Interview: Scott Hulet, Editor of The Surfer's Journal
Big Sky Wire
By Michele Lockwood
I first met Scott Hulet in the hedonistic era of my youth; imagine a time before child or mortgage. Hulet edited my first magazine article; to be honest, he ripped my shit to shreds. I was wounded but also defiantly cocky and I called him on his heavy handedness. After a minor arm wrestle we found common ground between his professional journalistic approach and my raw untamed voice. I learned a few lessons then that seemed to have, for the most part, stuck.
Fast-forward a few months to a very inebriated house party, Run DMC was playing and a circle of drunken dancers formed. In its center, this dude was doing the worm like I’ve never seen- getting full air as his body rippled across the carpeted floor. The crowd was in awe and when he finally made it to his feet I couldn’t believe my eyes- it was Scott!
Despite all else, the witnessing of this single act of nimble breakdancing has held Scott Hulet in my highest regards for the last fifteen years.
CW: How long have you held the helm as Editor of ‘The Surfer’s Journal’? And did taking over the position from the magazine’s founder, Steve Pezman ever feel intimidating?
SH: Hey Mish, good to hear from you. I’m heading toward year fifteen here as editor. I started right after I was building Super X with Art Brewer, Takuji Masuda, and Craig Stecyk. I think that’s where I got to know you. I seem to be locked in to some sort of self-flagellating endurance project. Whoever said, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” was inexperienced in both love and work. But I’ve spent enough time in the dish room and digging ditch and enduring upper division rhetoric classes to know that I like building magazines and books more than just about anything.
Stepping into the edit role here was easy—the opposite of intimidating. Pez scouted me, I took the gig, and we started playing. Our surf values are pretty parallel. From the beginning, I was able to lean on some high-calibre players. Divine’s encyclopaedic image recall, Pezman’s calm, intelligent presence, Debbee’s down-home work ethic… my substantial shortcomings were buoyed up by the collective. That said, I’ve been orchestrating our editorial mix for a decade and a half now. If you’ve disliked the Journal during that time, I shoulder the blame. If you’ve enjoyed it, head-nod me in to a wide one some day.
In your opinion, what is the appeal of TSJ that sets it apart from the ordinary newsstand surf mag?
Art over sport. Limited ad messaging either overtly or between the lines. Long-form story telling. A respectful but non-fawning attitude toward pioneering surfers. Quality of construction. A preference for photos you can mind-surf over clinical studies of grabs and sticker placement. International reach. An affinity for surfing’s wilderness experiences. An obsession with the shaper’s craft.
To be fair, we’re also expensive, we’re half the frequency of a monthly, and if you want new surf photos “now,” millions are a click away—for free—on your “device.” As a sort of six-a-year book, we appeal to a much smaller audience than the monthlies. We’re definitely not for everyone.
What are the pros and cons of running a bi-monthly rag? Do you ever want to set your desk on fire and hightail it to down to Baja on permanent escapade of cerveza y olas?
Besides it being my home, the only reason I live in California is because of the peninsula’s adjacency. We can leave it at that.
The cons are the treadmill nature of a publishing schedule and the obscene pace of digital communications. My email in-box is a three-alarm goat rope, and I apologize to anyone who has to experience it. The desert quiets the ringing in my ears. The waves, when you get them, are extra credit. As far as the cervezas go, I gave up the grape and the grain back in 2011.
One of the real pros of the gig is interacting with the high-functioning people contributing to TSJ over the years. I also enjoy developing new talent and voices and giving them a platform.
Can you give us an all-encompassing anecdote that sheds light on what it is like to work with photo giant, Jeff Divine?
I’m afraid that’s impossible. He’s so giant that you can’t see all of him from any one vantage point. He is a kind soul, a dependable baseline presence, and a loyal friend.
Do you have a favourite issue, one that is a watershed for you time at the mag?
Absolutely not. I only see the mistakes, the missed opportunities, the limp transitional sentence, the banal title, the self-important opinion, the shite photo pick. I’m much too close to the meatworks floor to savour the sausage. Also, I really try not to play favorites. But while I often wince when a new issue hits, it would be disingenuous to say that I’m not proud of our overall body of work.
Where did you grow up surfing? Who were your first surf cronies? What was your first surfboard? And who shapes your boards now?
Born and raised in San Diego, I found a kneeboard in the dumpster behind George’s restaurant in Cardiff when I was 14. Just as I was getting into surfing, my parents moved from Del Mar to an inland place called La Mesa. I fell in with a crew of skaters, with whom I pursued various larcenies. I learned that there are those who made the mistake of not being born to wealthy coast-dwelling parents, and that some of these guys weren’t valley bogans at all, but hard core MFers who are surfing and traveling to this day. So I endured a couple of years of that, then bugged out.
My foundational surfing years happened between a place called Chasm in Point Loma north to a place called Little Point in La Jolla. Every day I witnessed surfing that forever coloured my understanding of the art: Skip Frye at PB Point, Lis and Gephart at the Cliffs, Richard Kenvin at Simmons, and Joe Lazar at Blacks.
My current working quiver is a 6’8” Bob Mitzven Gypsy quad, a 7’11” Frye FishSimmons Tri, a 9’8” Larry Mabile pulled single, and a 10’6” Frye FishSimmons Tri. Takayamas and Andreinis rotate in and out as well. In the summer, all of that lumber tends to get shelved in favor of a pair of fins. We have really good sandbars and whomp here then.
What would you like to see in the future for surfing?
A continuation of the La Niña weather pattern. I like small, brisk, perfectly foiled sand-bottom point waves with just a friend or two for company.
Big Sky is the property on which Andrew Kidman and Michele Lockwood live with their two children in Northern New South Wales. Once a week they speak to writers, photographers, surfers, artists and musicians for Coastalwatch's Big Sky Wire. To follow Andrew Kidman's film celebrating 40 years of Morning of The Earth, head to the Spirit of Akasha blog and to check out Michele Lockwood's blog click through here.
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