First published in 1992, ‘The Surfer’s Journal’ is more book than magazine. It’s a handsome, lovingly produced, defiantly old-school title that’s holding out against the incoming tide of digital culture.
The editors of The Surfer’s Journal don’t think of it as a traditional magazine; it has the uncompromising production values of a coffee-table book. And if the editors want to run a 40-page feature, as they were planning when monocle visited, that is what they will do. “We ended up being an editor’s idea of what a magazine should be, which is all content,” says co-founder Steve Pezman.
Launched in 1992, the San Clemente, California-based periodical covers the personalities, culture and history of the sport with a sophisticated audience in mind. It features beautiful photography and is often written in a beguiling argot (“I saw nothing but offshore-groomed closeouts spanning the entire break,” one of its writers avers in a travel story about Queensland). Even as the existential questions prompted by the internet are far from settled among its staff, The Surfer’s Journal shows how a print-focused magazine can thrive in the digital era.
Housed in a small office a few miles from the beach, the Journal boasts walls adorned with vintage surfboards and images by photo editor Jeff Divine, himself a renowned surf photographer. San Clemente has produced a number of surfing greats and the magazine is around the corner from the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center, a museum that holds over 500 surfboards.
“The Journal is like a National Geographic for surfers – it’s timeless,” says curator Barry Haun. “I’ll look through other magazines and read them here and there, whereas I’ll carry the Journal around in the car with me.” It is the product, Haun notes, of a pursuit that only gained broad popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with the release of surfing movie Gidget, the inception of Surfer magazine and the advent of polyurethane board components, allowing a shift away from expensive and cumbersome wooden boards.
The tone of the magazine, published six times a year, is set by its academic-looking cover: there is a single image and lots of empty space. “It’s not loud, it doesn’t make a lot of promises, but it stands out in its quietness,” says designer Jeff Girard. Inside it eschews celebrity profiles and action shots for their own sake.
A recent issue included a lengthy interview with a New York artist who paints the ocean (and also surfs), complete with a four-page foldout; a dispatch from Uruguay; and an international photography survey aptly titled “Words Fail”. Pictures are frequently lyrical rather than documentary. “We’re so picky,” says Divine. “We’re like little sewing ladies trying to make this silk tapestry perfect.”
Each issue retails for $15.95 (€11.50); the price is a result of the careful way it is made, in that it is printed sheet-fed to ensure quality, as well as on heavy stock. “All the detail we have in our images gives an extra level of pop,” says Girard as he points to a spray of water droplets in a golden photograph of Canadian surfer Pete Devries. Nothing is overlooked. Girard developed proprietary typefaces as none of the existing ones were quite right. On copies mailed to subscribers, the barcode is removed so the cover is not marred.
While it does support itself, the Journal is careful with its cash and refrains from assigning too many stories entailing travel expenses. Income at the magazine is generated from a mix of sources; each issue has the same six sponsors, contributing $51,000 (€37,000) a year, and there are around 23,000 subscribers (many paying an annual rate of $63).
Money also flows from sales of photography tomes and merchandise. “We’re really in the book business – we make them for five and sell them for six,” says Pezman. “In the magazine business it’s make them for five and sell them for four and make it up with ad revenue.”
A major question for the Journal today concerns the role of the internet in its publishing strategy. “We talk about the digital world weekly,” says Debbee Pezman, Steve’s wife and co-founder. “Where do we go, where do we fit?” Subscriber numbers dipped in 2008 as the recession took hold, prompting the Pezmans to push for more articles aimed at a younger crowd and a stronger web and social-media presence to drive subscriptions.
They stopped short of offering a digital version of the magazine. “I couldn’t find the money model,” says Debbee, especially as she wasn’t keen on running more ads. Besides, there are misgivings in the office about whether the visceral pleasures afforded by a well-made print magazine can be replicated by means of a screen. “It’s those minute little details we have that I’m afraid to lose in the digital world,” says Debbee.
Ultimately all this will be out of the Pezmans’ hands. They are both in the process of retiring, and working to ensure a smooth transition. Longtime editor Scott Hulet is at the helm and fresh faces include the Pezmans’ son, Shaun, and the 24-year-old managing editor, Kyle DeNuccio. “It’s time for us to back away,” says Debbee, “and let the younger generation take the reins."
1992: Year founded
111: Number of issues as of 2013
14: Number of staff
128: Number of pages in every issue
12: Number of sponsor pages in every issue
18: Number of surfboards in office
‘Paper Sea Quarterly’ is a Melbourne-based publication started by photo editor Tom Batrouney, designer Andrew Diprose and editor Andy Summons with a focus on surfing, travel and art. The first edition hit newsstands in April 2012. Today the quarterly is available across Australia and in selected shops in the US and Japan.
Who is Paper Sea Quarterly for?
Our readers are surfers, travellers, artists and people of all ages who enjoy experiencing different cultures through text and beautiful photography.
Tell us about your art direction.
Our artistic approach is hands-on minimalism. We use captions punched out on old typewriters and handwritten titles to keep our content as the star. Photography is also important, as surf culture is traditionally visual. We are lucky to count some of the world’s most established surf photographers among our contributors.
How do you select content?
We brief our contributors, as much as our contributors pitch ideas to us – it’s a broadly collaborative process. In our latest issue we feature easy recipes for campsite cooking, an interview with Japanese artist Usugrow and contributions from French surf photographer Alex Laurel.
What sets you apart from other surf publications?
Paper Sea Quarterly looks beyond the ocean and surfing to explore the cultures of far-flung countries, interview international artists and creative individuals living their passion and publish articles that we hope our diverse audience would enjoy.