Interview: Steve Shearer and The FreeRide Voice
Big Sky Wire
By Andrew Kidman
In the last three years we’ve seen a sharp rise in independent surf publishing. Between magazines like Paper Sea, Foam Symmetry, Soggy Bones and the hundreds of quality blogs and web publications that have been popping up (most notably The Inertia, 18 Seconds Magazine and the now defunct Post-Surf.com), it seems there is a new surf title every day. But the website featured in this story marks a new development in surf publishing, it being the first paid for website based soley around surf editorial. Andrew Kidman spoke to its creator. – Ed
Steve Shearer is a filmmaker, writer and surf forecaster from the North Coast of New South Wales. Over the years Steve has dedicated his crafts to following and commenting on professional surfing and alternative practitioners of the dance. Recently Steve embarked on a mission to bring his view of the world to life via the internet with an independent website called, ‘The FreeRide Voice.’
Can you tell us a little bit about your history in surf forecasting, filmmaking, and writing?
In '92, myself and a friend, Richard Johnston, in association with Jeremy Gifford and Mark Richardson formed a production company called ‘Gonzo Sport and Leisure Productions’. That was a pretty chaotic outfit and we managed to make a surf film about Michael "Munga" Barry called, 'Munga Militia' before we imploded. It was a low rent run-through of the Goldy surf culture just before the surf world lost its marbles over Kelly Slater. I did some writing for a Queensland publication called, 'WaveRider' run by Shane Peel. He made me Associate Editor and paid the princely sum of 50 bucks a week. I believe I was on the Paul Keating Surf team at the time. I've loved words and sentences since I was a kid.
I learnt forecasting from listening to salts like Thorton Fallander and spending a lot of time working on fishing boats in the Gulf of Carpentaria and off WA. Thorton taught me a lot about cyclone swells and the importance of the cradling high pressure. There hasn't exactly been a career path to follow: more a case of following any lead to stay close to the ocean.
Can you explain what your new site, ‘The FreeRide Voice’ is about and how it works? Why are you worth subscribing to when everything these days seems to be for free?
The ‘FreeRide Voice’ is a subscription site designed to be a place where readers can access true independent journalism and writing. Readers fund it by subscription and they own it, there's no advertising influence, either overtly or behind closed doors. I think the surf media in particular has been beholden to the surf industry for far too long and as a result surfers have had this distorted picture fed back to them that is often nothing more than poorly disguised advertorial for the industry. I thought it was time for a new model. I hope it works, not just for me, but for writers and readers.
You were employed by one of the larger surfing websites/forums (Swellnet) and had free reign with your commentary but they nipped you in the bud, why do you think this happened? You’ve reinstated yourself with TFRV, why you feel it’s important to have freedom of speech for what you do?
I can't really comment on that. I was grateful for the opportunity they provided, like every writer is. It ran its course. Not having freedom to call it as you see it is a pretty suss place for a writer to inhabit. It's boring, barren and false. Seems a stale cul de sac that a lot of the surf media has been stuck in. I don't want to be too negative though, surf mags have given me a lot of enjoyment over the years. I love what ‘White Horses’ is doing: timeless stuff, and the ‘Surfers Journal’ is always a meaty read with awesome photos.
In the current state of our world where everyone, anonymously or not is empowered to broadcast their opinions and thoughts with tweets, blogs, etc., Will ‘FreeRide Voice’ be a place where people are encouraged to voice their ideas and somehow make surfing better? Do you enjoy the interaction people have by being able to comment on your work? Or is it just another avenue for online entertainment?
I like writing online because it's the conversation that's important. There's no distinction between readers and myself who comment. The article is just a starting point for the conversation, definitely not the end point. I'm expecting a whole lot of great discourse and some crappy online viciousness, which is par for the course. There won't be any censorship but I expect the online community to rule democratically.
I personally find your commentary on the state of the art of surfing very entertaining, insightful, savage, funny, critical and hopeful. What are you trying to achieve by doing what you do, as you certainly invest a lot of time into microscoping the pursuit of surfing?
I'm just trying to give people an alternative point of view and hopefully write something entertaining. Give them something back in return for the time they spent reading an article. Provide some journalism that they wouldn't otherwise be able to read and that is responsive to their inclinations. If something were to change for the better as a result that would be fine. There are a lot of people at the coalface of activism working much harder than me at that.
What do you think Slater thinks about what you do? Some of the original articles from the ‘Outsider’ seemed to have an uncanny insight into his psyche? Are you really trying to psycho analyse him or is this just imaginative guesswork? Around the contests, does Slater really engage with you, if so, how’s his candour with you?
I don't really know what he thinks. I wouldn't dare to have any real insight into his inner world but I've been there since the beginning of his career. Watched and listened to him over a long period. I guess paying attention to anything or anyone over a long period might yield some insight.
He seems to engage in a positive and candid way. I find him the most interesting person in pro surfing and inspiring in a paradoxical way. I'd have no desire to be in his position but his longevity and commitment to excellence is something I really respect and aspire to. He's always got something interesting to say and in the world of pro surfing that makes him unique. Fuck I hope he's still there when he's 50.
Do you think the industry views you as a parasite?
Again, I have no idea. I don't really know anyone in the industry, other than a few workers who I surf with from the local area. I think surfers as a whole have tended to view the industry as parasitic on the general surf culture for a while: selling over-priced branded clothes made cheaply in Asia and not really contributing too much positivity. That could be part of the reason they are struggling. I've got no real problem with the surf industry though: selling boardshorts is hardly selling landmines. I do feel sorry for the working people who lost their jobs in the downsizing. I very much doubt I'm even a blip on their radar though, to be honest. They've got far bigger problems to deal with.
Update: Since this article was published Swellnet have contacted the author to make clear that while working for their website Steve Shearer was never censored or vetted, nor did Swellnet direct his subject matter, stating that Steve had 100% free reign to say what he wanted and they backed him all the way. – Ed
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.
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