October 2, 2020 marked one of the darkest days in surfing history. Surfer — one of the most recognizable surf magazines in the world — went full circle as they announced that the last issue they published will be their last.
As the ‘Bible of the Sport’ comes to its end, readers were left with a lot of questions and hearsays about the possible causes of its closure. Were there political issues involved, was it because of the pandemic — or was there more to it that we don’t know as of yet?
In this article, we’ll help you understand what happened to Surfer Magazine. We’ll also talk about their humble roots, as well as relive their final days in the industry.
The History of Surfer Magazine
For 60 years, Surfer Magazine has been the source of inspiration for many swell chasers and dreamers. It’s a piece of publication where you’ll find success stories of the best surfers around the globe, their pro- rankings, the latest designs of surfboards and surfer fashion, and photos of the best surfing spots with the gnarliest waves you could ever imagine.
Inside its pages, people used to read stories of how Eddie Rothman helped take back Oahu for the Hawaiians, rare photos of Duke Kahanamoku riding Koa wood planks, what the Quasimoto stance is, and how thrusters were going to revolutionize surfing.
Teenagers used to bring their new editions to school and shared them with their friends as they all analyzed the different maneuvers and techniques shown inside its editorials. And when they finished reading them, they would cut off the photographs that indulge their surfer alter-egos and line them up inside their rooms’ walls.
Surfer isn’t just a magazine. It was a tradition for many people who grew up flipping through its pages. That’s why when the company announced its sudden closure, a lot of people were beyond disappointed.
No warnings, no tell-tale signs. An era has ended, and it was only announced via an Instagram post by its former editor-in-chief, Todd Prodanovich. In the post, he says,
“This is the last issue of @surfer_magazine. The whole staff got let go yesterday, but I feel like we’re ending on a high note with this one. 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.”
How It Started
“Before Surfer, there was no surf media and industry.”, says former executive director, Sam George.
As the oldest and first-ever international print magazine dedicated to surfing culture, Surfer had a good run. For this reason, let’s take a little trip back to memory lane to commemorate how this iconic magazine came to be.
In 1960, a high school teacher and surf filmmaker named John Severson wanted to contradict the idea of how the movie, ‘Gidget’, portrayed surfers, so he created ‘The Surfer’, a booklet that he hoped will show the world a truer image of surfing culture.
The Surfer was also a way to promote Severson’s upcoming movie, Surf Fever. Its first edition consisted of 36 pages that included illustrations and some of his editorial in the standard format. Upon its release, thousands of surfers who wanted to get a copy lined up in the surfing stores of San Juan Capistrano, California.
During that time, surfers were looking for validation; hence, why The Surfer became an instant hit. Eventually, the booklet sold over 5,000 copies, and because of its success, Severson decided to continue publishing it quarterly.
The Surfer’s second issue was published in 1961. In order to make money, Severson started making editions with advertisements that include logos and arts. As soon as more companies were buying spaces for their ads, Severson was able to employ some of the best people in the business that helped him create more editorial content.
Eventually, The Surfer had Ron Stoner as its photographer, Rick Griffin as its cartoonist, Bev Morgan as its writer, and Drew Kampion as its editor. Meanwhile, Severson continued in making art and directing films.
By 1970, The Surfer had over 100,000 readers; however, Severson wasn’t into the businessman lifestyle so much as he felt he was slowly disconnecting from the surfer way of life that he wanted. The next year, he sold the rights of The Surfer to the company, For Better Living, Inc. wherein Steve Pezman became the editor for 20 years.
In 1991, Pezman left Surfer and created ‘The Surfer’s Journal’, and in 1998, For Better Living sold the Surfer. For many years, the magazine had undergone different mergers, and by the time it was sold to The Enthusiast Network, half of the Surfer magazine staff got laid off. But the show went on, and they continued publishing.
Finally, American Media (now A360 Media) bought Surfer. Not because A360 can be bothered with surfing, but because it sees the magazine as added space to put more advertisements. From then on, Surfer’s lifeline hung by a thread.
Surfer Magazine’s Final Days
As the closure of the Surfer magazine came abrupt, their readers predicted different reasons why it happened. A360 presented the suspended operations of Surfer as a temporary closure, but according to their staff, no actions are being taken to revive its operations.
So what really went wrong?
Stab magazine suggested before that perhaps politics could be a possible reason why Surfer has ended. A day prior to their closure, the Surfer staff created a post on their official Instagram account endorsing the United States presidential candidate Joe Biden and vice president Kamala Harris.
But since A360’s CEO, David Pecker, supported Donald Trump as president back in 2016, Surfer’s post became an angle that’s worthy of controversy. Meanwhile, Prodanovich denied the allegation with his last post saying that Surfer’s closure wasn’t related in any way with the endorsement of Biden.
Word on the street said that the staff already knew of their impending suspension through a leakage, that’s why they were a little bit motivated to post something that they hoped will create an impact in their last few hours, even if that wasn’t to their boss’ liking.
Perhaps the political angle was indeed a coincidence, so now we’ll move on to another reason why Surfer magazine died — technology killed it.
Half of the Surfer magazine’s staff was already laid off even before A360 bought the company, and it’s because of the rise of the digital world. According to the Surfer’s editors, the sponsors of the magazine were already pulling back their advertisements way before its closure. The staff also knew that it was only a matter of time before they suffer the same fate of Surfing Magazine back in 2017.
You see, compared to printed issues, social media and blogging provide immediate news and information. Baby boomers who’ve always bought and renewed their subscriptions were either getting old or dying, so it didn’t come as a surprise that the magazine suffered a major loss in their revenue. And it’s not just the Surfer magazine who was affected by the digital age. Other sports titles like Bike, Powder, and Snowboard have also put a temporary stop on their operations.
The last straw was when the pandemic hit the surfing industry really hard. Because of banned locations and canceled surf competitions all over the world, a lot of businesses, not just Surfer, were left with no choice but to close. The internet dragged these publications to the cliff, and the coronavirus pushed it to its death.
When Surfer magazine’s creator, John Severson, was asked before about the reason why he named his magazine ‘Surfer’, he answered that it’s because he wants everyone to feel included in his magazine. For this reason, it seems ironic that for Surfer’s last publication, Volume 61, Issue 3, their final issue’s title is ‘We’re in this together’.
Sixty years… a legacy that ended without a word of goodbye. They didn’t even let their readers know that the last issue will be their final. Life-long readers of Surfer Magazine hope that the furlough will eventually lift up, or someone else will try to pick up its remaining pieces and try to rebuild it again. Until then, one can only dream.
The purpose of this article is to give an homage to the surfing magazine that’s started it all. It was referred to as the ‘Bible of the Surfing Sport’ and was the first major paper magazine dedicated to the surfing niche.
Surfer Magazine has introduced the real image of surfing culture to the world and has shaped many lives with its pages. While the digital age has taken over and ultimately put it to an end, Surfer Magazine lives on in our hearts and mind.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is Surfer Magazine’s last issue?
For over six decades, Surfer has become an inspiration and entertainment for many surfers; however, in 2020, Surfer’s editor officially announced on his Instagram account the closure of the beloved magazine. According to him, their last issue, Volume 61, Issue 3, will be their final one. It was titled, ‘We’re in this together’.
Q: Is Surfer Magazine still operational?
As of October 2, 2020, Surfer Magazine has suspended its operations and its entire staff has been furloughed. The causes of its closure include loss of revenue due to the rise of digital media and the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Q: Why are the employees of Surfer Magazine furloughed?
The rumored reason why Surfer Magazine halt its operation was because of its controversial Instagram post supporting presidential candidate Joe Biden; however, according to its editor, it was entirely false and the timing of it was purely coincidental. The real reason why the employees of Surfer Magazine were furloughed was because of the pandemic’s impact on its sales and revenue, as well as the irrelevancy of print media in the modern days.
G’day, my name is Rach Taylor and I’m the proud Founder of Surf Hungry. I am a former Australian Olympic athlete and Australian representative surf sports athlete. I’ve worked in the surf industry and lived at several of Australia’s best surf spots, sparking a life-long love of the ocean and a passion for surf sports which has now well and truly rubbed off on my two young sons, both little Aussie surf-stoked groms!