Eight years ago, when I started working at ESM, surf photography was a totally different beast. No social media. No smartphones. No GoPros. #Nofilters. Very few DSLRs. In the pre-Dropbox and WeTransfer days, I can’t even remember how photographers sent us high-resolution images. Mailed-in CDs maybe? Prohibitively slow FTP connections? Slide, print, even negative submissions? Today… well, I don’t need to tell you what the surf photo game is like today. You have a pulse, right? If not, you probably still have an Instagram account — definitely a Facebook profile. In other words, saturation is king. So many images come at us from so many different directions these days that it’s nearly impossible to keep up.
But we try. Here’s a typical day at ESM. Sick photo arrives in inbox. We forward it around. Yay or nay? If yay, respond immediately with a hold request — otherwise it will be on social media or a competitors’ site instantaneously. The vicious cycle begets quick decisions, which aren’t always the best decisions. Oftentimes, we revisit a shot for print months later, only to discover we used it on our own website. Still, here we are — and this issue, we try to map out the parameters of that “here.” Can we utilize smartphone technology to change the way sequences are presented? (Yes.) Are Crossfires even still a big deal in today’s inundated landscape? (Hell yes!) What does it take to pull up stakes, move somewhere new, and make it as a photographer? (Hard work, good gear, and a sense of humor.) My personal favorite is this issue’s examination of the Garden State’s overabundance of photographers. On an average swell, 75% of our submissions come from New Jersey’s 130 miles of coastline. So we enlisted Jon Coen, who’s had his finger on the pulse of the state for 15 years, to try and figure out the who, what, when, where, and how (much) of this digital explosion.
But hey, it’s not all bad. Compare the amount of photos we have to choose from today to the slim pickings ESM Co-Founders Tom Dugan and Dick “Mez” Meseroll had to work with in the early ‘90s. Or the late ‘90s. Or even the early 2000s. The rules of the game have drastically changed — but the game is also much easier (if more frustrating) to play. Special moments still appear out of the ether, though. In March, we put a shot of Will Skudin on our cover that A) Will had never seen and didn’t even know was taken, and that B) photographer Timo Jaarvinen blind-submitted to us with zero expectations of it even being used. All parties (including us) were overjoyed and a little taken aback that a single sick frame could A) go unseen for so long and B) have such an immediate impact. I’ve talked to Will four or five times since it printed, and he still raves about the magic of that image.
As ESM approaches its 25th anniversary, making such magic is still the ultimate goal. It isn’t easy to achieve — and it’s never going to get easier. But as long as you keep picking up the magazine hoping to discover that spark, we’ll keep feverishly rubbing our sticks together to try and generate it. Click through the webazine below to see how we did this month.