RIP Surfer's Path

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.

  • Chuck Allison

    Now this is truly sad. I have only subscribed to two mags in the last two decades……surfers journal and surfers path……for quality of content no one else came close. ‘Er and ‘Ing are nothing but clothing catalogs anymore, because that’s where the money is. They are both slaves to their ad depts, sadly as they were once great mags. Go in peace , surfers path……we are all poorer for your going..

    • Jeff Byrnes

      “‘Er and ‘Ing are nothing but clothing catalogs anymore…”

      Yup. Been that way since the second half of the 80′s.

      “[B]ecause that’s where the money is.”

      It won’t be for long if we continue down this self-cannibalizing economic path.

      I’m not surprised to see that most Americans fail to grasp the finer points of an economic model as complex and nuanced as capitalism. In order for capitalism to truly function and flourish it has to facilitate ALL of Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” But what’s trending is a system that is increasingly pushing more and more citizens into the bottom two (physiological & safety), which is only viable in the starkest of socialistic/communistic and frontier economic systems.

      • TomHouse

        Let’s not get too carried away. TSP was a British mag, remember? Very expensive here in the States. I don’t make a habit of buying ANY magazine that costs more than $10, no matter what it’s about.

        • Jeff Byrnes

          If you think I’m getting carried away you’re not paying very close attention. There’s a bigger picture here and people need to start wiping away the myopia – soon. TSP is yet another very large tree in the publication forrest that has been felled by a number of nefarious factors, not the least of which is the parasitism that has infected the public mind when it comes to online content and what is required to maintain quality in it.
          People need to pull their heads out of their assed on this one and realize right quick that when everything is free we will all be slaves. Straight up.

  • Jeff Byrnes

    Sad news. Breaks my heart.
    And well said.

    TSP was a publication for people who built a life around surfing, who truly understood its beauty and significance and what it could contribute to a quality of life over a “standard of living” (despite what the cynical, self-deprecating hyperbole of predominantly US-bred pundits have to say on the subject; if you can’t appreciate just how much riding waves and living this life makes it worth living, by all means, quit surfing and go join the ministers of manini inland). Most all other mags and rags were little more than a thinly veiled catalog, slavishly and sycophantically pushing product over principle (which is not to say I am in any way opposed to advertising but it shouldn’t be strangling content and purpose).

    In the “new economy” everyone wants content, everyone wants advertisements to promote their businesses and brands – but no one wants to pay anyone anything for any of it. Yeah, that’s gonna end well. If we keep this parasitic opportunism up we better get used to poverty not just “trickling down” so much as flooding every market.

    For capitalism and free markets (and publications) to truly flourish EVERYONE has to pay to play. Or we could just adopt Cuban socialism.

    Aristotle and John Adams were correct: democracies are failed systems that invariably commit suicide via the tyranny of its citizens.

    • peterbowes

      It’s all out there in blog wonderland, every no name under the sun is writing about whatever they please when it comes to surfing, no editors, no quality checks, no grammar, nothing too short, nothing too long. Nothing is fixed, nobody is favoured, readers come and go.

      • Jeff Byrnes

        Yup.
        But nowadays they mostly just go.
        The internet and digital age is perhaps the best example ever of “too much of a good thing.”
        We are gluttonously overstuffed, undernourished, and immensely spoiled a s a result.
        We may need to be starved in order to appreciate anything again. I see a famine looming…

  • Ben

    Sad news indeed; our literature becomes disproportionally vapid with the loss of quality publications.

  • Mike Bennett

    Very sad news. A publication of true quality that actually reflected surfing as it is, as opposed to how it’s marketed. I will mourn it’s passing.

  • Howard Swanwick

    Inevitable. And always Factory Media’s plan.

  • Chris Thomas

    Very said but in a way I’m surprised they lasted this long. It’s a great publicaiton but quality dosn’t sell.

  • Jeff Byrnes

    Indeed.
    What happened was that advertisers threw gobs of money and grease at publications to splice the content. From an advertiser’s perspective it is a good strategy. But only for a while. One of the main reasons my friends and I stopped subscribing and buying magazines (which started years ago) is precisely because of how annoyed we all became with this strategy. I rarely even go to sites other than Surfline or other sites with forecasting pages and when I do I am generally over it pretty quickly.
    The publication universe must stop letting advertisers dictate everything about how the layout is managed. For the past three+ decades young readers have kept publications alive because they had the most disposable income and they were the primary demographic. But this has been changing and no one is adapting to these changes rapidly enough to stay relevant. Young people are finding it harder to find work and what work they are getting isn’t paying – in relative terms – as well as what it was when I was that demographic.