By Jake Howard
Surfing is a colorful pursuit with colorful characters, and for the better part of half a century, Surfing Magazine was the most colorful mag in the wave-riding business. First hitting newsstands in 1964, founding publishers Leroy Grannis and Dick Graham immediately had designs on taking away a share of the rapidly expanding surf media market from their friend and competitor John Severson, who had started publishing Surfer magazine several years prior. Being the upstart with something to prove was seemingly ingrained in Surfing Magazine’s DNA from day one.
While Surfer got mired down in the black wetsuits, logoless boards and soul daddies of the ’70s, Surfing steadied its lens on the burgeoning pro scene. In those early days, the editorial vision was largely realized by scribe Drew Kampion, one of the most esteemed writers in the surf business. By the mid-’70s, the magazine had found its voice and financial footing under the leadership of publisher Bob Mignogna, editor Dave Gilovich and photo editor Larry “Flame” Moore.
“This was the very beginning of pro surfing and that’s what we decided to focus our efforts on,” explained Mignogna. “Surfer magazine was looking a lot more at the travel and exploration aspects of the sport, and very early on we decided that pro surfing and the emerging IPS World Tour, and later the ASP World Tour, was something that we could cover. It generated a lot of interest as the industry took hold.”
In 1976, Surfing moved their operation from Mission Viejo (where they were neighbors of the Clark Foam factory) to San Clemente. Originally basing themselves on Camino Capistrano near Poche, a few years later they moved up to Rancho San Clemente.
By the time the ’80s hit, it was full tilt boogie at Surfing. Led by Gilovich (currently the mastermind behind Surfline.com’s editorial offering), the magazine had amassed a stout lineup of editorial talent. Michael Tomson (who founded Gotcha), bronzed Aussies Peter Townend and Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew all lent their voices and influence to the publication. Guided by the hard-driving photo editing of Flame, lensmen such as Aaron Chang, Jeff Hornbaker and Don King delivered in-your-face, tack-sharp action imagery to surf fans on the monthly. They became household names for anyone that wanted to get a shot in the magazine. The coup d’etat came in the form of Michael Salisbury’s art direction. Spending time at Surfer, Rolling Stone and Playboy, in the early ’80s he redesigned Surfing, giving it a brave, new wave look that set the tone for the splashy, neon era.
“Salisbury never left the beach, personally or professionally, and in the ’80s he gave Surfing Magazine a vibrant makeover, and turned Gotcha into a flaming pyre of nihilistic beachwear cool,” Matt Warshaw, the author of the Encyclopedia of Surfing, recently wrote for Surfer. “What a remarkable career. And what a pleasure to hear how no-bullshit Salisbury himself is about what he’s achieved.”
Besides evolving into the home for the pro scene, Surfing also broke down a significant amount of other wave-riding barriers. In 1984, Flame took Santa Barbara rising star Tom Curren south of the border to Isla Todos Santos and in one photo shoot proved to the world that Hawaii wasn’t the only big-wave game in the world. In 1990, Moore, along with Surfline founder Sean Collins and pilot Mike Castillo, flew 100 miles off the California coast to survey the navigational nightmare known as Cortes Bank. On January 19, 2001, they returned to the bank with surfers Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach, Peter Mel and Ken Collins and made history.
“The ocean was just alive. The amount of chaos going on over that reef was amazing,” said Parsons afterwards. “There was probably a mile and a half of white water.”
In the ’90s, Surfing introduced the Airshow concept, which put a premium on progressive maneuvers as opposed to the typical “three to the beach” format seen at most pro contests of the time. In 2007, Surfing editor Evan Slater organized the Google Earth Challenge, which revealed a long left point in Namibia, Africa, called Skeleton Bay. Today it’s considered one of the best waves on the planet.
In an awkward twist of fate, in 2001, Surfing’s parent company, Primedia, purchased the company that owned both Surfer magazine and the two rivals were eventually moved into the same building. Around this same time, digital media began to wreak havoc on traditional print publishing. In 2015 and ’16, the magazines were moved from San Clemente to Carlsbad. In January 2017, it was announced that Surfing would be closing its doors for good.
“It’s sad to see it go,” said Mignogna. “There were a few years in the late ’80s and early ’90s where Surfing was really driving the growth of the sport and the industry. I’m so proud of what we accomplished there; surfing was changed forever because of it.”