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The History of Surf Magazines

Surf magazines have been around since the 60s when the sport really began booming in the United States.


This revolutionary decade for the country encouraged out-of-the-box thinking, and for surfers of the time, that entailed rejecting societal norms surrounding what their lives were ‘supposed’ to look like.

Despite often being labeled as ‘bums’, people all along the East and West coasts of the country started adopting surfing as more than just a hobby – it was a lifestyle.


Magazines that focused on the sport were popping up around the world, with scenic images, compelling editorials, and ads for gear here and there.


While many titles have folded, switching from print to digital in the last few years, their impact should never be forgotten – surfing has been proven time and time again to change people’s lives, and before social media, surf magazines were how word was spread about new destinations, innovative boards, and courageous legends.


Let’s look at some of the most renowned publications, beginning with ‘the bible’. 





History of Surf Magazines

Surfer

John Severson, whose last name is fittingly pronounced “Sea-ver-son”, was born in Los Angeles, CA in 1933. When he turned 13, his family of seven left the city to settle in San Clemente, where he fell in love with painting, videography, and of course, surfing.


After graduating from California State University Long Beach in 1956, he was drafted into the army and served as a mapmaker on Oahu.


It was during his time on the island that Severson began creating movies, which he promoted by handing out a free printed collection of stills he entitled The Surfer – little did he know, this would become the first-ever edition of Surfer Magazine


When Severson was buried in an influx of requests to produce more copies of The Surfer, he started putting a price on the collection, and just like that, that magazine was born.


Severson leveraged his knack for design, captivating writing style, and passion for photography to formulate a publication that advocated for environmental activism and gave a voice to the ‘bums’ who were transforming the sport.  

For almost 60 years Surfer Magazine was admired across the globe, as the most well-known surf periodical in history.


It has seen Bethany Hamilton become a Pipeline Champion, Kelly Slater win his first and last world titles, Caroline Marks qualify for the WSL tour at 15 years old, and Laird Hamilton surf the Millennium Wave at Teahupoo.


After its controversial political stance on the 2020 Presidential Election and the Covid Pandemic, Surfer Magazine officially halted producing print copies and closed it's doors.


It has recently revived as digitally and remains focused on surf news and features.


Tracks


Tracks magazine may not be a super recognizable title to many Americans, but the name would undoubtedly be familiar in any part of Australia.


In 1970, co-founders Alby Falzon, David Elfick, and John Witzig thought a more localized surf magazine could thrive in the ever-growing, sacred culture surrounding the sport – and they were right.


The goal of the contributors at Tracks was to endorse rebellion and a more worry-free outlook on life. This “one team one dream” perspective the magazine provided for the surf community was fascinating to pros and beginners alike, and within no time Tracks took off. 


Its pages included more humor and poetic submissions than most surf magazines, in hopes of reflecting the unbothered mindset you needed in order to be dedicated to surfing.


Australia had societal pressures similar to those in the United States at the time, and Tracks served not only as an outlet, but a guide on how to resist giving into the ‘norm’. 


Unlike Surfer Magazine, Tracks was able to survive the pandemic as Australia was impacted significantly less than most other countries; the nation’s mortality rates were actually less than a quarter of those in the US and UK. Tracks still successfully offers print subscriptions to this day but does utilize an online version as well. 



SurfGirl


SurfGirl Magazine made history back in 2002 when it became the first surf mag devoted to highlighting the accomplishments and telling the stories of solely female surfers.


The publication was founded in Cornwall, England, and features articles on news, travel, interviews with pros, surf tips, and women’s health advice.

Their target audience is girls and women of all ages and skill levels, who are passionate about the sport as well as the culture surrounding it. 


SurfGirl’s objective is to empower women in surfing and motivate females to be fearless in a sport that has been male-dominated for decades. With the rise in women partaking – and absolutely kicking ass – in surfing, the magazine opened its pages in time to cover some of these incredible feats.


Since SurfGirl’s first edition, Laura Enever surfed a record-breaking 43ft wave, Carissa More became the first woman to win a gold medal for surfing in the Olympics, and Stephanie Gilmore won her 8th world title – to name a few. 


The magazine still offers print subscriptions, publishing new hard-copy editions twice a year, and in addition, the periodical posts fresh content on their website each week. 


American Surf Magazine

And of course, American Surf Magazine: after working in editorial capacities with Eastern Surf Magazine, Surfing Magazine, and serving as Editor of Hawaii's Freesurf Magazine, Cash Lambert founded American Surf Magazine's digital platform in 2022 to continue this storied and historic tradition of surf magazines.


The Bottom Line: History of Surf Magazines

We’ve been following in some pretty huge footsteps and are in awe of those who came before us each day.


Without titles like the ones above, we wouldn’t be where we are and hope to further the surf magazine world one article at a time, just like the legends who started it all.


There is so much rich history in surf publications to appreciate and inspire what lies ahead in the future.   

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