SURFER was not simply an “asset” but a living, breathing part of our culture…
I saw my first cover of SURFER magazine (October, 1991 issue) when I was twelve years old, standing in line at a grocery store in landlocked Visalia, California (Hi Chas’s wife!), my chubby hands each clutching a tube of chalky Necco wafers.
The cover image was a long-haired dude in a wetsuit and booties floating a big chunky end section, with the photo divided in two: black and white on one side, color on the other (it’s my avy). I didn’t know what I was looking at, but I knew it looked cool as hell, so I pestered my exhausted mother until she bought the magazine. I took it home, fell in love, and it shaped the rest of my life from that day forward.
My mom moved me to the coast a year later, a miraculous gift from an otherwise non-existent god. With that grubby SURFER magazine as my only guide, I spent the next couple years turning my landlubbing ass into an actual surfer. 30 years later, I still have that issue at the bottom of a box, a few dozen other issues stacked neatly on top, a layer cake of memories three decades deep.
Every so often, I tip a bottle of bourbon into a glass (one ice cube), fish that ancient mag out of the box, and in a whoosh of nostalgia am transported instantly to a time when surfing was the most mysterious thing in the world to me, impossibly cool, and a culture I desperately wanted to be part of.
That a kid who’d never seen surfing in person could buy a copy of SURFER 200 miles from the ocean at a low budget grocery store in a low budget town probably has something to do with the demise of the magazine. Mission creep, cancer-like growth, the mag leaving the careful clutches of John Severson’s hands to be passed around to ever more predatory corporations that practically gave away subscriptions to inflate circ numbers to move more ads, selling mags in places that made no sense, blah blah blah, standard pulp publication trajectory of the past few decades.
SURFER wasn’t unique in that.
It also wasn’t unique in last week’s blood letting by parent company A360 Media (gag). Powder Magazine, founded in 19-freaking-72, skiing’s granddaddy publication, was axed. Bike Magazine, another giant, pushed off a cliff. Each of these titles, like SURFER, were cherished, fueled dreams, had pages ripped out and taped to walls, and for at least parts of their existence, defined their sport’s culture.
None of them were given a farewell by A360.
SURFER was in its sixtieth year of publication. The final bit of content produced? A photo of an air at a goddamed soulless wavepool posted to Instagram. About the saddest way this lumbering old lion could be put down.
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What happens when the heavy hitters of “Snapt 4” assemble in Texas for a pool party? Aerial action aplenty and a couple of wall ride attempts by @cocom4debarrelkilla, of course. Head to our site to see all of the action from “Snapt High 2020”. Filmed and edited by: @riordanpringle
Why not the dignity of a week-long online lovefest?
Let some of the old editors and scribes pen loving tributes?
Where’s the harm in that?
There of course is no harm, and if the media biz was run by real human beings and not by Allbirds-wearing choads worshipping accounting software, it perhaps would have occurred to people higher up in the organization that these titles were not simply “assets” but living, breathing members of our culture that deserve proper eulogies, not Friday afternoon pink slips.
I wrote for SURFER as a full-time gig for much of the past decade, so you’ll forgive a little rambling and sensitivity here.
I’m also not naive to market forces or even partial to my era at the mag. For my money, nothing will beat the early Steve Hawk years in the nineties. Moody, mature, with just enough vinegar-splashed irreverence to cut through the seriousness. The high-water mark of the publication, no question.
I’m also not so naive as to think SURFER died last week.
It really died years ago, maybe sometime around the second decade of this century, when the internet toppled SURFER from its pedestal as the must-read magazine that each month gathered the surf world together, so to speak.
Even from the inside, and especially as the issue count was shortened year over year recently, I mourned the SURFER of old, unsatisfied by what replaced it, the firehose of social media, and websites all sharing the exact same YouTube clips, interspersed with traffic farming listicles and self-help articles geared toward you clicking on product links and the website getting a kickback.
There’s a reason A360 is keeping only Men’s Journal, after all, a magazine nobody cares about, but which surely generates enough in affiliate sales (look it up, kiddos), to be a cash cow for a media company that doesn’t give a shit about media or journalism, or any of the sports their magazines covered.
Those problems are bigger than surf, ski, or bike mags, of course.
Two decades into the internet eating media, we still don’t know how to make websites profitable without ruining them, so addicted we’ve all become to free content.
There is a lesson here in SURFER’s demise.
Support your favorite publications. You don’t like ads? Don’t visit free websites. You don’t like staring at screens? Buy print publications. We deserve whatever shitty media we’ll have in the coming years if we refuse to pay actual money for it.
The Surfer’s Journal will soldier on, for who knows how long, likely until those of us who grew up with print pubs give up the ghost, our kids never having cared about non-digital entertainment. The SURFER Magazine that you loved the most, or, whichever weird-ass Australian title you grew up reading, was likely at its best back when it was supported by subscription revenue that covered the cost of printing, and made a little profit before ads entered the picture at all.
It’s ridiculous to complain about the quality of a product you pay nothing for, to demand an ad-free experience while reading a free article. Editorial freedom combined with the trust of a subscriber base is a powerful thing in media.
We can have the media we want, as long as we’re willing to pay for it.
Which brings me back to that kid in Visalia, who changed the direction of his life based on one copy of SURFER magazine, and the 42-year-old man who threw away his high school yearbooks but can’t bring himself to pitch a thirty-year-old magazine into the recycling.
I’m clearly not alone. SURFER meant a great deal over the decades to an awful lot of people. It still will, but now as only a memory, and that’s fine. Time moves on, tastes change.
Something needs to fill that gap. Something has needed to for awhile. BeachGrit, god bless y’all, ain’t filling it. Stab isn’t either. The Journal I guess comes close, but it’s always felt sterile, standing at a distance from its readers
. As Chas wisely said, “SURFER was the Bible of the sport. It was what mattered. And now it doesn’t.”
Surfing doesn’t really have any media that matters anymore. Nothing to rip from a mag and tape to a wall. Nothing to get excited about when it shows up. Nothing to take us to new, faraway places we’d never heard of, nothing to introduce us to new ways of being a surfer, no cultural fire for us all to gather ‘round, to warm our hands each month.
The media biz today makes that nearly impossible.
And for that, I’m sad.
We should all be.
Now if you’ll excuse me, time to dig out that old mag, drink one for the old girl, and be happy I was able to make those memories at all.
Oh, and PS: We never, ever wrote anything based on appeasing pro surfers or advertisers. Drives me fucking insane when people who have no idea how this works prattle on endlessly about that.