Blood, sex and tears!
(Editor’s note: This story appears in the current issue, which is number twenty two, of White Horses magazine, the achingly gorgeous quarterly created and owned in part by former Surfing Life maestro Graeme Murdoch. You can buy this issue, or maybe subscribe if you ain’t afraid of loosing your credit card, here.)
If you’ve ever started a biz with a friend, you’ll know the trajectory: loveful and trusting at first, some sort of gloomy adolescence before it ends in a trail of slime.
In the summer of 2013 I was working as the writer, editor and photo editor, of Stab magazine, a print title I’d started in 2003 with Sam McIntosh.
(We’d start the online version, stabmag.com, a few years later.)
I’d cashed out of the biz a few years before 2013 but had stayed on as master and commander of a little ship that, while apparently influential in a cultural sense, rarely sold more than two thousand copies an issue.
Soon, advertising began to disappear and the health not just of Stab, but of all print titles, went into a death spiral. I was of the belief that, before long, a paper magazine would become a curio like slide film or vinyl – for the enthusiast but no longer mass market.
There was the argument that people liked to hold a magazine in their hands, which was true, but without advertising to support the expensive process, it wasn’t possible for a magazine to exist.
I remembered how fast digital photography had killed film. And not just the process, but the sudden obsolescence of all the people involved, from specialists who’d scan the film images on expensive machines to the pre-press division within each magazine that was needed to make the whole thing print ready.
Meanwhile, I watched the traffic of Stab online begin to soar. A story I wrote immediately after Andy Irons’ death took traffic beyond 10,000 sessions in a day for the first time.
I began to tire of print.
Of the long lead time between writing a story and seeing it designed (I’d keep looking over the shoulder of the designer to see if he’d opened the Word file yet. Usually it took a week or more for him to get to it), to getting it proofed, having it printed, and arriving in magazine form. There was that small fritz of excitement of holding the magazine for the first time although there was rarely any feedback, good or bad, except for the time Chas Smith was called “a fucking Jew” by Mick Fanning. We printed the exchange and the magazine lost a quarter of a million dollars in yearly ad revenue.
Worse, everything inside the magazine was so old. Sometimes two months had passed between interview and publication.
In contrast, a story written online would be published immediately and, within minutes, lanced with feedback. One of the profoundly equalising things about the internet is that it doesn’t matter if you’re Apple, the New York Times or BeachGrit, we all occupy the same screen space on a person’s phone or computer.
I knew I had to peg out my claim with a new website.
After selling out of Stab, I’d gone out looking for greener pastures. These included mainstream journalism (two hundred and ten columns for Fairfax Press over five years) and a water tax biz. Neither of ‘em thrilled me like surf thrilled.
So it had to be a surf website. A reboot of Stab but this time a little more Vice (old-school Gav McInnes Vice not SJW Shane Smith Vice) with a slightly cultural bent. Lighter but deeper.
The name came quickly.
It had to have the word Beach in the title. (Surf is so overused.)
It had to allude to a light, loose and libertine approach.
A very good designer pal called Jeremy Hancock created the logos.
A company in Poland built the site for six thousand dollars.
I spoke to my best friend Chas Smith in Los Angeles about using all his previous works for Stab to load up the site. In return, he would become a part-owner and editor. (Soon, he would become the voice of BeachGrit.)
I wanted to launch with a hundred or so stories plugged into the back end. (As of July 2017, there have been 3150 published stories.)
Chas recommended we partner with the Santa Barbara photographer Morgan Maassen as our filmer and photographer because of his excellent social reach.
There would be no business plan except to write, laugh a little and, maybe, somewhere down the line, advertising might give Chas, Morgan and I a small stipend.
I flew to LA in July 2014 and we shot two short videos with Morgan. I wrote with Chas at his kitchen table, drinking vodka margaritas and, at one point, smoking some terrific medicinal marijuana that left me white-faced and holding onto the bench lest I spin off the curvature of the earth.
At some point, my finger hovered over the publish button.
“Do it”, said Chas.
The first stories published were: Doll Lady Haunts Trestles Ahead of Hurley Pro, Focus Group Creates Brand: Names It Vissla, Ask Pam: Ohh Ya She Cool (Dane Reynolds and Courtney Jaedtke’s dog was our advice columnist for the first year), How To Make A Surf Film With Kai Neville (conventional!), Surfers Who Weep Like Gals, and an essay and photo gallery entitled Surfers With Beautiful Tits.
Quote: “I know my breasts, small as plums, would win no blue ribbons,” Balaram Stack might write if he was inclined to poetry. “But in your hands they tremble and fill with song like plump, white birds.”
Three years on, we’ve had another biz partner, Rory Parker, an unemployed Californian who’d moved to Kauai with his lawyer wife and therefore had time on his hands to write every day for two years for his chunk of the biz, three writers who found lucrative employment at Stab (Ali Klinkenberg, Michael Ciaramella and Ashton Goggans). Our launch partner Morgan Maassen disappeared shortly after BeachGrit was launched and therefore didn’t hit the KPIs needed to secure his piece of the business.
BeachGrit’s traffic has grown from seven hundred and twenty reads on opening day to the occasional 20k spike.
There is a small, though not insignificant, revenue stream, although both Chas and I took on book projects this year (he, Surfing and Cocaine: A Love Story and, me, Wednesdays with Bob, a series of interviews with the Australian prime minster Bob Hawke) to keep the home fires burning.
Our manifesto, even after three years, remains the same.
Let me repeat.
We at BeachGrit take surfing like we take life. As anti-depressive! We believe that surfers are in sore need of new standards which will release him from his confusion and place him once again in fruitful communion with the depths of surfing. BeachGrit is loose but we lead with a libertine moral code. We challenge you not to be tempted by our fast-flowing suction! Whatever you think of us, of our writers, and of our swinging attitudes, we promise you’ll never be bored.