Sean Doherty and SW magazine cover
Sean Doherty, right, alongside Surfing World's iconic Road Song issue from four decades previous.

World’s best surf reporter Sean Doherty rattles can in fight to save dying surf culture

“We’ve gotta do something or it might circle the drain and then one day disappear.”

Do you remember when the Australian reporter Sean Doherty would spike each day of surf competition with a very sharp onsite analysis for Surfer magazine?

Even at the time, nine years ago or thereabouts, boots on the ground at a contest seemed excessive and so I asked Sean Doherty, then, why he was the only person that actually reported from surf events.

“No one else seems stupid enough,” he said through gritted and slightly beige teeth. “The great conundrum in writing surf online for chicken feed is that when you’re being paid $150 for a story you fall into the trap of writing $150 worth of pure mediocrity. The problem then comes when the Internet keeps your horseshit contest report alive for eternity with your byline stuck to it in 40-point type. The trick is to write like your story is going to hang around and either help you or haunt you forever. It’s the same principle you should apply to all the menial jobs in your life… lavish the detail on the small things and the big things take care of themselves.”

Very wise words.

It was Sean Doherty’s commitment to his craft that led him and pal, the photographer Jon Frank, to scoop up the remains of Surfing World magazine in a fire sale three years ago and resurrect that old treasure, working for free to keep surfing culture not just alive but thriving.

An aside.

If you haven’t seen, met, or sighted a photograph of Sean Doherty, you must let me describe. He’s a little under the old six-foot measure (more than a little, but let’s be kind!), he has the strong torso of a lifelong surfer (which is surprising because he likes to drink), his crown is relieved of the burden of hair, and as for his surfing ability… yes. He surfs!

And he’s good enough to combo a wave from barbe au cul, as the French like to say, and enter and exit a tube. On his passport are enough stamps for Hawaii to guarantee his bone fides when it’s over four foot.

Anyway, Surfing World just had its sixtieth anniversary, making it the oldest still-running surfing magazine in the world.

And, Doherty, each year, rattles the can, as he calls it, to plump subscriber numbers to keep it all afloat.

You see, Doherty and Frank, who lives in Mallorca, off the coast of Spain there for reasons too complicated to examine here, don’t make a cent off the magazine.

All ad revenue, all subs, all newsstand sales go back into making a surfing magazine whose only rival is the magnificent Surfers Journal, which is made out of San Clemente, California.

On a recent warm Torquay afternoon, I find Doherty, now fifty two, and about to bring his fourth kid into the world, readying to move the entire squadron twelve hundred miles north to Yamba, and a stone’s throw from Angourie.

We talk for a while about print, the apparent death of pro surfing and why he keeps doing this thing.

Doherty, who works full-time for Patagonia, tells me that when he and Frankie got the mag, the sale and its subsequent handover consisted of two hard-drives with “scattered folders, bits of stuff everywhere…super incomplete but with a lot of interesting  stuff from the (Swellian lord Vaughan) Blakey era.”

Recently, they released their sixtieth anniversary issue and, if you want a sign that there’s still some life in surf culture, the magazine completely sold out.

“I’ve never sold out a magazine in my life, sold the whole print run,” says Doherty. “It was 260 pages, fucking just about killed us doing it.”

And, advertisers, he says, were lining up to be in it.

“Advertisers know that if someone is committed enough to pay twenty bucks for a magazine, they’re committed enough to look at what they’re selling. It breaks that online conditioning where everything is free.”

The revival of Surfing World among surfers, says Doherty, is due to what he calls “digital exhaustion. Surfing World is the opposite of everything on the internet. We don’t cover pro surfing. There’s a lot of long-form profile pieces, 20,000 words, 10,000, 12,000. I think it’s a correction back. People are more open to long-form stuff like that occasionally in a world where they’re bombarded by small stuff every minute of every day. It’s just a big grassroots, long-form celebration of surfing. There’s a lot of energy on that side of the idealogical divide.”

Still, it don’t come cheap.

So Doherty and Frank would be thrilled if you could find a way to subscribe or buy a copy here and there (Dave Scales of Surf Splendor distributes in the US). 

“Every year we rattle the can, get the violins out. We don’t pay ourselves anything and we need to remind people that it’s still there and needs a bit of love. The only thing stopping it from getting bigger is energy and money.”

Doherty knows nothing lasts forever, magazines or surf culture, but says, how about we keep it going as long as we can.

“We gotta do something with this,” says Doherty. “We gotta evolve or it might just gradually go into decline, circle the drain and then one day disappear.”

Plan A. Photo: WSL
Plan A. Photo: WSL

France’s Sports Minister declares Tahiti or bust for 2024 Paris Olympics!

"No, there's no Plan B."

Surfer Magazine and its dumb lying robots aside, the situation in Tahiti in relation to the upcoming 2024 Olympics is certainly something. Surf fans initially rejoiced when it was announced that the surfing portion of the Games would be held at Teahupo’o. The gem at “the end of the road” is as good as it gets, in terms of professional surf competition goes, and watching hopefuls go, or not (see: Filipe Toledo), will certainly thrill.


Olympic organizers started getting too clever, deciding to replace the old judging tower with a new one thus infuriating locals. In order to prove how great it would be, a barge was hired for a test run.

It proceeded to smash the reef to bits.

Calls immediately were raised to move the show back to France though, hours ago, France’s Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera has put her foot down, telling the country’s reporters, “No, there’s no Plan B. We’re on this path which is really the right one. We’re on the right path to have a new, resized judges’ tower that corresponds to requests made by locals. There was a test that was obviously not well prepared and could not be conducted properly,” she said. “And unfortunately it damaged bits of coral, which is obviously completely regrettable. The next test must be meticulously prepared.”

Do you think the locals will be relieved to hear about the meticulousness?

More importantly, are there currently tears in the Toledo household?

Finally, will Surfer Magazine jump back in or has the machine singed its little metal fingers?

Sad days at The Arena Group. Photo: Her
Sad days at The Arena Group. Photo: Her

Surfer parent company sees stock crash in wake of “dangerous lying” about beloved surf champion

Owner tells Surfer robots, "The amount of useless stuff you guys do is staggering.”

The surf world was rocked to its absolute core, yesterday, when it was revealed that Surfer Magazine had published dangerous lies about beloved five-time world champion Carissa Moore. The disgraced former “Bible of the Sport,” putting false words in Moore’s mouth, stated that she had called for a boycott of the 2024 Paris Olympics due concerns over a new judging tower proposal for Teahupo’o’s famed reef.

Moore suggested no such action whatsoever.

The gold medalist was vigorously defended by newly-minuted hero of professional surfers, BeachGrit, though its artificial intelligence has yet to walk back the claim. The robot, likely, spending all its time trying to figure out how readers were not convinced it was real even though it stated in its biography that it “enjoyed spicy food, strong coffee and live music.”

It best hurry or an unplugging is around the corner. For news was released, yesterday, that Surfer Magazine’s parent company, The Arena Group, has seen its stock crash by nearly 30% in the wake of the scandal.

Unscrupulousness the cause.

Per Yahoo! Finance:

The most recent artificial intelligence (AI) controversy has some dire consequences.

According to Sportico, shares in Sports Illustrated’s publisher, The Arena Group, have dropped by 28% after the renowned sports outlet was accused of using AI to generate stories under fabricated bylines.

Per the initial report led by Futurism, Sports Illustrated allegedly “used computer-generated copy to create content such as a volleyball buying guide authored by staffers that don’t exist.”

Dark days, indeed

Two C-Suite Arena Group executives have already been fired and it must be assumed that the machine-generated apology letter to Carissa Moore has been lost in the shuffle.

Manoj Bhargava, the 5-Hour Energy drink owner whose firm recently purchased a controlling stake in The Arena Group, got on a “meandering video call with Arena staff” yesterday, according to Front Office Sports, in order to shore up moral.

“No one is important,” he told staffers, per one source on hand for the presentation. “I am not important. … The amount of useless stuff you guys do is staggering.”

Bhargava certainly a reader of surf journalism.

More as the story develops.

Surfer magazine under fire again after yet another blunder!
Pacific Ocean actually a lake, says Surfer magazine.

Surfer magazine stumbles, again, hours after being called out by Carissa Moore for “dangerous lying”

"Bastion of kook" describes Pacific Ocean as a lake and North Stradbroke Island as being in the Northern Territory.

It ain’t easy being in the cut-and-paste surf aggregating biz as writers for Surfer magazine have found to their peril, shocking readers with multiple missteps and grievous errors. 

(BeachGrit is the pioneer of this labour-lite version of journalism, cleverly transferring acres of text from other sources into our own stories.) 

Following the purchase of Surfer by The Arena Group, a “tech-powered media company…that creates robust digital destinations that delight consumers with powerful journalism” a series of unforgivable errors have turned the once best and oldest surf mag in the world into a “bastion of kook.” 

First, the Emily Morgan phenomenon, Surfer’s Tennessee-based news writer who may, or may not, have been human but who was disappeared nonetheless following accusations she was a bot.

Then, bunny faced Nathan Florence was transmogrified into late middle-aged Nathan Fletcher.

Shock followed when its writers suggested Andy Irons had been killed by his wife. 

And just this morning,

BeachGrit was forced to step in and defend the honour of five-time world champion Carissa Moore who was falsely accused by Surfer of calling for a boycott of the Olympic Games. 

Now, a story about a small shark that had forced swimmers to, briefly, leave the water at North Stradbroke Island in Queensland has been slammed by online sleuths after the magazine made three extraordinary gaffes.

First, the excerpt.

A spokesperson for the local authorities gave this news:

“City of Darwin will work closely with NT Fisheries to investigate the matter and the public will be advised when the lake is reopened. In the meantime, the lake remains closed and is not to be used for any water activities.”

Surfer magazine mistake in story.
Surfer magazine confuses Pacific Ocean for Lake Alexander in the Northern Territory.

Do you see?

Mistake one: “City of Darwin.” The story takes place at North Stradbroke Island, two thousand miles away.

Mistake two: “NT Fisheries”. North Straddie is in Queensland.

Mistake three: “The public will be advised when the lake is reopened.” Cylinders, where the shark was frolicking among swimmers, is in the Pacific Ocean, not a lake.

Further investigation reveals the Surfer writer missed a crucial sentence in the Yahoo story linking the North Stradbroke Island event to another shark scare, this time in Darwin.

Surfer magazine source story from Yahoo.

Meanwhile, the popular Lake Alexander in Darwin was shut yesterday after a member of the public spotted a shark in the depths, NT News reported. A City of Darwin spokesperson said the lake would remain closed as officials scour the swimming spot in search for the animal, which, if found, will be “caught and released back into the ocean”.

“City of Darwin will work closely with NT Fisheries to investigate the matter and the public will be advised when the lake is reopened,” the spokesperson said.

Thoughts, prayers, yay for Palestine etc

BeachGrit makes shock pivot from “Unprofessional, Unethical, Inaccurate” to “Brave Defender of Pro Surfers’ Honor!”

Setting the record straight.

I suppose, at the end, artificial intelligence is good for something. Last night as the sun was setting, Surfer Magazine’s robot got on the tools and decided that Carissa Moore had called for a boycott of the Paris Olympics over the Teahupo’o judging tower situation. As you are well aware, the machine believes strange things when it comes to our surfing. ChatGPT, for example, declared that Duke Kahanamoku was a gay icon. It also wrongly suggested that the august surfboard shaper Maurice Cole had been inducted into surfing’s Hall of Fame in 2006 even though, as everyone knows, he expressly and vociferously refused that shame.

Back to the universally adored Moore, though. As pointed out this morning by the noted longtime tour and media observer Lincoln Eather, SurferBot’s baldfaced lying about what she actually said had real potential consequences. “C’mon Surfer Magazine – you’re better than this,” Eather penned. “No where in the article does it state (or any videos you linked to, or anything on Riss’ profiles) does she state what you wrote in the headline. Click bait comes & goes, and can be funny. This borders on fvcked, you’re putting words in her mouth and at a level that could have kick-back on her from the Olympics… Do better.”

BeachGrit dutifully reposted, calling Surfer to account which, in turn, led to a Carissa Moore response.

“Mahalo BeachGrit for setting it straight for me,” she wrote. “I never said I was boycotting the Olympics. I am very saddened by how the new tower plans are negatively affecting my friends and family in Teahupo’o and of course the environment..” She continued to clearly state her position, in human words, on matters before including another slide calling Surfer to account.

BeachGrit shocking readers with its instant pivot from “sucking” and “not being liked by anyone” according to icons Nathan Florence and Koa Rothman or “cheap and character revealing” according to Kelly Slater to “brave defender of professional surfers’ honor.”

Thanks, Surfer.