Surfer Magazine is No Longer: 1960-2020

4 Oct 2020 15 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY

It was announced overnight that Surfer magazine would close its doors after 60 years. The current issue on sale would be its last. The Bible of the Sport is no more.

Officially the cause of death was coronavirus, although the magazine died with several comorbidities. Surfer has been living on borrowed time ever since it’s little brother Surfing was closed down in 2017.

Even before tabloid publisher American Media bought Surfer in February last year, previous owner The Enthusiast Network had halved the staff in readiness for the sale. On top of the structural decline in print which had seen both Surfing and Transworld Surf close in recent years, Surfer has long been a victim of being owned by kooks. It’s been passed around between big publishers for decades now, with no owner truly grasping the cultural value or potential of what they owned.

There’s been speculation the closure was linked to the magazine’s endorsement this week of the Democratic ticket in next month’s US election, the first time in the magazine’s history it’s endorsed a presidential candidate. This isn’t true. While American Media had also owned the National Enquirer which had executive links with Donald Trump, Surfer’s editor Todd Prodanovich stated the magazine’s demise had nothing to do with American politics… unlike the demise of American society. 

Surfer was founded in 1960 by John Severson and was, until yesterday, the oldest continually published surfing magazine in the world (that title now passes to Australia’s own Surfing World). Surfer though was considered the magazine with the imprimatur to speak on behalf surfing. The “Bible of the Sport” tag was no light matter for anyone who worked there, and its masthead has seen a roll call of surfing’s great writers, photographers and thinkers. Even though the Australian surf mags had at the same time created their own somewhat more feral ecosystem, the influence of those great Surfer contributors crossed the ditch – Kampion, Pezman, Warshaw, the George brothers and our own Derek Hynd. When I first started contributing to the magazine as a cub Aussie in 1998 I walked into the Surfer house at Rockpiles in Hawaii and lost the power of speech as, assembled in the living room in front of me were Art Brewer, Jeff Divine, Sam George, Steve Barilotti and Steve Hawk. Years of seeing their by-lines and photo credits had not prepared me for meeting them in person. The Aussie mags were loose and fun. Surfer was serious business. 

And now it’s seriously gone. The current print issue of Surfer will be its last, and the word is it will discontinue both digital and social media as well. The Surfer staff have all been furloughed. It also appears that the publishers won’t part with the title for a peppercorn fee to a motivated buyer keen to keep it alive. So that, it seems, is that.

None of this shocks. Print everywhere has been circling the drain for a decade now, unable to compete with the immediacy of digital, readerships conditioned to free content, and readerships who don’t read. The fate of surf print is a result of a perfect storm. The collapse of the surf industry ad base over the past decade is as much to blame as the rise of digital. Then add on top of that an ownership model that has seen most of the major titles owned by publishing houses run by kooks, who when tasked with finding cost savings go straight down the hall to the surfing freaks and rip 20 pages out of their mag or cut their paper stock down to 70gsm.

Back in late 2018 over a few beers in Hawaii I sat with Surfer editor Todd Prodanovich and discussed the fate of the mag, which at the time was having its cost base slashed in readiness to be sold for the hundredth time. The prospects for the mag were grim, although you’d never know it talking to Todd, who – even today after losing his job – makes it seem like the best day of his life. He knew the mag was doomed, but in a way that was liberating. He could go out and make the mag he wanted. He’s spent the past couple of years connecting Surfer back to its surfing roots. Todd’s dad’s a shaper so he’s run a bunch of board stories. He’s run big, indulgent thought pieces on where surf culture is at. He’s also used the magazine to shine a light on the environmental pillage of the coast and the environmental pillage of, well, everything. When America took to the streets earlier this year protesting police brutality and inequality, Todd was there. The final Surfer magazine cover features an aerial shot of the Black Lives Matter paddle out at Encinitas with a coverline, “We’re all in this together.” 

View this post on Instagram

This is the last issue of @surfer_magazine. The whole staff got let go yesterday (no, nothing to do with the heat from the Biden endorsement 😂, just the Covid economy), but I feel like we’re ending on a high note with this one. The cover shot was taken by @donaldmiralle during the Encinitas paddle out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Inside has some of my all-time favorite features from my all-time favorite surf writers— @smashtyn_douglas , @hzahorseman and @seano888 —and a piece by me about the LGBTQ+ surf community that was the honor of my career to work on, and I’m so grateful to the subjects for trusting me with their stories. Funny how you can work a job like this for 10 years and each issue is a completely new and different journey. I’ll really miss that part, and the mag in general, which ends on this issue after 60 years of publication. Hope you all enjoy the issue and thanks for reading over the years. Lots of love to everyone I had the privilege of working with to make this thing what it was while we could: @grantellis1 @petertaras @smashtyn_douglas @quest_haven @alexkilauano @brendon_thomas @jannairons @bryce_lowe_white @donnystevens @zandermorton @benik__ @codyandchelsea @junkmail_ @thomasbpearson @leisurelabor @newittjim @joshtsaunders @jeremyschluntz @theslipperysaltwaterchronicles @tonyapolloperez @stevehawk6211 @adam_jara @theraybergman @kstravs @seano888 @hzahorseman @alexwebbwilson @aaron_carrera @toddglaser @chachfiles @encyclopedia_of_surfing @micah_abrams and so many more ??

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