This magazine came to life just around the corner from my joint in Jan Juc, a week before Christmas, in an old weatherboard holiday donger built around the same time the first issue of Surfing World was published in 1962.
We don’t actually own a complete set of Surfing World magazines going back 60 years, but fortunately for us Bob Smith, who lives just up the road, does. Somewhere around 70, Bob remains a total surf nut. In 2020, his goal was to catch 2020 waves over the course of the year. He did it by July and lost count after that. Bob realised the significance of Surfing World – now the oldest surf magazine in the world – turning 60 and was gracious with his collection. We rented the holiday shack, picked up the magazines, and disappeared back in time.
It felt like the act of bringing the archive together for a ceremonial reading opened some kind of gateway between worlds. As we scrolled through thousands of pages and the long story of Australian surfing, it felt like the ghosts in the old mags were liberated and stood standing around the room talking amongst themselves like it was The Shining’s Overlook Hotel. The magazine’s founder and sunset connoisseur, Bob Evans was amongst them, leaning against the bar, quaffing a Mai Tai, raising his glass with a nod, just as he used to at The Pink Lady in Waikiki.
Then Vaughan Blakey showed up, unannounced, in real life. The guy who’d edited Surfing World for a decade had been on his way to the Meredith Festival when he was struck with a blinding pain in his guts, which would turn out to be a twisted bowel. Unable to fly after the operation, he was posted up at Neil Ridgway’s house just around the corner and now here he was, lost in the archive somewhere around 1982.
Then Jon Frank showed up, which was even more remarkable. Since Frank and I took over the mag he’s been living in Mallorca, Spain, a prisoner of circumstance, stuck in a waveless Mediterranean tax haven. If Surfing World actually turned a profit that might be handy, but for now Frank was back in Australia for two weeks and again had showed up in town almost by chance. As we go to print he’s back living in a one-room beach shack in Fuerteventura called The Lobster Shack with just a rooster for company, running Surfing World’s European Bureau.
There are common themes amongst the surfers who’ve taken on Surfing World as part of their life. A vow of poverty seems one. Bob Evans who founded the mag basically gave it away in the end, after living large on the bones of his arse. Nobody who’s owned it in the past 25 years has made a single dollar out of it, and that includes Frank and me. But as it has with previous editors and owners, that’s also been strangely liberating and allowed it to stay true to the cause.
The second theme is the weight of history that comes with the magazine. Everyone who has steered Surfing World over the years has felt the pressure to not be the last. I’ve heard three or four versions of the same cautionary advice, given to incoming editors when the mag has changed hands. To paraphrase: “Don’t fuck it up.” There’s something about it that sees the generations who grew up with it hold it up as sacred.
Surfing World might be an anachronism as a printed mag today but look around you in the lineup. There are echoes of the past wherever you go. All these decades of surfing you’re about to relive in this magazine broke free from linear time a long while back, and all bob around in the lineup side-by-side today. Post-post-modern surfers are riding boards from 40 years ago. The vacuum of the present is drawing in the richly brewed zeitgeist of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and now even the ’90s and noughties. The past, present and future have been blended together into one big soup.
I can’t tell you if Surfing World will be here in another 60 years… but the idea of Surfing Worldwill. Last year, Terry Fitzgerald wrote a mood piece for the magazine titled ‘Anticipation’. The piece captured that sense of waves around the corner, over the horizon, waiting for you the following morning. Scrolling back through back issues from the early ’80s and wouldn’t you know it, there was a piece titled ‘Anticipation’ written by… Terry Fitzgerald. I asked TF about it and he’d totally forgotten about the earlier piece. It was his subconscious at work. But what do they say? History doesn’t repeat, it rhymes. If you don’t believe it, look around you out in the surf today.
But while surfing will change, and surfboards will change, and surfers will change, why we go surfing won’t. Terry’s second piece talked about different waves in a different ocean, but the sentiment overlapped perfectly. There’ll be better waves tomorrow, just down the road. That’s the promise Surfing World has delivered for 60 years. – SEAN DOHERTY