Bugs in Amber
On Fridays I go back and work from the kitchen table of my childhood home. It gives my mum a small break from looking after my dad.
Sometimes he’ll pick up a magazine from the pile of the last half decade, point to a picture of Gabriel Medina and ask, “So where were you when this one was taken?” It can get a bit confusing.
In 2010, when I’d landed the job as the deputy editor of SW, the first person I called with the news was my dad. I hadn’t expected to even be considered for the role. I was 23 and failing a creative writing and editing degree in Melbourne. I was blown away SW even flew me to Sydney for an interview. Through the scratchy reception of my Nokia, I could hear my dad cry over the phone.
When I came home for a dinner and laundry visit a week later, on the kitchen table, out from a drawer in some hidden part of the house, he’d pulled out his old Surfing Worlds from the early 60s in a folder of plastic sleeves. Included amongst them was volume no. 1 issue no.1, bought in 1962 from Camberwell Newsagency for three shillings, sixpence. He gave them to me to look after. Since then, opening that folder and carefully flicking through those issues has become one of my favourite things to do, poring over the photos of Midget and Nat and Rod Sumpter and a baby faced Wayne Lynch, amongst others. Marvelling at the single little shack making up the whole population of Wategos. Reading letters to editor Bob Evans asking for coverage of their local and as yet unpublicised surf spots, or thanking him for the waves of theirs that he’d exposed. Opening each issue is like an act of magic. A time machine. Moments in surfing history stopped, printed, and kept alive forever. I flick and I read and I imagine the surfers as they were in those moments being captured by Evans’ camera, the old legends. I imagine the spots as they were then, all the beautiful waves that went unridden before surfing hit real popularity. And I imagine my dad studying those very same magazines while he drove up the Hume to surf Sydney’s warmer waves in the mid 60s. His brain sharp as ever.
Ours was a surfing family, maybe just like yours. Every weekend of my childhood spent driving down the coast with his same corny old tape of Beach Boys blasting out of the fuzzy car stereo. Singing “Good Vibrations” and driving car park to car park, along the east and west Victorian coasts, trying to find somewhere that might be working for us on a Saturday morning. That was around the same time I used to steal my big brother’s mags. Early 2000s issues with Grom Bashes and Fitzgerald brothers and Tim Baker and Rip Curl ads featuring Zane Harrison and photos by Jon Frank and stories by Kidman. Kidman! The first surf mag story I read completely, beginning to end, was one of his in Surfing World. A beautiful and heartbreaking one about how time had worked against his beloved home break. I can remember exactly where I was when I read that story. It’s my all-time favourite.
I mention these memories because these aren’t uncommon feelings to anyone who has grown up around surfing magazines, to anyone who has grown up on the periphery of the 400 issues of Surfing World over the last 56 years. Just change the family members, the decade, the friends, the specific issues that you read first, that you re-read, that you ripped out and stuck on your bedroom wall. And I mention these memories because while my brother, nor my dad ever featured in Surfing World, you could argue that the issues they bought in their youth and obsessed over in vastly different generations were just as important to them as anyone who featured in its pages or anyone who worked on creating them. That the readers of Surfing World are the ones who lived it most.
The cover of this magazine says: The Best of Surfing World. But that’s not really true, nor is it a definitive statement. How could it be? How could you wrap up everything that means so much to so many eras of surfers? There are only so many pages in a magazine, and there are giant omissions that don’t just deserve their place here, they deserve whole special issues in their dedication… Nat Young. Mark Richards. Phyllis O’Donnell. Rabbit Bartholomew. Pam Burridge. Matt fucking Hoy. Tyler freaking Wright! SW 400 is really just a tiny selection from the 399 magazines we spent two 18 hour days flicking through and picking out stuff we thought definitely would have stoked someone out the day it was shot, written, printed, read, borrowed, and lost in the back of someone’s car. It’s reprinted excerpts of as many as those that we could fit in a conventional magazine. It stoked us out to relive them all. And we hope it stokes you out too, for a second time.
So on Fridays, I go back home and work from that kitchen table. And, like I said, sometimes Dad will ask if Gabriel Medina, or some other world champ, is me. Sometimes he asks if its him. Dad has dementia. It sucks. But when I finish my work on those afternoons, I take him for a drive. I queue up the corny old Beach Boys CD I found, and I blast it as loud as I can. And we drive, car park to car park, checking the beaches of Port Phillip Bay for waves that don’t exist. Just to do something. Just to feel something like we used to. And sometimes it works. For a few moments every now and then it feels like it did when I was little, we’re singing “Good Vibrations” as loud as we can on the way to Phillip Island, going from car park to car park. Conversation is tough, but we can drive along with Brian Wilson, who through our car speakers is still the 24 years old he was when he recorded these songs. And I’m 12 years old and singing with my dad and his brain is fine and everything is so so so good because we’re going surfing. My big brother is wondering where his SWs have gone and it’s so so so good because he doesn’t know that I have them all hidden under my bed. And it makes me think how every time I open those old Surfing Worlds, that Midget Farrelly is still the young heroic Aussie that conquered Makaha in 1963. Tom Carroll is the 17 year old kid weighing up a career in panel beating over surfing. Mick, Parko, Damon Harvey and Dingo are just a couple of groms eating Pizza Hut at Kirra, hoping one day one of them makes it onto the tour. Michael Peterson is still going right at Pipe “because they wouldn’t let him go left”, and Andrew Kidman’s Narrabeen hasn’t had its heart torn out yet. And all of it is just so so so good. We can open old surfing magazines and no matter what happens next, the moments in them are alive and breathing and breaking forever. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, Surfing World is bugs in amber. Surfing World lives forever. We all do.
Grab your copy here.