From “Vaughan’s Deadly Covers” in SW419, on sale now.
SW367, September 2015
So, this is 2015, pre-Ladybirds, pre-little girls ripping, pre-the industry finally paying attention to this insanely huge market that Steph had just sort of awoken. At the time, if you commentated junior comps, you could see it coming, but then this little skateboarder in a tutu from Newcastle showed up. I don’t even know how, she just appeared. I can’t even remember how we found her. We were immediately like, “This girl represents an entire new movement in surfing.” I was like, “There is something major happening here.” Her name was Sabre Norris.
So, we sent Seano up to hang out with her and the family, and they went, “Yeah, take her surfing out Flat Rock. Go for it.” And she ripped. I think Seano had a line in there about being outsurfed by an 11-year-old girl, which summed up this movement and what was coming. When we got the story in and we saw the photos, which Rod Owen had shot, we were like, “This is the greatest!” I went, like, “This is our cover, for sure. Like, no doubt.”
So, we put an 11-year-old girl on a cover. Corbin did the sickest design, and here’s this girl in a gath helmet shredding on the cover. Then Doug walks in (Surfing World’s publisher, Doug Lees), and I’m just going to throw him straight under the bus here. He just goes, “Oh, that won’t sell. Guaranteed it won’t sell.” And I’m like, “Mate, sometimes you just gotta make a statement.” Surfing World at that stage was still moving copies and had that sort of power to immortalize a moment like that. Anyway, the battle just went on and on and on. Doug would go upstairs, we would go, “We’re doing it, we’re doing it,” and then he’d come downstairs and go, “No, it’s not going to sell. It’s not going to sell.”
Eventually, for some reason, I capitulated. I don’t know why, but I just went, “Fuck it,” so we ran another cover, and it was totally meaningless. Just awful. No disrespect to the surfer who got the cover, ’cause he deserved it and is a legend, but the moment was gone. The moment was gone, and we blew it so bad. I felt we’d let women down everywhere. Surfing World has a pretty lame history with women’s surfing and here we were, basically getting back on the front foot and with this opportunity to feature the future of women’s surfing – the future of surfing – on the cover, this girl who’d lead the charge and inspire a whole new generation, and we blew it.
There’s a great punchline to this story, the mag comes out on sale, and the very next day, Sabre Norris is on the Ellen Show and becomes an instant a global phenomenon. Like, instant global notoriety the day after her mag went on sale with someone else on the cover. I just looked at Doug and went, “Mate, you’re wearing that.” Of all the mistakes we made with the mag, that’s the one that still keeps me up at night. – Vaughan Blakey