People Who Surf
Rob Gilley's tribute to former SURFER Editor Steve Hawk
As implausible as it sounds, there is actually something more annoying than constantly being referred to as someone’s brother. Imagine dedicating your life to the written word—to proper journalism—and then having a complete hack write about you.
That’s gotta be even more obnoxious. And it’s about to happen to Steve Hawk.
I’m writing a People Who Surf column about Steve for two reasons. First, for the turn-the-tables irony (he was creator of the original column), and second, because I know he can take it.
I know Steve Hawk can handle my literary lameness because stretched over that tall, ectomorphic skeleton of his is the world’s thickest skin. Anyone who can endure an eight-year stint as Editor of SURFER Magazine has to possess the epidermis of an abused rhinoceros.
I know what you’re thinking: “Editor at Surfer Magazine? That’s gotta be the world’s cushiest job—a dream position full of travel, hot chicks, and perfect barrels, right? What could be so difficult about that?”
If you only knew.
I can’t even begin to describe to you what a flaring hemorrhoid that job really is. From the relative safety of the photo department I’ve witnessed it over the years, and at best—at it’s very peak—it’s thankless. That’s the most you can possibly hope for. Normally, though, it’s an extremely-long-houred, industry-pressured, work-never-done, every-move-scrutinized-and-second-guessed, everybody-wants-something-from-you, Polynesian-audited, never-have-time-to-surf pain in the ass. Seriously.
It was under these conditions that Matt Warshaw sought his own exit and eventually handed over the reins to Steve in 1991. Matt had just finished rebuilding the SURFER editing approach from the ground up (see Claiming Dr. No), and was looking for a good bouncer to enforce the proverbial new higher-level club of SURFER literature.
Little did Warshaw know that he was hiring the Patrick Swayze of surf editing.
Like James Dalton, Swayze’s character in Road House, Hawk kind of appeared from nowhere and started riling the good old boy network right away. One of his first moves was to bring in a hired gun, David Carson, to modernize Surfer’s art direction, which took flight like a North Korean missile. In its initial stages, Dave’s avant-garde, disjunctive design managed to ignite a barrage of ground fire.
“Who is this Hawk guy and what is he doing to our precious magazine?”, many started to wonder. Pretty much the only things known about him at the time were that he had newspaper experience and was a skateboarder’s brother— the older sibling of some kid named Tony. That’s it.
Some older surfers were so offended by the first few months of Carson-designed issues that at one point it really looked like the San Onofre crew was going to show up at the SURFER offices with torches and pitchforks. It would have taken them a while to get there with their walkers and Model-Ts, but it really looked like they were coming.
Then something interesting happened. After a few months, Carson throttled his design back a bit and SURFER settled into a beautiful, modern, and thoroughly unique publication. In my opinion, some of the best looking magazines in SURFERS’s long and storied history were produced during this time. Just full-on outhouse keepers.
And Hawk began to settle in as well. First, he stepped into the literary bouncer role with remorseless panache. Like the mulleted Swayze, he starting kicking ass left and right. If your prose didn’t cut it, you weren’t getting in. For example, over the years he rebuffed some of my own submissions with terms like “juvenile” (right cross), “semi-scholastic” (Rocky Balboa body-blow), and my personal favorite, “hermaphroditic” (Bruce Lee neck-stomp).
Which would all be terribly mean critiques if they weren’t so god damned accurate. And funny.
And that alludes to the most bothersome thing about Steve—his likability. In essence, he’s one of your surf buddies—that sarcastic friend who has no problem giving—or taking—constant shit. And that kinda sucks because someone in his position should be more of a William F. Buckley or Dick Cheney or Justin Bieber—someone who would look good pinned to the front of a dartboard.
Sadly, he’s not. Steve’s a down-to-earth, regular-guy/family-man who brought a direly-needed “outsider” perspective to SURFER Magazine. He brought things like an everyman’s intro and People Who Surf and The Comedy Issue and some sorely needed balance to a principally myopic, industry-incestuous domain.
Steve’s greatest contribution, though, had a bit of a dictator’s touch. Like an all-powerful ruler he set a new decree over the land. It was time, he said, to eliminate a great enemy—to kill the literary threat known as hyperbole. He made it his personal mission to remove as many exclamation marks from Planet Earth as possible, and for that alone he should be praised.
Hell Yeah He Should!!!
Not long after completing his eight-year tenure, Steve moved on to build and nurture his brother’s foundation, became an executive editor for Sierra Magazine, and left Orange County forever. But in retrospect it was those years in the SURFER San Juan Capistrano offices that Steve really made a name for himself.
Which gives me an idea.
The next time I see Tony Hawk in public I’m going to approach him, look at him quizzically, and say, “Hey, aren’t you Steve Hawk’s brother?”