This month is a special one in the history of surf media, and not just because Surfer Magazine founder, John Severson, died a couple days ago.
So what besides the death of an icon makes May, 2017 unique in the world of surf publication? It’s the half-year anniversary of Surfline’s sex-fueled marketing strategy for social media regurgitation platform, Social Absorption!
If you’re not familiar, Social Absorption is a weekly property where Surfline reposts ~20 Instagram moments with new(!) and improved(?) captions. Over the years it’s had numerous authors, the majority of which were unable to conjure meaning from the litany of surf-related imagery.
While it’s had moments of substance, Social Absorption is nothing more to Surfline than an easy way to increase content and web traffic. A weekly click-generator heaved upon the shoulders of some unlucky scribe.
But Surfline is smart.
During SA’s infancy, its creators toyed with different types of ‘Featured Images’, or the thumbnail you see before clicking an article. They tried surfers, sunsets, beautiful waves and… ass.
Go ahead and guess which one got the most traffic. There are five seconds on the clock.
If you chose: D. Ass, you are more than likely correct.
How do I know? Well, ever since December, 2016, Surfline has used exclusively, and I mean without a single outlier, a picture of a scantily-clad female as their featured image for Social Absorption. Take a look at the last three months, below.
There you have it, folks. Surfline is indisputably using sex to peddle mediocre content. And how does this make you feel?
If I’m a woman, especially if I’m a woman named Lena Dunham, this potentially makes me very very angry. But also maybe not, in the case that a Surfline employee once saved me from drowning in an overturned canoe on the Delaware River. Who really knows with women? So bloody (and) irrational.
If I’m me, and I am, it’s annoying. Not in a SJW must-save-all-women-from-the-patriarchy kind of way, but in a why am I not immune to this blatant click-baiting? kind of way.
You see, I’d almost never click on Social Absorption for the content. But throw a few glistening cheeks on the front and I’m overcome with evolutionary urges. I lose all control of logic and self-worth and boom. It hath been clicked.
So Surfline, you (and sex) win — for now.
Older readers, when does one’s dick stop controlling their every move? What can I do to offset this technical malfunction, outside of precursory auto-erotic acts?
Founder Justin Cameron says company's future is "very unpredictable."
Do you long for glory days? I don’t.
If it ain’t around the corner, it means life is on a downward slope, ending in the grave etc? Hence the danger of nostalgia.
One exception to the nostalgia-is-death rule must be granted to the online surf retailer SurfStitch. Oh, it was on such a high eighteen months ago. Worth almost half-a-billion dollars. Tens of millions of dollars shovelled into acquisitions.
Life was a dream. But so fragile!
Last week, SurfStitch went into a voluntary trading halt in response to a $100 million lawsuit from shareholders who say the company was a little florid in its profit expectations. One old man paid $2.12 a share only to see ’em worth six cents. And even if he wanted to cash out he couldn’t. The shares are in a trading halt, one that might last until August.
And in today’s Australian Financial Review the company’s co-founder Justin Cameron, a tough, alert and fiercely intelligent biz-man who quit SurfStitch last year to organise a private equity takeover of the company, said its future is “very unpredictable, who knows if it will trade again… Significant time and money appears to be focused on litigation as opposed to managing the business.”
Matt Warshaw obits on surf culture pioneer John Severson, dead at eighty-three.
On Friday, the surf media pioneer John Severson affixed his angel wings and soared to heaven, perhaps bumping into BeachGrit’sMichael Kocher in the queue.
Now, Severson, who was eighty three, really was something. A hell of an artist, a swinging filmmaker and a businessman who turned the childish act of balancing on a surfboard into a fabulously profitable enterprise via the magazine Surfer.
BeachGrit: Here’s a story you’ll like. I was visiting the office of The Surfer’s Journal, being shown around the joint by its editor when I was introduced to the owner. Oh, Mr Severson, I cried. What a pleasure it is to meet you. You’re the voice, the creator of surf media. Of course, as you know, it wasn’t Severson but Steve Pezman. So who the hell was John Severson and why does he matter?
Warshaw: You made Steve Pezman’s day. A hot young gun making a fool of himself, and the idea that he (Pez) could be mistaken for the great Sevo. Steve’s a big gentle honey bear, but he’s got some bastard deep inside, and he can be as insecure as the rest of us, so that’s a double win for him.
In 1968 when the psychedelic train pulled into town, John, who was 35, ancient, climbed onboard, rang the bell, and drove the fucking thing.
BeachGrit: Fuck, wait a minute, that’s a lazy open-ended question. I might’ve just said, how about you write an obit for free? Okay. You know him? What kind of man was he?
Warshaw:John was first and foremost an artist. Sort of like Andrew Kidman or Thomas Campbell, where the first thought every morning is to pick up a camera or a brush or a pencil and just start making something. The big difference between Severson and all those guys is that he was also a business genius. SURFER was a hit from issue #1. He spun off all kinds of things, posters, shirts, books, even mugs, and he just never seemed to put a foot wrong when making a deal. And then finally, and most spectacularly, in 1968 when the psychedelic train pulled into town, John, who was 35, ancient, climbed onboard, rang the bell, and drove the fucking thing.
BeachGrit: God he could draw, couldn’t he.
Warshaw: The early stuff is fantastic, the later stuff is sentimental shit. John was the Rod Stewart of surf artists.
BeachGrit: First question. Severson sure do matter. One of the first surf filmmakers. A massive influence in that regard, yes?
Warshaw:He’s famous for starting SURFER, the “Bible of the Sport” and everything, and that’s what will go on his tombstone. But he was probably a better filmmaker than he was a publisher. Or at least just as good. Pacific Vibrations is his magus opus, and it’s kind of too big a bummer for its own good, what with all the dire environmental messaging and everything. But as a craftsman, I think he was the best, and that includes Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman there.
BeachGrit: And then he started a magazine with the best name ever, The Surfer, which later became Surfer. So he kicked off the whole surf media thing, yeah?
Warshaw:There were a couple shitty little surf magazines just before surfer. Greg Noll did one, and it was fish wrap. SURFER made it stick.
The early stuff is fantastic, the later stuff is sentimental shit. John was the Rod Stewart of surf artists.
BeachGrit: He had this fabulous role call of talent, the artist Rick Griffin, photographer Ron Stoner, write Drew Kampion, and, yeah, Steve Pezman. It wasn’t as if surf media kicked off with some crummy zine. What do you think Severson’s opinion of current surf media would be?
Warshaw:He had the best eye for talent, like nobody before or since. He knew who was great and who was just merely very good, and he also knew how to develop talent. Ron Stoner was promising when he first arrived at SURFER, but John arguably turned him into the Stoner we now revere. John paid Ron, for starters, buffed him out with the best equipment, and most importantly was able to express to Ron—John himself was an excellent photographer—how to move around a lineup, try different angles, experiment. Ron needed that.
BeachGrit:You think he’d be enjoying Surfer, as is, 2017?
Warshaw:John had a huge friendly ever-present smile, but he was a shark, maybe the biggest surf media shark ever, it’s how he did what he did for that amazing 12-year run. Velvet glove, iron fist, John didn’t invent it, but it applied it better than anyone in surf. All that said, at his core John was really upbeat and positive. Loved his work, loved his hobbies, I don’t ever saw much of a distinction between the two. He viewed his life and one continuous art piece, and demanded a lot of himself and others, but also was stood back often and beamed at how it was all turning out. I think he’d find things to enjoy about SURFER today, and I’m sure he’d be thinking, always, of how he could improve it.
BeachGrit: Had a bitchin joint at Cottons, yeah? Did he surf into dotage?
Warshaw:He had the best beachfront house at Cottons, back when the Marines were still keeping the place mostly on lockdown. John lived next door to Nixon, and it turned out that the President either had John’s house bugged, or was monitoring all the comings and goings, and John and his family got freaked out enough by all the Secret Service guys, and the weird clicks on the phone, the whole early ‘70s paranoia, that John sold the magazine, handed the publisher keys to Pezman, and moved to Maui. Retired for good at age 36. Surfed and painted right up to the end, I believe.
BeachGrit:How do you think his iconic quote stacks up in 2017: “In this crowded world the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts.”
“We could turn PopSci into PeriodSci for a week and still not have time to debunk every myth related to monthlies. But today we’ve got an exceptionally absurd one to tackle: Does period blood attract sharks, making menstruating individuals (and their unfortunate swimming companions) more vulnerable to vicious shark attacks?”
And this is perfect!
This is the official end of my journey! But what? You’ve never heard of Popular Science? In my junior high school (what is junior high school called in Australia?) Popular Science magazine seemed to a religious text for the boys who had not yet discovered girls. Who still played with Legos.
They would sit in the library and ooh and aah at various alchemy experiments and other stuff. I would stand across the room smirking at them, “reading” Steve Largent’s biography not because I was cool, obvs, but because I was too dumb to understand what alchemy even meant and other stuff.
In any case, these Popular Scientists would go on to be titans of industry, inventing better and better opioids etc. And it makes my heart sing to know the future titans of industry will have also go on to invent even better opioids but, for one brief moment in time, would have sat around a table in the library, vigorously scratching their heads at the wonders of women.
Five days ago this website wondered aloud if a BeachGrit reader could win, perhaps very easily, the Indian Open of Surfing. The two-day event, which began on Friday, featured the best surfers on the sub-continent, as well as Maldivian Ismail Miguel.
As Chas Smith wrote:
“Be honest right now. Be way super honest. If you happened to be in Mangalore with a few hours to kill and, inexplicably, your favorite surfboard do you think you could take the Indian Open of Surfing?
Are you racist for feeling that way?
But also, I think I could. Chas Smith surf champ!”
Of course, the posit was racist to the bone. Just as eating a delicious fish curry is an act of imperialist cultural appropriation.
Or at least it was until this photo was splashed across India’s Deccan Herald, an English-language paper read by half-a-million people every day.
“Austin from USA displays his skill on waves,” reads the caption.
Oh, I know, we’ve all fallen victim to inflated expectations of a surf photograph. Many years ago, one of my dearest friends came back to our North Shore rental breathless that he’d just been photographed taking off on a ten-foot Sunset peak.
This was pre-digital and a week passed before the photograph was revealed. The sheet of transparency film was ripped out of the paper bag, thrown on a lightbox and…
… the friend, a good enough surfer, was captured in a deep squat, a sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed style, on what appeared to be a still ocean.
I’ve worked in the magazine game long enough to’ve seen bad photos of Jordy Smith and co. (Oddly, never of Dane Reynolds.)
And what I’ve learned is, you have to turn harder than you’ve ever turned, in the most critical part of a wave you’ve ever visited, swish your arms and hips around and then, only then, might you get something that isn’t embarrassing.