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FEATURES – The Secret Handshake

| posted on July 22, 2010

I picked up the second issue of Water while loitering at my local surfshop. It’s the new surf mag that Steve Zeldin (formerly of Transworld Surf and Surfing) is publishing. If you haven’t checked it already, Water seems to be replicating the Surfers Journal vibe (quarterly, glossy, quality paper, low ad to edit ratio), but with an overt wink and nudge toward the surf industry. And for the record, Zeldin’s done a first rate job, although I’d like to see more ads, and I couldn’t find one word written by contributing writer Kelly Slater.

A new mag in the racks at a surfshop usually raises more than just an inquiring eyebrow. Surfers are serious about their lifestyle and how it’s portrayed. We possess it in the simple, but devout manner of a small, neatly groomed Guatemalan woman cradling her newborn: wrapped tightly, snuggled to the bosom in a woven hammock; warm, cherished and protected. So it is with parental authority bred by years of riding, looking and dreaming of waves that surfers scrutinize a new mag with a scientific determination. It is our duty to investigate how the newcomer frames and presents what we love. And generally speaking Water is a cool, clear, quenching read.

But this isn’t a magazine review. It’s deeper than that.

Water‘s aforementioned slant toward the surf industry–two, three, four pages of surf industry thumbnail images–left me feeling disassociated. I wasn’t a part of the tribe. I was still a surfer, just not a cool one. Was this a surf mag or a newsletter for b-level rock-n-roll roadies? Could it be that my disdain for low-level networking at trade shows meant I wasn’t one of them? Was it because I didn’t hangout in Hollywood with rock stars and stripers?

Now to be fair, every surf mag pimps the industry (except maybe the Journal). And the surf industry, like many small, struggling industries, is more than a bit incestuous and for good reason. Nevertheless, I was bothered. I wanted to belong. Water seemed to be thumbing it’s nose at the average surfer…or at least at me.

How come I wasn’t photographed standing next to Bruce Irons, smoking a cigarette and baring my god-awful Tahitian tattoo to the world in a polyp popping pose that may have sent my aged body to the nearest Rite-Aid for some Preparation-H? Some of Water’s “whos who” photos were interesting. But it was as if I was looking into my older brothers high school yearbook. I knew nobody–but I really, really wanted to.

Feeling sheepish, like a kid who didn’t know the secret handshake, I turned the pages of Water and came upon an image. A simple one really. A wave. A surfer. A golden moment. It was then that a light went on. A moment of clarity. A small epiphany, if you will.

My ill condition had nothing to do with Water‘s industry insider bro-brah-guy-dude-athon in the front of the book. Zeldin’s got to do what he’s got to do. It’s not bad, nor is it wrong. In fact a lot of people probably dig it. No, my condition had everything to do with my own insecurities. I secretly wanted to be in those pictures, posing with the bros.

Pretty sad, I know.

So I did some soul searching, and I excavated this little nugget of truth from my inventory: (hold on to your seat cause it’s is about as deep as discovering that ice melts) the average surfer, you and I, aren’t in the surf industry “club”, and we aren’t the “beautiful” people. And that’s okay because riding waves has nothing to do with the surf industry, beautiful people or Sunset Strip titty bars.

So the next time you find yourself coveting the short-lived fame, miss-placed prestige, and unbecoming notoriety of the “beautiful” people, remember this: A long time ago–before surf industry promos, and surf magazines–a Polynesian king put an axe to a tree, crafted a surfboard, paddled out and rode waves. This notion is our Guatemalan baby. This is what we cherish and protect. And this is what’s most important.