THE FIRST ISSUE IS HOT OFF THE PRESS AND SMELLS VAGUELY OF PATCHOULI OIL
“WARNING: THIS MAGAZINE CONTAINS SEX, VIOLENCE, DIRTY WORDS AND SIXTY-FOOT DISASTER WAVES. MAY BE HARMFUL TO ANYONE OVER 25.”
That was a SURFER cover blurb from the magazine’s March, 1970 issue. SURFER had just turned 10, and then-25-year-old editor Drew Kampion was steering the publication toward its counterculture zenith like a smoke-filled van pulling into the parking lot of a Led Zeppelin show. The blurb was tongue-in-cheek (Kampion only just made the cutoff, after all), but also… screw those olds, am I right? Bunch of squares with their social conventions and rigid ways of thinking. Not us. No way.
Surf culture has always felt youthful and rebellious, even if a) we mostly just rebel against school, day jobs and any other prior commitments when the waves are on, and b) when you have a look around most lineups, the majority of us aren’t actually that young. And as for SURFER itself? The original surf magazine? The Bible of the Sport? Sixty. Years. Old. As of this year, in fact.
If SURFER were a person, Kampion would probably eye them suspiciously in the parking lot at his local break, maybe even whisper something like, “That old dude’s definitely a narc,” to his friends. Well, maybe not, considering that Kampion himself is now in his 70s.
But a magazine isn’t a person. It’s a lot of people, with a lot of different ideas, sometimes conflicting, but generally pulling together in the same direction for the sake of filling some pages with words and photos. Kampion was a sharp-edged, Dylan-loving hippie kid prone to spontaneous acts of poetry and was pretty onboard with revolutions, shortboard or otherwise. 1990s editor Steve Hawk was a former newspaperman who brought journalistic rigor to the title, while also lending it a relatable, everyman perspective. 2000s editor Sam George was really into Laird Hamilton and SUPing and had (continues to have, actually) unimpeachably-great hair. I don’t think that last part affected the mag in any way whatsoever, but it is the first thing I think of when it comes to Sam George.
That’s just a handful of the dozens of staffers and freelance contributors who helped steer SURFER in one direction or the other through the years, each one with their own set of influences occurring in the unique context of the moment. SURFER has reflected that by being many different things at many different times. Trying to boil it down and determine what SURFER is at its core, as one is certainly tempted to do at this milestone, is a fool’s errand if there ever was one.
And yet here we go anyway!
For this volume, marking SURFER’s 60th anniversary, we’re dancing along the magazine’s double helix, highlighting the bits of SURFER DNA that have made the past six decades such an interesting ride. Each issue will focus on a different theme that’s ebbed and flowed through these pages over the years, which we’ll celebrate through features that look back at SURFER’s past and also through new stories that embody those same themes right now. (We’re choosing our SURFER DNA selectively because, frankly, the current SURFER staff have our own agenda, and we’re not really down with SUPs).
The first issue, if you haven’t guessed by now, is all about getting weird—something that’s long been near and dear to SURFER’s heart. “What the hell does ‘getting weird’ even mean?” you ask? Dropping acid and growing a walrus mustache? Painting energy-harnessing mandalas on the bottom of your surfboard? A third thing for the sake of a list? No…well…yes, but not for the purposes of this issue. In this context, “getting weird” means seeking new perspectives, approaching things from unusual angles, not being afraid to experiment with different modes of thinking. Some of it will lead to something great and interesting, some of it won’t, but either way there’s virtue in the attempt (to see the awesomely mixed results of SURFER’s cover experimentation through the decades, check back next week).
We kick this issue off with a reinterpretation of SURFER founder John Severson’s freaky cover illustration from March, 1969. Severson’s silhouette was surfer Roger Adams, ours is Wade Goodall, and Goodall felt like a great fit for Page One considering the strange, beautiful, creative path he’s carved through surfing, which culminated in his truly exceptional film “Pentacoastal”. Go a bit deeper and you’ll find Ashtyn Douglas-Rosa’s piece on alt-craft lords Torren Martyn and Simon Jones, whose explorations in twin-fin designs over the past few years have set imaginations ablaze in lineups worldwide. You’ll also get a deliciously-nostalgic view of what surfing looked like in SURFER’s infancy, when troubled photography prodigy Ron Stoner captured the ‘60s surf scene at its most idyllic.
When SURFER was founded in 1960, it was weird by default. “Surf magazines” weren’t a thing when Severson published the first issue: a simple, black-and-white, 36-page pamphlet promoting his film “Surf Fever”. SURFER is the original surf media experiment and, six decades later, the experiment continues with new editors, writers, photographers, artists, designers and videographers in a constantly evolving cultural context. Still seeking new perspectives. Still surfing. Still weird.
OK, sure, SURFER got old. We’re significantly over 25. But while we have changed in many ways, in others we haven’t. This volume will have its fair share of 60-foot disaster waves. I promise we won’t edit out the dirty words. And at this point I should probably mention that this magazine may be harmful to anyone over…umm…let’s call it 60. Yeah, that sounds about right.
Continue on to get a sneak peek of the features inside our spring issue, on newsstands now.
Hall of Strange
The trippiest, funniest and most inexplicable moments in SURFER cover history
After a series of near-career-ending injuries, former aerial innovator Wade Goodall finds new ways to channel his erratic creativity with his film “Pentacoastal”
Revisiting the idyllic ‘60s surf scene through the vibrant imagery of Ron Stoner
A Crooked Path
Pondering the asymmetrical surfboard’s decadeslong battle against our deeply-engrained, probably biological hang-ups
Sons of the Revolution
Fifty years ago, the Shortboard Revolution saw the most radical design shifts in the history of surfcraft. Today, that same experimental spirit is alive and well in the surfing and shaping approaches of Torren Martyn and Simon Jones