Friday, December 27th, 2013: After 17 years of service, the 100th edition of The Surfer’s Path comes off the presses. When the ink dries on that last page, they will close their doors forever. Thank you, good night and fuck off.
If a surf mag falls in the age of free content does anyone care? A few apologetic emails, a note or two in the surfing press, and a couple of shrugs – those are all the memorials a defunct title is bound to get. I sure as hell wouldn’t care if I didn’t dedicate most of my time to vomiting semi coherence into the swirling abyss of action sports media. The forest of surfing publications is wide and wild but its pillars, Surfer, The Surfer’s Journal, and a few others, are still intact. Circulation –wise, influence-wise, The Surfer’s Path has been second tier for as long as I have been aware of them.
Trying to eke a living from something as fiddly as the common word is a beleaguering way to spend your days. There is a market price for oil, just as there is a price for wheat and aluminum. Words ain’t worth a damn thing, not intrinsically anyway. Photos, even less. Anyone who bases their livelihoods on something as slippery and ephemeral as these things is at least a little maladjusted. But they are also, at best, people who believe in the essential virtue of their craft. They are people willing to forsake so many of the little perks of the modern rat race by which men and women are measured – decent wages, retirement plans, job security, a modicum of seniority in their given industries – to just, every once in a while, bring a tiny spark of knowledge into the world and share it with their fellow man. And should they succeed, should they be so wildly successful that they run an entire magazine that people actually order to their homes and put on their night stands and coffee tables, they become heroes of sorts, at least to all of us losers who populate the shrinking netherworld of publishing. They did it. They squeezed a living out of this strange behemoth that leads most of us around in shackles and flogs us mercilessly every time we put fingers to keyboards.
But when they don’t succeed, when the funds dry up and the readers turn away, and they who found the beautiful formula to corral words and images into something as wonderful as a magazine are lead for the final time to the chopping block with their shoulders back and their heads high, we all tremble because one day, it will be us who must force a wan smile in the faces of our executioners.
As a reader, this sort of stuff probably doesn’t matter all that much to you – why should it? It is our job to speak to you in a way that diverts, interests, edifies, or convinces. If we can’t do that, and you click away from the page, or put down the mag, or never pick it up to begin with, then we only have ourselves to blame. The best often fall short, but even when they do their love of the craft remains. And if that is the most they can say of you when the end is nigh, then that is saying very much indeed.
The Surfer’s Path radiated not only a love of craft, a love of publishing, but an equally strong love of surfing. The same could be said of its long-time editor Alex Dick-Read. He was one of the first people to give me word space in a surf publication some five years ago, and since then has had a knack for popping into my life, Virgil-like, to help me find a course through the dark woods. The Path, under his meticulous tutelage, was not a glossy mag in any sense of the word. It didn’t feature a sponsored boat trip every issue, nor did it break many scoops on surf world gossip. Outside the surfing world, few had ever read it. It was not a rag for people who liked to surf, it was a rag for those who at some point in their lives, had made the conscious decision to be surfers – to forsake, irreversibly, the comforts and securities of the land-bound life and marry themselves, for richer and for poorer, to the beauty and the terror of the sea. I am not a person like that, and I think if you look around the industry, you’ll find many like me masquerading as something else. But Dick-Read is such a person, cut from the same sturdy cloth as people like John Severson, Steve Hawk, Matt Warshaw, Steve Pezman, and of course, his one time partner in crime Drew Kampion, to name a few. All of these men have gone through their ups and downs in the industry, but we owe all of them a debt of gratitude.
Culture, I mean real culture that blooms spontaneously but ephemerally from the interactions of peoples, is a beautiful, fragile thing. Without caretakers to nurture it and help it to grow, it quickly sickens and withers into a bloated, shambling corpse of corporate marketing campaigns and industry propaganda. Surf magazines are, at their best, caretakers of wave riding culture, acolytes of the ridiculous, but wonderful notion that we should take our recreation seriously. The Surfer’s Path was never the prettiest, most influential, or highest selling rag on the market, but in its core ethos, it was always one of the best. and we are all poorer for its loss.