a wonderful disco where revelers are given mostly pure MDMA and two roses each. Steve Aoiki is the DJ and he mixes in newer beats with older favorites. Noa Deane is here and so is Brodie Carr who has been asked by management to tone it down slightly three times so far and there is a rumor floating around that if they have to ask him again he’ll also be asked to leave. Oh. He just took his baby blue ASP polo shirt off and is spinning it above his head.

But what were we talking about? Surfing? Oh yes. Surfing.

The Enthusiast Network will put a brave face on the new reality. “When God closes a door he opens a window!” Etc. But in truth it’s all over for the brave little magazine.

Someone should write a proper eulogy. Maybe we all should. Nick Carroll? Travis Ferre? Taylor Paul? Should we all collab under the Surfing banner one last time?


Revealed: Laird’s secret unlocked!

"Live a maximum life whatever that means..."

The Kennedy family is an American institution. The closest thing this country has to royalty with those magnificent, broad east coast accents, consolidated power and heart-wrenching tragedies. They can do whatever they want and apparently one of them wanted to make a very serious documentary about Laird Hamilton that premiers at the Sundance Film Festival!

Rory Kennedy is the daughter of Robert, an activist and documentarian. She has won primetime Emmys etc. But Laird! Who wouldn’t be turned on by Laird! Let’s read about this affair of the heart/mind in the Salt Lake Tribune!

At 52, Laird Hamilton has more than earned the right to reflect after a life full of risks taken and enormous waves surfed.

But to do so would betray his very nature as an innovator and big-wave riding legend — still pushing the bar as far as it will go on the water and in his life on dry land.

“Sometimes I just shake my head when I think about when I was young and reckless, now I’m just older,” he says with a deep laugh.

Hamilton, the subject of the Sundance documentary “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton,” has had his life well-chronicled by surf films to this point, but director Rory Kennedy took a new approach.

“The surfing aspect was something I wanted to embrace, but ultimately, I was less interested in making a film about surfing. I’m only so interested in it, frankly,” Kennedy said. “What I am interested in is the character and what are the qualities in Laird — whether you’re interested in politics or business or sports — just being the best in whatever your pursuit is, what’s the difference?”

Hamilton has eschewed surfing competitions his whole life in favor of seeking his own thrills and fulfillment, but has pushed the sport forward by popularizing tow-in surfing, standup paddleboard surfing and foil boarding to take on much larger waves farther from the shore.

“I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone else who has changed the sport so significantly in the last 50 years,” Kennedy said.

The director admits Hamilton was confused by her approach at first — questioning why she asked him to sit down and answer interview questions over a 12-hour period rather than film him on the water like everyone else — but that he came around and threw his whole support behind the project.

“There’s an opportunity to tell a bigger story and it’s not a surf film. A lot of what I’ve been able to do transcends surfing and is more about life,” Hamilton said. “I feel this is a larger representation of that message and that concept.”

Hamilton’s biggest risk and biggest contribution to surfing lore came simultaneously on Aug. 17, 2000 — his now-legendary ride of the “Millennium Wave” off the coast of Teahupoo, Tahiti.

But with nearly 17 years of hindsight, he says the wave serves as a reference point and a formula for what comes next rather than standing as a crowning achievement.

“It was the unknown, the thing that you’d only thought was in cartoons and then it was real and it happened. It reminds you that it can happen again and that’s really the exciting and interesting part,” Hamilton says. “I use that situation as a reference for other situations since then and others that haven’t come yet.”

That’s the benefit of telling Hamilton’s story now, Kennedy says, in a pursuit of “bigger and better” that simultaneously seems never-ending, but with plenty of past narrative punch — from a rough childhood to vilification from the surfing community to his success and varied interests today.

“He is somebody who lives in the present, is very forward-thinking and continuing to try and push himself and the sport in new and innovative ways,” Kennedy said. “So, sitting back and looking at your life isn’t really where his energy is. I think that speaks to part of why he is the person he is.”

The director hopes audiences grasp Hamilton as a “flawed hero,” while the self-described “Waterman” said he hopes it’ll encourage viewers to always push forward, embrace vulnerability and never “let memories be bigger than dreams.”

“It’s meant to inspire people to do as the film title is to catch every wave. That kind of sums it up in a way, to catch every opportunity, every moment,” Hamilton said.

“Live a maximum life whatever that means to you given what your surroundings and your circumstances are.”

Are you inspired?

Tow, SUP and foil 4 life!


The Shore according to Justin Jay!

Dazzling NYC portraitist soaks the seven mile miracle…

There’s photos and there’s photos. Am I right?

Sometimes y’just snatch a moment out of thin air with your phone, other times it’s a work of art and high-end glass. Justin Jay, a 42-year-old photographer from New York city’s Lower East Side, gives us a little of both: the eye of a master portraitist mixed with a Nikon film camera, ancient manual-focus 35mm prime affixed to the beak.

“In Hawaii I’ve found that having more equipment just slows down the workflow,” says Justin. “If there’s an amazing interaction happening that I want to capture, I gotta be able to snap the exact instant that I want. Seconds matter. Having a massive-sized file shot on a medium format camera is useless if you miss the moment.”

Here, a drip-feed of Justin’s work from December, 2016.

(And see more of Justin’s work, including reportage featuring the biggest names in music here, and here.)

Part one, The Daddy Loves Jasper Jay Project. 

“It was a strange year for me on the North Shore,” says Justin. “Usually by the second week of the Pipe waiting period, the comp has gotten well under way. There were even a few times in recent years that the contest actually ran so early that the circus had entirely left town by Dec 15th and I was left to try and fill the days before my flight left by jumping Waimea rock and taking landscape photos.

“This season, the weather and waves were pretty crappy until the final moments of the Pipe widow. I had a son this year who was back in NYC with my wife, so simply changing my ticket and staying another week really wasn’t an option. My focus when I’m on the North Shore is to capture candid moments that tell a story. Even though I don’t really shoot action or ‘surfing’, when there is no surf, it’s bizarre how empty the North Shore becomes. It’s not like all of the figures that would normally be in the lineup are instead fraternizing on the team house lawns and hanging out. When the watering hole is dry, the animals retreat and things are exceptionally quiet. No moments to be captured. Nobody standing around shit-talking and critiquing waves ridden. No history to be documented.

“I tried to stay busy by working on a personal project for my son Jasper who was about to turn one. Under normal circumstances, a lone North Shore luminary simply walking the bike path or buying eggs at Foodland wouldn’t necessarily be a ripe opportunity for a captivating picture. Candid moments need to have context and a narrative. So this year I chose to shoot a project of people holding a sign wishing Jasper happy birthday. The pictures were all shot spontaneously with minimal direction given, just a quick strike mission with existing backgrounds and ambient lighting. Because of the limited time and prep that I had to nail each shot, individually, the images weren’t necessarily the most compelling portraits I’ve ever taken. But the concept and the sign itself ended up doing most of the heavy lifting. Collectively, the 65 portraits turned out to be an interesting cross-section of the North Shore in 2016.”

Here’s twenty of ’em.

Hello Mike Ho!

His boy Mason!

Ain’t Lyndie a peach? And how about mini-AI!

Dane, maybe wearing the low-fi chic of Former?

Uncle Eddie Rothman. Hello!

Danny Fuller, Pipe stud!

Greyson Fletcher, just magnificent.

 

Gabriel Median, well groomed.

Bruce Irons, a little serious.

Makua Rothman. Big-Wave world champ!

Luke Egan, still unbelievable on a surf craft.

Coco Ho, wonderful.

Bodysurf supremo, Mark Cunningham.

Freddy P, he got his own spawn!

John John, no chillun yet, but he got a title.

Rosie, sigh…

Kelly Slater, always a decent sport.

 

Kala Alexander, like, yike! 

Nathan Fletcher, great mom. 

Carissa Moore. Sweet!

Kai Lenny, swings on anything!