Generations of surfers grew up on their namesake magazine, pouring over pages of the latest edition as though it was the Holy Grail.
And, for their sport, it was. For years, SURFER was where you might first spot newly discovered breaks, the most innovative maneuvers and the latest in surfboard design — as well as contest highlights, pro rankings, reader polls and surf fashion.
“SURFER was the first mainstream surfing magazine and the largest,” Todd Prodanovich, the magazine’s last editor, said Monday.
“It mirrored the rise of surfing. It’s been a cornerstone of the culture. It’s crazy to think of a world where SURFER doesn’t exist.”
Prodanovich said he and the other four full-time staffers were called Friday, Oct. 2, and told by the parent company, A360 Media, that they were being furloughed from the 60-year-old magazine.
“But it was made clear that this was the closure of the title. It was not ambiguous. Literally, there is nobody left.”
He speculated that the decision to issue furloughs was made to allow employees to continue to receive health insurance. A360 Media, formed in August as a merger of American Media and Accelerate360, has several other publications including National Enquirer, Us Weekly and Men’s Journal.
Causes of demise
Like other traditional media, SURFER suffered from advertisers fleeing to social media and other emerging electronic outlets. Additionally, the internet began providing more immediate and extensive news about surf breaks, design, personalities and contests.
“SURFER had been hanging by a thread since it was sold to American Media in early 2019, but the clock has been ticking since Al Gore invented the internet,” surf historian and former SURFER editor Matt Warshaw quipped in a piece published Monday by beachgrit.com.
“Surf magazines will find a cozy little niche audience, like vinyl LPs, but with the rare exception, we’re 20 or so years removed from the day when a print article could break a story, set a tone, drive a discussion.”
The coronavirus may have been a final straw, initially impacting advertising and wiping out a season of surf contests around the world.
“Due to (the) pandemic’s economic impact on the industry and the cancellation of live events, staff furloughs and the suspension of operations for some brands are necessary for the time being,” said an A360 Media statement emailed in response to inquiries by the Southern California News Group. The reply did not address any potential future plans.
Warshaw said the broader trends overwhelmed the publication.
“The internet marched SURFER to the cliff — all the virus did was finger-push it over the edge,” he wrote. “Digital is coming for us all.”
SURFER founder John Severson began surfing as a teenager living in San Clemente, and was soon painting, photographing and filming the sport. To promote his 1960 film, “Surf Fever,” he published a 36-page booklet with a cover that read, “The Surfer.”
That booklet became so popular that he began a quarterly magazine, which eventually grew into a bimonthly and then a monthly. By the early 1970s, he had sold his ownership and moved to Maui, where he continued painting until his death in 2017 at the age of 84.
In the 1970s and 1980s, SURFER and Surfing magazines were fueled by competition between the two, each growing more sophisticated in content and pushing for high-quality photos from around the world. Surfing’s last print edition was in January 2017.
At the beginning of 2019, in response to declining ad revenue, SURFER reverted to quarterly publication. The new issue just out, dated Winter 2020, is expected to be the last unless a benefactor emerges to resurrect the publication.
On the Facebook page “Legendary Surfers,” some readers posted favorite SURFER covers while others offered snarky comments and criticism, including attacks on the magazine’s decision to endorse Joe Biden for president.
But mostly there was fond nostalgia.
“Many years of fun and dreams from my past,” wrote page member Paul Cassiano.
“I looked forward to receiving every new issue and traveling to an exotic new spot or reading about my friends and heroes. Another part of our normal reality is taken away with all this crap going on in the world!”