Warshaw on Death of SURFER magazine: “It’s been hanging by a thread since it was sold to the owner of National Enquirer in 2019, but the clock has been ticking since Al Gore invented the internet.”

"I left SURFER but SURFER never left me."

In 1972, at age 12, I wanted to grow up and be Jeff Hakman or Jerry West, flip a coin.

Instead, I grew up to be the editor of SURFER, which is one of those consolation prizes that turns out to be better than the thing you wanted in the first place.

I was hired in 1985.

Creatively speaking, the magazine was in middling-poor shape when I arrived and middling-good shape six years later when I ceremoniously turned over my half-ton avocado-green Steelcase editor’s desk to Steve Hawk, who took SURFER from middling-good to very good indeed.

It was a great place to work: part surf club, part Warhol Factory, part The Office.

I liked the people I worked with. I liked the deadline pressure and having a worthy nemesis (thank you, Surfing), and as a subscriber and fan since 1969, I liked the weight of the place — having Severson, Stoner, Kampion, and Brewer looking over my shoulder (the first three metaphorically; Art Brewer actually looked over my shoulder and froze my blood on occasion with his famous hooded-eye stare).

In other words, I was both inspired and slightly awed at being part of the sport’s oldest and best magazine. I never set foot on the SURFER premises without intending to make the new issue better than the previous one — because it was my byline on the articles and my name at the top of the masthead, yes, but also because it was fucking SURFER, Bible of the Sport, and I still hate that tagline, but if you got the gig you honored and respected and were shaped by it nonetheless.

Stab reported on Friday evening that the entire SURFER staff had just been furloughed, and editor Todd Prodanovich soon confirmed on Instagram that the recent issue (above right) would be the magazine’s last.

SURFER had been hanging by a thread since it was sold to American Media (owner of National Enquirer) in early 2019, but the clock has been ticking since Al Gore invented the internet. Surf magazines will find a cozy little niche audience, like vinyl LPs, but with rare exception we’re 20 or so years removed from the day when a print article could break a story, set a tone, drive a discussion.

SURFER has long felt like a coda not just to its previous self, but to print media in general. Prodanovich said the “Covid economy” did SURFER in, but that’s not really true. The internet marched SURFER to the cliff — all the virus did was finger-push it over the edge. Digital is coming for us all, and yes I see the irony of this story appearing here.

(Encyclopedia of Surfing has dozens of SURFER-related pages. Click here to begin the deep dive.)

I’ve said that leaving SURFER at the end of 1990 was like shedding a skin. But thinking it over these past few days, I’m more aware than ever that SURFER in fact moved into me like a DNA transduction.

I left SURFER but SURFER never left me.

Art Brewer and Jeff Divine, for example, each with 50 years on the masthead, are my Polaris and Sirius of long-term high-quality work. Ron Stoner’s unschooled genius is my proof that savants live among us.

Thanks to the magazine’s incredible shape-shifting transformation in 1968, and again in 1991, I understand what “change or die” means.

Drew Kampion was the first SURFER writer I stole from, probably for a middle school essay, and I’ve done it ever since, right up to Sean Doherty’s recent Pipe Masters wrapup. John Witzig taught me how to come in with guns firing. Kevin Naughton and Craig Peterson taught me how to come in with a smile and a bro handshake and a case of beer.

Photographer Brad Barrett (below right) and art director Hy Moore (left), the quiet duo from SURFER’s 1968-1971 High Renaissance Age, and I do mean high, remind me that some of the finest and most valuable work goes uncredited.

I never met John Severson in person, but thanks to him I know that is possible to create something that is both specific and timeless, and that you can and should develop a full quiver of media skills. We are by and large an international collection of small-bore hustlers, back-paddlers, and bad-vibers, but at some deep plasmatic level we share a bond as surfers, and this was another received bit of Severson wisdom. “I wanted everybody to feel included,” he told me in 1995 when I asked why he originally called his magazine The Surfer. “It felt like we were something we were all going to do together.”

“We’re In This Together,” incredibly, is the lone cover blurb on SURFER’s final issue, and while I am warmed by this 1960-to-2020 symmetry and full-circleness, there is no getting around the fact that, with SURFER gone, we are suddenly and probably forever less together.

(Like Matt Warshaw’s flavour? This story comes from his weekly mail-out, sent to all good surfers who cut three bucks a month to subscribe to his bottomless archive of surf history. Join here.)


It ain't a stretch to describe Julian Wilson as Australia's best surfer. | Photo: Steve Sherman/@tsherms

Julian Wilson has $US1.5 million lawsuit against former sponsor Hurley dismissed

Who blinked first, Hurley or Wilson?

Last month, Julian Wilson initiated a $US1.5 million lawsuit against Hurley for their alleged wrongful termination of his contract.

The crux of Hurley’s alleged reasoning centered on Wilson’s failure to compete in 2020. The contract had apparently entitled Hurley to reduce Wilson’s compensation if he failed to compete in at least five World Tour events in a year.

The WSL cancelled the 2020 Tour following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s unclear why Wilson dismissed the suit, as the documents filed on Wilson’s behalf are lacking any substantive information, but it’s likely that the parties settled.

Wilson’s attorneys would have likely threatened suit in the initial negotiations and he (plausibly) would have had little incentive to dismiss the suit without reaching some settlement agreement, as even the hint of litigation is substantial leverage in the U.S. (lawyers are an expensive bunch).

It’s possible that Wilson blinked first in light of a threat by Hurley (aka Bluestar Alliance) to litigate the matter to the hilt, but it seems unlikely given Wilson was represented by a high-powered legal firm specializing in media and entertainment.

Wilson and Hurley entered into the original seven-year agreement in 2014.

Then, in 2019, Hurley was purchased by Bluestar Alliance.

According to Wilson, Bluestar announced its intention to shift away from athlete sponsorships following the acquisition.

Bluestar was allegedly unhappy with many of the contracts they had acquired, “reportedly looking for loopholes in contracts. … to use as leverage to renegotiate terms.”

Wilson also alleged that Hurley had attempted to postpone his payments, telling Wilson that if he did not agree to the postponement, Hurley would face bankruptcy.

Since Bluestar’s acquisition, Hurley has culled several high-profile athletes.

Rob Machado, a Hurley sponsored surfer for twenty years, was dropped in January of this year.

John Florence left Hurley after he was reportedly offered $2 million to void the remaining $12 million left in his contract.

Carissa Moore was rumored to be in a contract dispute with Hurley earlier this year, though she still remains on the team.

Wilson is still sponsored by a myriad of brands, including Red Bull, but for now, the nose of his board looks a lot like ours.

The flouting of contracts isn’t exactly novel news for Americans (see American removal of Native Americans), but it still feels dire when corporations can essentially opt out of expensive surf sponsorships with little consequence.

A dark time for surfers in the paid-to-shred biz.


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. | Photo: @surfer

Former staffer writes eulogy on death of SURFER: “The final bit of content? A photo of an air at a soulless wavepool posted to Instagram. About the saddest way this lumbering old lion could be put down.”

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.

Nothing.

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.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CF2ipT7Bq_2/

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.


Half Metal Jacket: The United States Army drops “shark attack” basic training technique as Coronavirus pandemic ends “up-close shouting!”

Ho.

Of all the things abandoned during the Coronavirus Pandemic (2019- ), including handshakes, sitting shoulder to shoulder with strangers, full restaurants and professional surfing, I think I’m most sad to see the United States Army’s “shark attack” go.

And of course you know what the “shark attack” is because you are a surfer but also watch movies.

The “shark attack” is when a drill sergeant stands centimeters away from a recruits face while screaming.

Like this.

According to the military website Stars and Stripes:

While the shark attack was intended “to establish dominance and authority using intimidation and fear, to weed out the weak of heart,” it helped to create “a chaotic environment that centered around applying physical exertion under stress.”

“Drill sergeants were charged with assessing the trainee’s ability to handle stress … by enveloping them in a manner that emulated a shark attack,” Fortenberry said.

Sometimes, half a dozen drill sergeants would “gang up on you and be absolutely relentless,” causing some recruits to cry, said James Dalman, who was infantry in the Army Reserves and National Guard for six years, on his website.

Although the shark attack method was “mean, nasty, and overwhelming,” and a “deeply unpleasant experience, it does serve an important purpose — preparing troops for stressful situation including combat,” he said.

But now it is gone because screaming centimeters from anyone’s face, even recruits’ faces, is not cool during Coronavirus.

I feel very sad because another surf reference has been removed from the military but mostly because movies will suffer deeply. In the future there will be no more Major Panyne…

No more Stripes…

No more Biloxi Blues…

No more Jarhead…

No more Officer and a Gentleman…

No more Full Metal Jacket.

Heartbreaking.


When there ain't no sunshine left.

Quit-lit: “Why do I still surf? I never have any fun. For something that gave me so much joy, and great memories, this sucks!”

Surfing, calcified as personal ritual…

He looks out the windshield of his poorly maintained 2014 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner, eyes aimed, blankly, at the horizon.

He sees the waves breaking down the cliff, solid and glassy four-foot runners. He should probably go out, he thinks.

He’s already driven all this way, might as well, except that he doesn’t feel like it, not wanting to drag the albatross that is his self-consciously bulked body and unceasingly diminishing mind down the cliff trail.

It would be easier to go home and watch TV or sleep.

He sits in his truck, unable to decide whether to go out. On the one hand, sinking even further into his mental quicksand, he just doesn’t want to, on the other, there hasn’t been decent surf in two months since he last surfed and it’s good now.

Thinking that there was potential, however small, that a session could produce maybe one ounce of joy, he decides he’s going to just do it. More likely, it will be a story he can talk to his mom about next time she calls in order to make her think he’s fine.

He parks his car and pulls his performance five-fin convertible shortboard, which he’s going to ride thruster because he doesn’t think the setup actually makes a difference, from his board bag.

He holds it out in front of himself, looking at it with disgust.

“This board fucking sucks,” he mumbles, oblivious to the other beachgoers who stare at him as they walk past.

Truth is, the board doesn’t suck, he just wants something to complain about. He actually surfs it better than any other board he has in the last eight years.

He makes his way down the cliff, opting for trunks and a top because he didn’t want to hassle with his short-sleeve full-suit he hates because it has a back zip.

All the way down he can’t stop thinking about all the lippers he’s planning to do, but probably won’t be able to, because he sucks, trying to temper the thoughts of the fat-assed black girl he saw in the grocery store the other day.

He makes it down to the beach and counts fifty surfers out all down the beach. There were only three or four guys out when he first started checking.

He should have known.

Every white-collar young professional douchebag being able to work from home these days, the beach is infested, every Bryce, Aiden, and Connor trying to break off a piece of the surf lifestyle.

He gets mad and angrily puts on his leash. It’s his own fault, that fucking asshole.

Again, he should have known.

He walks into the water.

“Fuck that’s cold!”

He stops for a few moments, considering whether or not he would be that guy who doesn’t even paddle out and just leaves, but decides against it, because it would be embarrassing to walk back up dry. He shuffles in the water up to his waist and then jumps over a wave and starts paddling.

It’s usually a breeze for him to get out into the lineup, but today he is struggling. His arms feel stuck in molasses, weighed down by the past two months of inactivity. After a dozen minutes, which feels unquantifiably longer, he makes it out to the inside lineup.

He is out of breath.

“Why do I still do this? I never have any fun. For something that was so great and provided so much joy to me, as well as many great memories, this fucking sucks. I should just quit,” he thinks, in between those thousand other non-sequitur thoughts that race through one’s head at all times, in his case now, mostly “Big butts!… baby back ribs!”

Such is the hackneyed facile life of a nobody who lacks imagination and cannot even tempt himself to try at anything new, his hobbies retained, calcified as personal ritual, in spite of their staleness.

“Maybe I just need something different… god I’m pretentious!”

Suddenly, he sees a set coming on the outside.

He’s not going to make it, it’s going to break before he can lazy, faux duck dive with his knees under it, so he paddles for the preceding pre-full set inside left and somehow catches it.

He takes off, bottom turns and hits the lip hard backside, his tail, astonishingly, getting above it.

He plays with the wave’s lip, flicking its edges and producing jets of spray with his jittery stick, until he rides it to completion with one final cutback into a foamy, whitewater explosion on the deep inside.

He thinks, “Whoa! Where the fuck did that come from? That was fun!”

Feeling jazzed, he looks back out to the water and decides against paddling back out, figuring that was the best he was going to do. He notices a man on the beach taking photos of people in the water who happens to keep glancing at him. Standing near the trail, he’s going to have to pass the guy back up to the car.

“I wonder if that guy got that one?… Probably looked shit. I mean, it will be embarrassing if he did, right?… yeah, of course…. Oh well… Maybe?”

He walks past the camera guy.

Nothing.

The guy ignores him, instead aiming his camera towards some college-aged, young professional (he can’t tell how old anyone is) kooks, snapping photos of them surfing their foamies on the inside.

“Douchebags…”

He makes his way back up to the car, the thoughts about maybe getting a new board and surfing more occupying his thoughts halfway up the trail disintegrating in the morning air.

“Fuck me,” he says to himself, thinking about the effects of childbirth on Nicki Minaj’s implants.

The inertia of his cliché life decays any further thoughts of him quitting… until the next swell at least.