Writer/Translator/Surf Tour Guide

cover-large-launch-issueAre You Addicted to the Ocean?

The point about ocean-addiction is that it starts and ends with the water. The ocean itself is the thing that issued the siren call, not the material add-ons and assets that surround it. You misheard the call if you thought mere bauble would sate you. The essence of the want, the answer to the call, lies in the water, beside the water, above and under the water. It is both littoral and literal, and in the end requires no more than bare feet and a squint. (Jock Serong, p.11, Great Ocean Quarterly)

Despite the recent news from The Surfer’s Path to issue its 100th and final edition, a new magazine for sea-lovers is making waves on the market.

Recently launched in November 2013, Great Ocean Quarterly is “A journal built around the tides of ideas – art, literature, photography, design, history and science – that wash our exposed coasts. From Ireland to Kiribati, Newfoundland to Dunedin, the ocean’s universal energy drives people to create.”


Hailing from Australia, GOQ is printed four times a year on environmentally friendly stock, with non-toxic vegetable based ink. The black on white writing is easy to read and the large magazine format reminds me of storybooks I used to read when I was a kid—with lots of great pictures.

Award winning writers, artists and photographers unite in this ode to the sea. After snuggling up on a rainy day with the launch issue, I contacted the GOQ’s editor Jock Serong to ask him a few questions.

Desiree Bilon: What is Great Ocean Quarterly about?

Jock Serong: We thought it was a journal about the sea; then we thought it was about what Mick Sowry calls “The Sea Affected Life.” Right now, we’re thinking it’s all about people and their relationship to the sea. What’s it not about? Well, GOQ has elements of surfing in it, and we’re all surfers, but it’s not a surf mag. It’s not a tourist magazine, although we do talk about places that would interest tourists. We try to create interest in a region or a coast, but leave the minutiae of the “destination” stuff to others.

DB: How is your magazine different from surfing magazines?

JS: Well, the diversity of the subject matter is the most obvious. And it’s slower, more art-driven and it expects a little more work from the reader: there are no “top ten” lists or point-form summaries in GOQ. But having said that, there are some surf mags that set very high standards, like Surfer’s Journal, White Horses and Surfing World.

DB: What is the ‘Sea Affected Life’?

JS: It’s the point at which you start making life decisions on the basis of your need for the sea. Choosing one home over another, one career over another, one life partner over another…and you can look back and say wow, that gravitational pull, whatever it is, actually altered the course of my life.

DB: What does GOQ strive to do?

JS: We want to transcend the categorical thinking about loving the ocean; to get past labels like fisherman, surfer, diver, sailor – there are multitudes of them – and get to the very essence of why someone picked up that surfboard, that mask and snorkel. By using literature, art and photography, we’re trying to discern the things that move people.

DB: Who is your target reader?

JS: We’re still working that out. The intangible nature of what we’re talking about – the beauty of interacting with the ocean – just doesn’t adhere to a particular demographic. That also means that the value for advertisers is both greater but also harder to measure. I think our typical reader is someone who likes to read – I know that sounds like a tautology, but they like to curl up and immerse themselves in good writing. And they’ve got that maritime connection.

DB: The launch issue is greatly focused on Victoria, Australia. What are your plans for upcoming issues?

JS: We’re lucky enough to live on a remarkable stretch of coast – unspoilt and mysterious. So we want to establish our identity as being western Victorian, but to reach out from here and examine all sorts of people and coastlines around the world. A good model for that approach is the New Yorker – it’s clearly a magazine that’s from New York, but it has relevance for someone like me on the other side of the globe.

DB: How and why are particular cover photos selected? Can you discuss the launch copy photo?

JS: Cover photos are Mick Sowry’s department, and the other two partners, Mark Willett and I, we just hold our breath and hope for the best! But Mick’s got an uncanny eye – we’ve got every confidence in him. The cover shot on the launch issue came to us through our friend Jon Frank, who came from the world of surf photography but has gone on to be a serious artist in his own right, and would now be considered one of Australia’s foremost photographers. Jon took the shot on a scorching hot day at Geelong, Victoria. The boy in the shot is Sudanese, and is developing into a promising Australian Rules footballer. We chose it because we wanted to challenge the person standing in the store who’s wondering, what’s this about? It’s a defiant, provocative image: on the one hand a typical day at an Australian beach, and on the other hand, a human being who personifies the new ethnic dynamics of Australian society.

DB: What is GOQ’s involvement with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation? Why that particular foundation?

JS: We wanted to build a business model for our magazine that gives something back in some way – it’s not only morally right, but it appeals to people when they get a sense of your sincerity. We thought hard about the right partner, and indigenous literacy seemed the perfect fit. We have a shameful record in Australia on illiteracy among our first peoples, and it’s only in recent years that concerted efforts have been made to improve the situation. It’s one thing to say Aboriginal Australians should have a hand in their own advancement, but if they’re being denied basic educational opportunities, it’s hardly a fair expectation.

DB: When is the next edition out? What can readers expect?

JS: January 23, which for Australians falls just before our national holiday. The aim is to catch people while they’re lying in hammocks. This issue features some shipwrecks, a tale about skateboarding in Bahrain, a memoir about sausages, sea floor sonar images, a photo essay on wipeouts, coastal foraging for restaurants, Italian seafood, and the second part of Gregory Day’s brilliant tale, The Sea Guinanes. We’re also featuring images from Mambo artist Jeff Raglus. The issue’s a little longer, at 128 pages, and even then we were cramming it all in.

DB: Anything else you would like to add?

JS: We’re really keen to listen as well as talk – some of the best material we’ve had so far has come from people who’ve got in touch and suggested topics or shown us their work. Just a little while ago, a guy sent us an email with negatives he’d found whilst gathering his deceased father’s belongings. It turns out his father was a plumber on an Antarctic base and the shots he took, merely to entertain himself through the dark cold months, are a timeless archive of life and nature in Antarctica in the 60’s. It’s priceless, beautiful material: we’ll run it in our autumn issue in April. That’s why we love to hear from anyone who has a tale to share: there are more wonderful stories out there than we could ever commission ourselves.

Click here for more information on submissions.

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