For The Love. SW 300 Feature.

11 Jan 2010 0 Share

Shippies madness.

Shippies madness.

Nov 1997 (SW 242) to April 2008 (SW 288)

Ace Buchan a benefactor of the experience only GromBash could provide.

Ace Buchan a benefactor of the experience only GromBash could provide.

Story By | Reggae Elliss

Late in the winter of 1997 I received an early morning call from Mark Eymes, one of the current partners of Surfing World, telling me he, Doug Lees and Peter Eastway had put in an offer to Bruce Channon and Hugh Mcleod to buy the magazine. He wanted to know if I was in and without giving it much thought, other than I didn't have any money, I said yes.

Months earlier Doug and I were having a beer and the topic of SW being for sale came up. I flippantly suggested we should buy it, planting a seed in Doug's mind that, predictably, continued to grow. At the time I was working for Morrison Media, publishers of ASL, editing their ski mag Powderhound and the now defunct Deep surfing magazine. After Eymesy's phone call I gave it a lot more thought and having edited Tracks for Mason Stewart Publishing and then worked at Morrisons, the idea of publishing a surf mag and working for myself became more attractive. The fact it was Surfing World made it that much more exciting.

I had bought every issue since of SW since I was a grommet and I was well aware of the magazine's iconic position in Australian surfing. Derek Hynd even called me to ask if I understood the responsibility I had undertaken.

We thought we had the perfect team - Doug and Eymsey owned surf shops so they knew everyone in the industry and would be the perfect sales guys, I had the experience in surf mags and Easty had also worked in publishing (he still publishes Better Photography magazine), was a chartered accountant and an award-winning professional photographer.

The first people I called to lock in as senior contributors were Tim Baker, Andrew Kidman and Jon Frank. I had worked with them before, they were talented and experienced and all loved SW and shared the same thoughts as me on the direction the magazine should take.

Our plan was to publish a core surf mag with longer in-depth stories, based on people, travel and waves illustrated by the best surf photography - basically what SW is now. Our first issue was SW 242, which hit the stands in January 1998 and the cover was a Frank photo of Cronulla local Grant Coulter at Shark Island.

We didn't have an office and the first few issues were done from three different locations - the editorial office was my dining room table in Manly and the advertising office was a spare room at Doug's house. Easty's wife Kathy is a graphic designer and she designed the mag from her office at Collaroy. This caused a lot of problems, not just on the organisational side, but also with communication and creativity. Doug and Eymesy owned an old beachfront flat at Queenscliff so we ended up moving the magazine there - three bedrooms became offices, a lounge for meetings and a kitchen. The best thing was we were across the road from the beach so we'd go surfing whenever we wanted. It also had a core vibe when contributors and advertisers dropped around. We ended up staying there until late 2006.

At the time I was also working on Sydney radio doing surf and snow reports, and after three issues I headed down to Thredbo for winter. Andrew Kidman took on more responsibility and oversaw the issues done over winter, moving into one of the rooms at the office, and was virtually a full-time employee for two or three years.

At the time things were very competitive in the surf market and the industry was obsessed by youth. I remember Eymesy saying that the one thing he got from potential advertisers was "youth, youth, youth." We didn't want SW to be another youth-oriented surf mag, but our first response to that was to start the Surfing World Grom Bash, a contest of sorts open to kids who were 17 years old or younger. It was Kidman's idea, the thought being to discover new talent, and then give them publicity in the mag. The event had no real structure, we just sent out groups of kids for 30 mins and whoever the judges thought were the best surfers got through. It was more like a mass expression session.

Ry Craike. Where would he be without the SW GromBash? Fishing for abalone in Kalbarri if you ask Reggae.

Ry Craike. Where would he be without the SW GromBash? Fishing for abalone in Kalbarri if you ask Reggae.

One thing about Surfing World is that elite surfers have always wanted to be a part of it - people have a strong affection for the magazine - so we enlisted an A-grade panel of expert judges. Barton Lynch, Damien Hardman and Rob Bain, two world champs and a regular top 5 WCT surfer have plenty of beach cred. If any of the parents complained about the results we'd just say "Well, you tell the judges they have it wrong."

The prize for the top eight was to be included in a SW road trip with photos and interviews in the mag, a feature that was 16 to 20 pages long.

We ran the Grom Bash for five years and during that time quite a few great surfers went in the comps and the associated road trip was their first spread in a surf mag, surfers like Adrian Buchan, Shaun Cansdell, Kerby Brown, Josh Kerr, Jay Quinn, Ben Dunn and Mitch Coleborn to name a few. When you look at the 300 SW icons list there are a few names on there thanks to their performances in that contest. That's why Travis Lynch is sitting well into the top 100 at number 67 - he went on all of the grom bash trips, starting as 14-year-old - and we also took him on a few other jaunts.

The youth thing also caused a few creative differences within the magazine as we were put under more pressure to conform and produce just another piece of commercial pulp. Andrew and Doug's relationship grew a little tense, so tense that sometimes that it was incredibly uncomfortable at the office. Sometimes I'd ride my bike to work, see both their cars outside and I'd just turn around and go home. I was never one for confrontation.

I think the timing was coincidental, but by this stage, late 1999, Andrew's wanderlust had kicked back in and he left - travelling, writing and take photos. We regularly ran features from Ank, his "left of centre" stories and the diverse characters involved rounding out the other editorial content.

One of the biggest turning points for the magazine happened when Mat Graham came on board as art director midway through 2000. By publishing standards we had a skeleton staff - an editor, an art director and Doug selling the ads and doing all the admin/publishing stuff. Matty G had worked at Tracks when he first left college, one of the last designers of a surf mag to work with the old method of typesetting, galleys and artiscope. As the computer age kicked in, Mat worked at Inside Sport prior to joining us so he brought a lot of skill to the position, as well as passion. Mat's role was and still is way more involved than your average art director. He grew up at Avalon with a generation of rippers, surfed every day and knows and loves his surfing as much as any editor. His input on editorial content and photo selection was invaluable and to this day his stamp is all over the magazine.

With Mat on board the magazine was continuing its positive evolution. It had lengthy solid features, well-written in-depth stories, good photos and some amazing Jon Frank portfolios, but mixed in with token grommet content and short newsy fluff.

Tim Baker had been an integral part of the mix from the beginning, senior contributing editor, but more like a co-editor at large. Not only is he a fine writer, but for SW he was also something of a spiritual guide, firing off emails when he thought the editorial ship was floundering, keeping us on a straight keel and always reminding us why we had bought Surfing World in the first place.

In early 2002 Tim and I had a number of email exchanges about the magazine's future, which was precarious, and Tim sent through his rescue plan for Surfing World to the four partners. It was basically a call to arms, to relaunch the mag in a new format, drop the crap and unapologetically aim it at keen, hardcore surfers. The closing words of Tim's email said it all:

"To be successful in anything, you have to fundamentally believe in what you are doing."

A few weeks later we had a meeting to discuss the magazine's financial status. Easty had just done the financials and while the mag hadn't lost money, it hadn't made any either. At the time we were paying Matty G, the contributors, and the production costs, but there was no cash flow. Doug and I weren't being paid and you can only do it for love for so long. The question was, do we fold it, sell it or keep going? From a business point of view there was no question - get out and cut our losses.

That was the way the discussion was going and we were very close top shutting it down until Eymesy said, "Well, I dunno about you, but I don't want to be known as one of the guys who killed Surfing World."

I said, "Neither do I." Neither did Doug, neither did Easty. After a psyched up enthusiastic discussion led by Eymesy, we decided to have one more throw of the dice, follow Tim's template and do the magazine we wanted to do.

The 40th Birthday issue in September 2002 launched the new format - not only a redesign from Matty G, but also a bigger size with thicker paper and the associated increase in production costs. It proved to be a winner, well received in the market place with increased sales and a more receptive attitude from the advertisers.

Even though we weren't publishing millionaires, the whole vibe changed as we enjoyed making a surfing magazine that was not only what we wanted to do and were proud of, but was also true to Surfing World's roots.

The next six years were my most enjoyable time at the mag, doing a few surf trips, surfing when I wanted to and publishing a magazine with which I was happy. Doug and I still worked from the beachfront office in Manly, while Mat worked from home up at Newport. The beachfront office became a bit of a stop off point for a lot of people, especially once Eymesy started living there - local surfers would hang out, advertisers and pro surfers would drop in and it seemed like there was always a photographer waiting on the doorstep whenever we went to work.

Things were going along OK, but by 2007 the online sector started taking serious ad dollars from print. My life had changed a lot as well, particularly with two little groms and other business interests that paid the mortgage. We knew for the magazine to grow it needed two things - a capital investment and full time staff whose work focus is 100 percent Surfing World.

Doug Lees was doing some work for Coastalwatch developing their surf industry advertising and in early 2008 Doug convinced owner Kim Sundell to invest in SW. The four original partners sold Kim and new advertising director Phil Osborn a percentage of their shares and we then had the funds to hire a full-time editor. We only had one person in mind, Vaughan Blakey - or Adam as he was known when I first met him as a gawky work experience grommet at Tracks many years ago. Blakey had been in our sights for years - we first offered him a job back in 2000 when he was editing Waves. It was at the peak of the Dot Com boom and we had investors and were going to publicly list, the world's biggest surfing portal. Luckily Blakey declined because the tech crash happened a few months later, sinking the proposed float and any funds we had to pay him!

This time around, however, both parties were ready. Blakey came on board as full-time editor last year and Matty G finally got a full-time paying gig as art director.

In that 18 months the mag has been powering, going from four issues/year to nine and we are again moving into a new era.

Blakey and G are now the keepers of the SW flame... long may it burn.

- Reggae Elliss

SW's 300th - Out Now.

A unique list of Australian surfing's most influential icons has been compiled for Surfing World's milestone 300th issue. The top 300 names will excite, evoke memories and provoke debate.

The Tallying Process.

  • Photos were counted as a “page presence”
  • One photo on one page represented 1 point.
  • Two or more photos on one page represented 1 point.
  • Double spreads were awarded 2 points.
  • Covers were awarded 5 points
  • Only editorial pages were counted.
  • All headshots and surf shots were counted.
  • Every SW magazine, book and photo annual was tabulated.
  • Unknown surfers and empty waves (sadly) were not tabulated.
  • If surfers finished with the same number of pages, countbacks were done in relation to number of covers, then centrespreads to determine placing.
  • The cut off to make the 300 was an 11 page presence.

The full list can be found in the latest Surfing World Magazine – on sale now.

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