Six years ago, surfing was my life. Today, surfing is still my life. It’s just funny how much those two definitions now diverge. Before I started at ESM, I worked for several years as a bartender, so I had all the time in the world to surf whenever there was a ripple in the ocean. To devour every surf magazine I got my hands on. To spend hours dissecting surf videos, more hours watching live webcasts of surf contests, and even more hours parsing details of surf forecasts near and far.
Today, I do nearly the same thing, only at a nine-to-five job that affords me a decent paycheck and an office located less than two blocks from the beach. But as I and every other surf mag editor who’s ever come before can attest, working in this industry does funny things to your
brain. It makes you immune to pretty pictures. It inures you to otherwise compelling stories. And it often leads to a severe decrease in water time attributable to a variety of factors: surf-bro burnout, the double-edged sword of working at something you love and never being able to switch it off, increased domestic duties, blah blah blah. If you’re a regular reader of this page, you’ve heard the same ol’ story several times before.
Which is another challenge of writing about surfing for five-plus years. Once you’ve covered the same subjects, the same events, the same locations, and the same people time after time, how do you shake things up and make them fresh as well? For me personally — and for you, the reader, hopefully — I think this issue may have done it. Start with the photo on this page. More than any other image I’ve seen in the last half-decade, it truly made my jaw drop. And here’s the kicker: other than the distant ocean at which Jonathan Mincher and Rob Brown are gazing, it’s decidedly un-surfy. Instead, it invokes the allure of travel — the siren song of the open road — which has driven millions before us to wander the globe. Further along in this issue, three professional surfers push themselves outside their respective comfort zones in Iceland — and almost pay dearly for it. Eight stickered-up groms get a lesson in preparedness and persistence in Panama. Two New Yorkers ruminate on cold comforts across the pond in Ireland. And three relatively unknown guys from New Jersey get the barrels of their lives in Indonesia while exploring the pros and cons of feral travel.
What i’ve really come to appreciate about surfing — especially as work, family, and other responsibilities afford me less and less time to actually do it — are the raw moments of grandeur, like those that each surfer featured in this issue found on his journey. Those moments, and the inevitable search for them, are what made us start surfing in the first place. Not the smug satisfaction of landing the perfectly rotated frontside air, but the unadulterated joy of our first successful ride. Not the cocky retelling of our umpteenth eight-hour session, but the inexplicable flickers of understanding that come as we discover the ins and outs of aquatic devotion. Not the woe-is-me arrogance of yet another airport run, but the wide-eyed wonder of our first international trip.
Although ESM’s usual standards of persuasive storytelling and powerful photography make it hard to transmit those simple feelings in print, everything we do still hearkens back to those moments. The ones that first inspired you, me, and everyone we know to pick up surf magazines way back when. The ones that first inspired us to drive countless pre-dawn hours for the chance at a few cold, windblown waves. The ones that still inspire us today, no matter how much inflammatory Internet detritus we pile on top of our once-innocent surfing existences. For all of us, the definition of surfing changes as we grow older. Some surf more, and some surf less; some become more addicted, and some drift away. But no matter how often or how rarely we get to paddle out, the magnetism of those aforementioned moments will never change. How you fulfill or suppress the desire to achieve those moments is up to you. I just hope the photos and words in this particular issue of ESM will help you along the way. Bu Nick McGregor