Travis Ferre logs some tube time in Mexico. Photo: DJ Struntz
You might not know the name now, but you will. Trust me. Travis Ferre is the new editor-in-chief for Surfing Magazine. Right now Surfing is documenting “what is now” in the surf world better than any other American surf mag. He was gracious enough to answer my questions about his background, the state of surf media and his enormous woody for the Modern Collective.–Nug
In April you took over the editorial duties at Surfing. Has it been a challenge to fill Evan Slater’s shoes?
No one will ever fill Evan Slater’s shoes. Evan would be disappointed if I only tried to fill his shoes. I’m trying to make my own.
What is your background? How did you find yourself as the editor-in-chief of one of the largest surf mags in the world?
I grew up in Huntington Beach. I started surfing when I was nine. Mostly because wax smelled good and my dad got me a cool little board shaped by Jeff Widener. I remember walking through HSS when it was on 16th street with my dad, wandering through, hugging all the rubber wetsuits and smelling the wax. I liked the lifestyle. It smelled good. I didn’t go to Huntington High School. I only dated their girls. I went to Marina High School. We were the Vikings. We almost beat Huntington’s surf team once when I was the captain.
My dad is an artist and a car painter. I couldn’t paint, but I liked to write. As I got older, I found out my dad’s best friend in high school was Chris Carter. He wrote the X-Files, but he started out as associate editor at Surfing Magazine. My dad always told me stories about their surfing adventures and getting in trouble and then how he went on to work at the magazine. I thought that would be a cool gig if emulating Kalani Robb ever failed — which it did.
I went to OCC (Orange Coast College) out of high school and traveled a bit with my friends, surfing and getting reckless. I decided I wanted to study English literature because you could drink while doing homework. I then set the goal of becoming an editor while sitting in my truck listening to an Interpol record. I transferred to San Diego State and that was really the turning point. I was sitting in a Shakespeare class, doing everything I could to relate that class to my future in surf writing when I sat next to Kimball Taylor. He recognized me from surfing Mission Beach and we got to talking. He told me he was a writer for Surfer magazine, I told him that I wanted to be an editor at a surf magazine. He tried to get me an internship at Surfer but they never called back. He then passed me on to Evan at Surfing and a couple days later I was in their office, writing stories for the website. Nathan Myers and Evan took me under their wing and I never left. Kimball still calls me Hamlet.
Print has fallen on hard times. Surfing and Surfer’s parent company (Source Interlink) filed for bankruptcy. The magazine even has a furlough tracker. Additionally, the recession has hit a lot the advertiser’s bottom lines, decreasing ad budgets. Is it difficult to produce a quality magazine that relies so heavily on advertising under these conditions?
Have you ever taken a furlough? It’s amazing. You take it on a Friday. Turn the phone off. Go surfing. Drink beer at lunch. Go surf again. You make happy hour. It’s the most inspiring thing our company has ever implemented. I’m so proud of them. As for making magazines right now: sure, it’s a bit tougher. The beauty of our crew though is we’re all young. We know no other condition. We’ll make you a 100-page magazine or we’ll make you a 300-page magazine. We don’t care. It’s going to be a good representation of what we’re into that month and it will matter. It will represent modern surfing. We’ll stay late. Work our ass off. Put everything we have into making it. We’re creative, we like the challenge.
Well there is the whole pay issue with the furloughs. But then again I think it was Nick Carroll who told me no one gets rich from writing about surfing (Except the aforementioned Chris Carter).
We’re not here to make money. We’re here because we love it. Sounds corny, cliché and predictable, but it’s true. We like doing this. A day off to go surfing so the corpos can get back on track is fine by us.
I preferred it when Surfing and Surfer were bitter rivals. They have been under the same corporate umbrella for a while now. Has this diluted the product?
Look at the December issues of Surfing and Surfer. They don’t even look like they were made on the same planet. The products are going their own directions and I’m fine with that. So is Joel Patterson. Joel and I make different products and for the first time in five to ten years, Surfer and Surfing have their own identity. We’re doing what we’re into. They’re doing what they’re into. And while we’re probably not going to send them donuts we shoved in our ass, our editorial staffs are pretty damn competitive. The fact that we’re under the same umbrella doesn’t dilute the rivalry much. We’ll get into a cocktail argument anytime but we’ll take furlough together the next day and it’ll be all good. They’ll ride Alaias and we’ll ride Protons.
Looking at the masthead I don’t recognize many of the names on the editorial staff, but I like what I’ve seen recently out of the mag. And I’m a fairly harsh critic. Is Surfing Mag like the 1972 Dolphins “No Name Defense?”
Sure. And Jimmy Wilson would be very happy to hear you make a football reference out of us. We’re all pretty unknown I guess, but we’ve had our share of Don Shulas on the sidelines to influence us though. Nathan Myers taught Stuart Cornuelle and I everything we know about making magazines, late night drinking and how to get shit done in this environment. He lives in Bali now but we still call on him daily.
Evan Slater passed down the formula of how to get a magazine of this caliber out on time each month. We’re just putting our spin on it now. We’re young. I’m 26. Stuart is 21. Our art directors are young. Photo team is young. We make a magazine for us and the people who are us happen to be our median age, so that works out. We do pride ourselves on that youthful energy, but we don’t intend on sacrificing the quality of the product.
We want to maintain a sense of sophistication, even if it is hidden beneath a bad word or Mitch Coleborn’s mustache. We don’t want to lose the legitimacy of the brand. We’re just here to make it relevant again. Lord knows anyone with a computer can be a critic, a journalist or a voice now. And we’re aware of that. Which is why we’re not afraid to make bold decisions or to run with a new idea. We’ve also begun to enlist new writers to the mag like Chas Smith and Jed Smith: young guys with guts who can write a good page. We like that. Guys who have a bone to pick with tradition. That’s why surf media has a tendency to get stale. It’s stuck on tradition.
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