The premiere issue of The Surfer’s Journal landed on surf retail counters in January, 1992. I was working at one such shop that year. Running it with a buddy, more precisely. All day, every day, hiring, firing, buying, merchandising, marketing—the lot of it. You see, by that time, California and the surf realm had become competitive enough that you could no longer just hang a shingle, open when you felt like it, and make a living. Not unless you had (ahem) alternate sources of income. Or a trust fund. Or some sort of patron or sweetheart deal. We had none of these, so we worked our brains to smithereens. It got less “surf” and more “moving units” with each passing month.
I had just bombed out of UCSD, and was writing on the side. Scuffling, as they say. Wife, new baby girl. Surfing every stinking day, often twice. But that was stressing the structural integrity of the family unit when combined with full-time work plus freelance.
I was aware that Pezman’s new project was coming via the 1/3-page vertical, island-print ads he’d negotiated as part of his departure from Surfer, which he had published for decades. When the first carton arrived at our shop, I raced for a box knife and tore in. I was mentally clocked out for the next two hours solid. Apologies if you were a customer hoping to plumb the differences between that used Skip “K Model” and the Tony Staples egg.
The whole of the issue was unique to the form. Contribs included Tom Morey, John Severson (a bow shot at Surfer, using their founder’s voice in the new mag?), Derek Hynd, Denny Aaberg, and Gerry Lopez.
The construction of the Journal was next level. Perfect-bound rather than smyth-sewn, if you carefully cracked it open between folded forms, you’d find it was stitched together with actual printers’ string. I know this because I performed an autopsy with that box knife to see what made it so damned substantial. This thing was a book. Color reproduction and paper stock were top tier—leagues beyond the web press monthlies, printed as they were from rolls of paper in an operation more custodial than master craft.
I was hooked. And I was hooked purely as a reader. Had you told me that I’d be editing the thing in eight years I’d have assumed you were a crack head.
Which leads me back to this column, and my present duties: Over the next 12 months, The Archivist will look at details from TSJ’s 25-year history in this space. Exhibit A? A candid portrait of Don King used in his 36-page portfolio in TSJ Volume 1.1. It was taken during a 4,000-mile voyage from the Philippines to Madagascar in a traditional outrigger, sans electronics. One crewmember perished. This sort of image became a staple of the Journal and offered an unvoiced thesis—an image could be as surf as hell and not have a surfboard in it. In fact, shots like this went a long way in cutting through the banality of “surfing as sport” let alone “surfing as fashion.”
Future editions of The Archivist will feature long form reads from our deep print coffers. Please view this as photographic roll-in. And as always, thanks for reading.
Read the first installment