Growing up on the shores of Lake Michigan, surfing was a rare possibility, but a possibility nonetheless. There were only a handful of days each year where the winds blew just right (i.e. extremely hard and very cold from the north), causing waves to roll in. Those frigid lake surfing days were a far cry from the turquoise waters and palm trees synonymous with the surf industry's early aughts marketing endeavors, but it was still surfing, and it was enough to get me hooked. It’s also why every month, for so many years, a crispy issue of Surfer Magazine landed in my mailbox—located near the Canadian border over 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean.
For sixty years Surfer Magazine offered a connection to another world, for lifelong coastal devotees and aspiring surfers like myself. In these pages, empty, mathematically perfect pointbreaks existed in what seemed like an endless golden hour light—likely with a lone surfer leaning deep into a bottom turn. It was where travel stories to remote locations in search of unknown waves inspired many more in search of the same. Where music, art, fashion, and lifestyles from around the wave-riding world were on display long before the endless scroll of social media.
Then, in October 2020, the mag sent out its last issue (pictured below). No doubt Covid played a part in its recent and untimely shuttering, though certainly so did social media and the Internet in general, venture capital, shrinking ad budgets, and myriad other factors that have similarly killed dozens of other beloved niche outdoor magazines.
Now, thanks to Surfer Magazine: 1960-2020, published by Rizzoli, the iconic rag's rich history is preserved in a hardcover 304-page coffee table book.
Surfer Magazine: 1960-2020 is a detail-oriented chronology of the magazine and the sport as a whole. With long excerpts of articles, full bleed photos, and entire high resolution scans of pages from issues across the decades, the book is a must-have for surfers and non-surfing creatives alike.
While the appeal to surfers is obvious, the wider draw lies in the book’s unfiltered view of a highly influential subculture spanning 60 years. As a window into fashion as well as editorial and graphic design, the book shows how an outsider sport like surfing interpreted the trends of the day and how it created its own entirely.
And of course, surf enthusiasts will marvel at the evolution of the sport, specifically the boomerang effect of board design. Flipping through the pages, one can see how the experimental and almost mid-century modern shapes of the '60s—shapes that are now popular on the racks of boutique shops like Pilgrim and Mollusk—gradually give way to increasingly thinner potato chip-like performance boards in the '80s and on to the days leading up to the magazine's closing.
In addition to the pictures and reproductions of pages, the book includes writing from many of the sport’s most esteemed voices, complete with a foreword from Pulitzer Prize winner William Finnegan (author of iconic memoir "Barbarian Days"), an essay from surf historian and Surfer's former editor-in-chief Matt Warshaw, and many more.
Despite surf culture’s respect and admiration for tradition, record-keeping isn’t its strong suit. Rizzoli’s Surfer Magazine: 1960-2020 is a much needed capsule of both the magazine and the sport’s culture over its explosive 60-years of innovation and growth. And even though images from historic swells now arrive almost instantaneously to our phones, nothing compares to the feeling of getting lost in print. RIP.