"The bulk of the commenters admitted to not actually reading the magazine. But they sure knew they hated it."
Some things are worth standing up for.
For me, it’s quality work, particularly the written word. Good writing is vital. It shapes our thoughts, communicates our shared experiences, and reminds us we are human.
Yet most writers don’t get paid very much. If you do it, it must be for the love.
Precious few publications still exist that might nourish and appreciate this love. Those that do are sacrosanct. Without them, we are left with a culture of internet-shaming and cancellation that pervades our society, and the sort of blind groupthink that festers because of social media.
A single post can be like wildfire.
The latest victim, you may have seen, is our own Surfer’s Journal. Not only consistently the finest surf magazine in existence, but also, crucially, one of the last.
The cross-hairs fixed on TSJ came via the Instagram (where else) page of Lauren Hill, whom you may know as the partner of Dave Rastovich.
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Hill’s attack, an accusation that there is a “blatant exclusion of female surfers, writers and photographers from the pages of TSJ”, was nothing new in surfing, and the sentiment, if not for the deliberately emotive and conclusively false statement, has some validity.
It’s her target and tone that’s deeply problematic.
In the interests of transparency, I’m lucky enough to have a story in the latest issue of TSJ. But my defence is nothing to do with the cheque in the bank, and everything to do with the work.
It’s my fourth piece for the Journal, and each has been approached with reverence and deep joy from start to finish. I’d be embarrassed to tell you how much time I’ve put into this writing, how many times I read and re-read every sentence. How much I agonise over phrase and structure and image.
I don’t regret a second. I know that it’s appreciated.
The Surfer’s Journal is unique. Unless I’ve missed something, there’s nothing like it anywhere in the world of boardsports.
In a flimsy world of throwaway things, it’s too important to dismiss based on someone’s Instagram post. It rarely misses a beat when it comes to quality, considered content. This should be cherished, not shamed. And certainly not misrepresented.
In one damming Instagram post, based on flicking through two issues, Lauren Hill condemned the entire publication.
She selected two issues (off a friend’s shelf, she doesn’t subscribe) and posted some images of women from the pages, without any context whatsoever.
Predictably, this led to furious uproar and a classic internet pile-on. Each comment strengthens the conviction of the next. No matter that you don’t actually read or subscribe to the magazine, or even really understand the argument, jump right in, feet first. There’s room for all types of hatred here!
Person X is saying it on Instagram, so therefore it must be right, and we will shake our fists with much fury and spray praying-hands and raise-the-roof and red-heart emojis, and we will damn The Thing to hell, and we will purge the world of this evil!
The bulk of the commenters admitted to not actually reading the magazine. But they sure knew they hated it.
And just theoretically, if The Surfer’s Journal compromised their editorial strategy in the wake of this pressure to include more women, would these people suddenly stump up the $7.99 a month for six issues a year?
Or would they just continue to consume low-quality, free surf content on the internet, and The Surfer’s Journal slowly ebb away to nothingness like everything else?
What Hill didn’t note in her consciously inflammatory post, was that five of the nine pictures she flagged up (all those with women in bikinis or topless) came from one story. It was a profile and portfolio of a photographer called Slim Aarons, who took the pictures from the late 50s through to the early 70s. All were of wealthy people with a mostly tenuous connection to surfing, as was his goal.
The accompanying story literally includes the lines,
“His surf shots are all golden; the people are young and strong. Nothing wrong with this, of course – but it serves to illustrate Aarons’ maxim: Attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.”
These were not gratuitous pictures of women presented for the titillation of men in a surf magazine, as presented by Hill on her Instagram page, they were simply the correct shots to accompany the story and represent the figure being profiled.
I guess she missed the ten-page, several thousand word profile on Joey Hamasaki, written by another woman, Mindy Pennybacker. (Issue 30.4)
Or the profile of Andrea Moller, written by Gabriela Aoun, also running to ten pages. (Issue 30.5)
Or photographer Daniela Caram’s pictures in Issue 30.6.
Or the ten page spread on Imogen Caldwell, focusing on her surfing, not her modelling career. (Issue 31.1)
(Perhaps Caldwell had forgotten, too, when she chimed into Hill’s comments with a praising-hands emoji.)
This is not meant as tit-for-tat. Although Hill has grossly misrepresented the magazine, there is an imbalance of men and women in TSJ.
Guess what? Line-ups are still like that, too.
The Journal needs to cater to its demographic to stay alive. And if consistency has kept the lights on whilst everything else has died around them, it would seem a reckless gamble to change tack at this stage.
The greater issue, and the reason, perhaps, that there are few female voices in The Surfer’s Journal, is simply a lack of female surf writers.
In 2022, I’m not sure that this is because of a lack of opportunity. I know for a fact that the BeachGrit proprietors would welcome pitches from female writers with open arms and encouragement.
In my WCT coverage, commenters have occasionally asked why I don’t cover the women’s tour. The events run concurrently, mostly I’m watching it anyway. The reasons are two-fold.
First and foremost I’m not paid to do it.
My agreement was for the men’s tour only, and despite the fact I think there are some fascinating storylines on the women’s side (and the evolution of women’s surfing is infinitely more interesting than men’s) I just don’t have the bandwidth or time to make a good job of both.
(This isn’t a full-time gig, you know.)
But a greater reason for me not to do it is because I’m not the right man for the job. I could, and I’d enjoy it, but do we really need a male perspective on women’s surfing?
Women’s surfing needs more woman’s voices, particularly in writing, and that’s a fact.
I feel certain that the editors at TSJ judge each and every pitch on its merit. Does it fit the voice of the magazine? Does it present a story or viewpoint that you won’t read elsewhere? Is it interesting, quality work? The gender of subjects and creators is irrelevant. A good story is a good story. It just so happens that more men surf than women, especially when we consider history as often excavated in the Journal. To present it any other way would be disingenuous.
The status-quo exists to be challenged. That’s what good art does. But compromising quality for the sake of equality is not a step forward.
Is the magazine overtly male in tone and content? Definitely.
But this isn’t the same as deliberately excluding women’s voices, as accused by Hill.
If there are women who love to write, and for some reason would channel this talent into writing about surfing, I’m sure they would find a willing audience. No surf publication is turning down quality work on the basis of gender. If more women want to be heard in surfing, they should speak up.