Kampion, Hynd, Warshaw and…Patterson? The Joel Patterson Interview

20 01 2010

There is a column in Surfer called the Hot Seat. I believe Derek Rielly does it now. Well, guess what? It’s your turn now. I’m going to pull out some of those old questions from memory. Give me five people living or dead you’d most like to have at your dinner table?
Woody Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Dylan Thomas and Bob Simmons. What a strange night that would be.

Last book you read?
I’m currently creeping through The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer. Not trying to sound erudite or something, just wanted to read a modern classic. It’s lop-siding my night stand as we speak.

Favorite Film?
Lately, Modern Collective. What a film!

Shit. That’s all I can remember. Ok, time for the real questions. How long have you been the editor-in-chief at Surfer and what is your background?
I got the job in September 2008, so just shy of a year and a half. I’ve worked for surf and skate mags most my adult life. I grew up in Newport Beach, where my brother Matt and I surfed and skated. In 1994 I was hired as an assistant editor at TransWorld SKATEboading, where I was lucky enough to get to work with legendary editors and photographers like Grant Brittain, Dave Swift, Aaron Regan, Atiba and Ako Jefferson, Skin Phillips, Kevin Wilkins, Ted Newsome and others.

Over the course of the next six plus years, I rose through the editorial ranks at TWSkate, though I was mostly its managing editor. In December 2000, I became the editor in chief of TransWorld SURF. The publisher at the time wanted someone with skate background who grew up surfing, and I guess I fit that bill. At TWSurf, I worked with Chris Cote, who was a natural talent—funny, smart, creative—Marc Hostetter, Aaron Checkwood, and Steve Sherman, who I think is one of the most important photographers in our little world. We hired Chris’ brother Justin, Casey Koteen, and Pete Taras—all were great hires, and have since made such awesome contributions to the surf community. We did what I called “activist journalism,” meaning we tried to push an agenda—airs, youth, Ozzie Wright, grainy black and white, night fill flash, and generally the ushering in of a new generation of surfers. We felt like the established mags looked down at young people, and it was our goal to push those kids into the limelight because we thought they should be there.

I was fired in July 2006. I had lost the passion for it. I found myself coming up with editorial ideas, and the staff would look at me and say, “Dude, you don’t work at SURFER Magazine, this is TransWorld.” I’m paraphrasing, but it was clear I’d burned out, and though they gave me a graceful exit, it hurt. TransWorld was my grad degree, my family, and finally, my lesson in humility. It gave me a passion for working with groups of young creatives, and building community amongst editors. After that, I spent a year in my sweatpants, doing freelance writing, but feeling rudderless.

Then Dave Gilovich, Jonno Wells, Sean Collins, Marcus Sanders, and everyone over at Surfline gave me new lease by hiring me to be the editor of Water Magazine, which they’d recently acquired. Water was short lived, but getting to be inside the Surfline organization was eye-opening. It’s an impressive business with lots of competent people, and I was in awe of the speed with which their business model evolved, but I didn’t really fit. They worked mostly from home, and the community feel that was so important to me was just not really there. So when Jason Kenworthy whispered in my ear that Chris Mauro was planning on vacating the ed in chief office at SURFER, I made myself a candidate by the end of that day. After about five interviews with Rick Irons, I was hired. That was in September 2008. Since then, I’ve rediscovered that editorial community. I’m once again in the company of several young, smart, cool editors and I love it. To me, it’s all about the people you work with.

Surfer recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Is it a challenge to edit what many consider the most well known and respected surf publication in the world and is it a daunting task to sit in the same desk, so to speak, as Drew Kampion, Jim Kempton, Steve Pezman and Steve Hawk?
It’s a huge challenge, and I came into the job in a much different mindset than I did at TWSurf. SURFER is an institution. It has subscribers who haven’t missed an issue since Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President. Think about that for second. In my mind, it’s one of America’s great magazines—it’s participated in the community of surfing as much as just about any other single entity by telling stories that make the experience multi-dimensional. When I got the job, I didn’t know much about the past editors, but the 50th anniversary was a crash course. Now I see that all of us are shadows of John Severson, the founder. He was smart and liked beautiful photos, and we aspire to that. He’s been gone from the magazine for nearly four decades (he moved to Maui in the early ’70s to escape deadlines and his next-door neighbor Richard Nixon), and a dozen men have done the job since, but his energy is in the DNA of the brand.

Australia’s Tracks Magazine claims to be the “Surfer’s Bible” and Surfer is the so-called “Bible of the Sport.” What gives? There can only be one holy book right?
Those are just words. We don’t sit around in the office and call it “The Bible,” and I’ll bet my saving’s account that Luke Kennedy and the guys at Tracks don’t either. It does bare some resemblance to a holy book, though—it’s old, it’s followed devoutly, and it’s frequently misunderstood. But, come to think of it, there isn’t just one holy book. What of the Koran or the Torah? Different strokes, right?

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
The people I work with. I would say the travel, the time spent with legendary surfers, or the fact that this is the only job I can think of where a two-hour lunch-time surf is smiled upon by management, but really it’s Grant Ellis, Brendon Thomas, Mike Noe, Janna Irons, JP VanSwae, Zach Weisberg, Cody Iddings, Todd Glaser, Kimball Taylor, Jason Kenworthy, Jason Childs, Brad Melekian, Jeff Mull, Sean Doherty, Tom Servais, Christian Beamish, Chris Burkard, Patrick Trefz, Art Brewer, and on and on.

Least enjoyable?
Relentless deadlines. We make 1,000 plus editorial pages per year, and we run four Web sites, not to mention making world tour programs, calendars, a little get-together called Surfer Poll, and lots more. We do a lot of late nights.

Are there any particular stories you’re proud of?
I’m so proud of our August 2009 issue (it’s SURFER’s “Big Issue”), and the cover package we did “The Fifty Greatest Surfers of All Time.” Also, Kimball Taylor’s Flea profile was fantastic and meaningful. My job is to facilitate others’ pride.

It’s no secret print has been in a steady decline for years. In terms of Internet surf-centric sites it seems there’s Surfline and everyone else. It doesn’t seem like the print mags are really making a concerted effort to capitalize on the Internet. Do you think that is a true statement? And if so is it a mistake?
Great question. At SURFER, we do a respectable amount of online traffic (I think we did about 50-million page views in 2009, making us far and away the #2 surf site), and we do it on a limited budget. I could go deep into this topic, but I’ll sum it up by saying that you’ll see Surfline’s unchallenged reign challenged quickly in the coming months. With advertising down, we have our eyes on digital. Look for a sea change in the future.

If you told your high school career counselor you’d be editing a surf mag when you were 38 years old what would he/she say to you?
Well, I grew up in a surf-centric community, so they would probably say, “Can you get me a free subscription?”

It seems Surfer has ran the photo of founder Jon Severson pecking away on the typewriter at San Onofre hundreds of times. Will that photo ever be on the cover?
I don’t know what future generations will do with it. Under my administration we won’t put it on the cover because we just used it in the 50th anniversary issue. I think it appeals more to writer-surfers, because it so beautifully embodies what the job should be. Young man, VW bus, typewriter, shirtless, tan, facing the lineup, board nearby. If you look at that photo and it doesn’t stir something in you, don’t apply for a surf mag editor job…I think it’s a litmus test of sorts.

Every year Surfer has a guest editor issue (which is genius by the way because you can essentially take the month off). If you could choose one person to guest edit Surfer, who would it be?
Well, actually, choosing who that will be IS my job. And to dispel any rumors, we do just as much work on the guest editor issue, sometimes more. Pro surfers aren’t used to the pace and fury of a monthly deadline. Joel Tudor was my choice, and I’m damn proud of his issue. He really brought his world into the magazine. Some people loved it, others hated it, but just about everyone had an opinion…and that’s the goal.

As much as I enjoyed the 50th anniversary issue, I couldn’t help but to notice the similarities between that cover and Playboy’s 50th anniversary cover. Did you realize it’s almost identical?
Yeah, we aren’t claiming originality on that one. Here’s the deal: with all the iconic images SURFER’s run through the decades, how could you boil it down to just one? It’s impossible…we tried. Our goal was to celebrate an important milestone, so why not simply run that?

In the aforementioned issue you stated the current generation of surfers are “the most eclectic group ever.” And you “have Dane Reynolds in his prime.” Twenty years from now do you think Reynolds will be as prominent as say Curren or Dora?
That’s a tough one. I was looking at Dane’s blog (marinelayerproductions.com) today and it featured a video of him and his friends surfing near home up in Ventura. His friends are good surfers, but Dane is surfing on another plane than they are. His gift is Curren-esque, and he makes me proud to be a Californian surfer. I think his legacy will depend on his understanding of media, and if that turns out to be the case, I think he’ll find a place with the greats.

After your “tour of duty” at Surfer is over what are you more likely to do and why?
a) Move to France, become a novelist and begin working on a screenplay
b) Work for the Surfer’s Journal
c) Ease into a marketing position at a major surf company
d) Have a three-way with the George brothers
e) All of the above
What’s next is still unclear to me. Right now I’m using all my available energy, brain cells and waking hours to give SURFER’s readers the great magazine they’ve become used to. In a few years, I hope to leave tired and proud. I doubt I’ll leave rich, but that’s not why I took the job.

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44 responses

20 01 2010
Osama "Bro" Laden

Finally a muslim in charge at Surfer!

20 01 2010
Rip "Bro" Winkle

Hey J.P. can we get the Readers Digest Condensed version of your farkin life story next time please? How about just providing Cliff Notes?

Bro I was sucker punchin the snooze button after 15 seconds.

20 01 2010
Kampion,Hynd,Warshaw and Hawk

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

20 01 2010
Murph

Excellent Interview. Speaking of Playboy, this reminds me of a Playboy interview (yes I occasionaly read the articles.) Your talent is being wasted. That being said, Joel comes off as if he thinks Surfer is curing cancer or something.

20 01 2010
Jay

I have been reading Surfer for close to 3O years. While I enjoyed the big issue and the 50th anniv. issue, everything in between for the past few years has been less than average. The Joel Tudor issue was outright horrible. For the time being, no one will confuse Patterson with Kampion, Warshaw, Hynd or Hawk, but maybe he’ll right the ship. It might take a few more years to wash away the Transworld filth from his pen.

20 01 2010
Jay

…and I vote for Brad Gerlach to be the next guest editor.

20 01 2010
Whisky Pilgrim

Christian Fletcher

20 01 2010
Just a Surfer Reader

I think Joel is doing a fine job.

20 01 2010
Joe.

Surfer use to be a great magazine. It has been steadily going down the tubes the last 12 years. Stab is interesting but will probably be short lived.

20 01 2010
chris Cote

I love Joel. Taking over Surfer Magazine is a crazy undertaking and i think he’s doing a great job. And Joel, if you ever have Woody Allen to dinner, you better call me and at least let me stop by the table to say hi.

20 01 2010
The original Jimmy Football

You should have asked him if he plans on doing a kite boarding issue

20 01 2010
m

“I’m currently creeping through The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer. Not trying to sound erudite or something, just wanted to read a modern classic.”

nice

20 01 2010
FLA

DO NOT HAVE THE 50 YEAR ISSUE OF SURFER IN FRONT OF ME BUT 1 ARTICLE INTERVIEWED ALL THE EDITORS AND 1 ANSWER BY THE NEW ED GOT ME. QUESTION: WHAT ARE LEAST PROUD OF AT SURFER? HIS ANSWER WAS “WORRYING ABOUT WHAT ADVERTISERS ARE GOING TO THINK.” NOT SURE WHAT DIRECTION SURFER IS HEADING BUT IM OFF THE SHIP.

20 01 2010
Jamon Bagel

Patterson, you seem like a good guy and in it for the right reasons. This sandwich is willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.

Still, it is hard to forgive you for that borderline sycophantic piece you wrote on Alex Knost last year. Consider the following & judge for yourself:

“I arrive late, and with the south swell still pumping and drawing a big summertime crowd, I’m stressing I might not find him. But all worry instantly evaporates seconds after I arrive on the beach, where Alex’s presence in the lineup is undeniable…. There’s an unpredictable, freeform quality to Alex’s surfing, but when you see it live, there’s no question he knows what he’s trying to achieve….Alex’s full-body attack is the swan song of a 1984 Fender Stratocaster about to be beaten against a Marshall stack. In a good way. In the way that makes girls lust and makes guys buy Stratocasters and start bands. Constantly on the brink of losing control, he never does.”

Ummm…uncomfortable.

20 01 2010
Peathead

Dave Mustaine comparisons aside, I have to go ahead and say “viva Joel!” The surf magazine world is better because of him.

20 01 2010
Reddo's brother Fredo

Weakest comment section in awhile with the exception of the broism bro’s batting lead off.

Let’s move on boys. See if we can rile B.R. and Mike.

20 01 2010
Joel Patterson

Thanks for all the feedback guys, and frankly, Christian Fletcher is an excellent suggestion for Guest Ed. Just wanted to take this brief moment to survey you, the vocal, concerned commentators of the surf Web world. What are you most concerned about in regards to the current state of surf media? What are magazines doing well, what are the dropping the ball on? In your opinion, what stories are magazines and Web sites missing, and what are they over-doing? Talk shit on me for asking if you want, but I think you guys are an important cross-section of surf.

20 01 2010
Jamon Bagel

Redo, you bring less to the table than an armless waiter on crutches.

20 01 2010
Jamon Bagel

Joel, your comment/attempted-focus-group does nothing to dispel charges of corporate soulessness. That seems to be a major concern here…

Ultimately, we are ALL here because Lewis Samuels ran his mouth/pen in way that was brutal and twisted but most of all honest, with very little regard for what the sponsors or anyone else thought. Sure he got shitcanned, but he also struck a chord of non-bullshit.

That is what’s missing. That and mustard.

20 01 2010
trauzersnake

@Jamon….

Dude, I think you are up to 49.0002%….just sayin.

I’ve always enjoyed travel stories-from a soulful point of view. And how about some “where are they now” kind of clips. I’ve also always loved the letters section, but hey, this is the letters section on roids.

20 01 2010
trauzersnake

If mark quit in the letters section forum, nobody would give a fuck and he’d never be heard from again. In fact, that a-hole would be lucky if he got published in the first place. But as far as the first point, this forum is different how??

20 01 2010
trauzersnake

@Jamon-

I’ve made a gross error-i carried your percentage over from the last thread. But based on quantity and quality of bothe threads put together-it’s still effin accurate- so…

20 01 2010
Magnum Q. Meatwhistle

Suggestion’s? Quit and go work for TSJ.

20 01 2010
Shamus McRearload

Censor your website like Sirius or HBO.

21 01 2010
ADR@TSP

Jedi Joel, never mind the mustard – you’re doing a great job. Feel the force. Use the force. And, to re-re-quote Obe Wan Kampioné, don’t fuck up.

21 01 2010
FLA

Just put Runners World on the cover.

21 01 2010
Jamon Bagel

@Trauzer… I think my percentage is up because everyone else’s is down. Have you noticed that Mike disappeared after some blockhead called him gay and pompous? Mike, man, you gotta make a comeback. Or has the lack of Mark made you lose interest?

Oh God, wait…could it be…Mike and Mark? A deep psychic schism within the same individual? Car salesman by day, world class artist by night, neither personality aware of the other???

Tyler Durden! Tyler Durden!

21 01 2010
Just a Surfer Reader

Joel,

Get Parmenter back on the payroll. Get Hynd out of his cave. Ditch the Kelly Slater trick tips. Reading will never improve your surfing. Fluff. If youre going to have Kelly instruct the readers on anything it should be how to bag a supermodel. And for petesakes do the Andy profile and have him spill the beans.

21 01 2010
Frank Woodbury

@Jamon Bagel

You call me a blockhead but you don’t use your real name and you live in the NorthEast and probably voted for Scott Brown.

I would inhale you in one bite and then stick my finger down my throat and puke you back up right into King’s Harbor as the mammoth explosions of 12 foot behemoths erupted over the Breakwall.

@Joel Patterson

Come on Joel.. I actually think Surfer is pretty good right now but your touchy feely focus group mentality comment made me want to dump Surfer for Stab.

I always thought that I would like to run into Derek Hynd someday in Ireland or somewhere and knock back a few beers together. Havin a freakin Latte in Laguna with Joel Patterson isn’t quite the same.

21 01 2010
SmyrnaJeff

Trauzersnake is trying to lure Mark back into commenting again by calling him an a-hole. I know because T-Snake was always cool to Mark.

Mark is gone to where the weather suits his clothes and he ain’t comin back.

21 01 2010
Blasphemy Rottmouth

The pool of people who depend on a colored piece of parchment to grip while they deliver their morning constitutional is dwindling faster than Julian Wilson’s hairline.

I bailed on that doomed Zeppelin years ago and haven’t missed a thing.

I would read it if there was a special feature:

Tag Team Wrestling Match.

The match would pit Tim Baker and Mick Fanning vs. The Nug and Dane Reynolds. Sure, on paper this would be a physical domination by team FannyBaker. Kind of like a she-bear slowly and passionately raping an inebriated tortoise. So, we would have to give team Reynugs a pair of shank knives to employ at will against their “fierce competitors” (my apologies to Snips for borrowing his favorite words). I think this would make for a compelling visual and verbal piece.

Including uncensored nip-slip outtakes from Alana’s surfari’s would also be encouraged by my lapular region. And my pee pee.

21 01 2010
Elwood

JP seems like a solid dude in an impossible situation… decline in print media everywhere, hacked advertising budgets, aging readers like us but advertisers who want kids, and a traditional vein of how the magazine has always been run that runs counter to anything edgy.

All that being said… my suggestions: Where are they now (as previously mentioned) is always intriguing to me. Also, probably aint gonna happen but a bit more REPORTING on real world events… if a pro is in some scandalous sexcapade or bar fight, etc. etc…. I’d like to read about it…

21 01 2010
Jordy Smith

You are too right Elwood Bru…just last night I set off more than one scandal with a pack of older married ladies, and it ended in rippin barfight. And then it ended in the end, if you catch my meaning bru!

21 01 2010
Jamon Bagel

@ Blockhead:…and then I would fade you into the pit of that crap-ass wannabe big wave and the last thing you’d see before getting sucked into the barrel and run over by a hippie kneeboarder would be sesame seeds in my contrail.

PS, my real name IS Jamon Bagel…just ask Mark, I mean Smyrna Jeff…

And finally, I agree with your note to Patterson. No one except that late Lewis Samuels has really taken Hynd’s line, and we need it.

21 01 2010
Elwood

@Smyrna Jark …. re: Mark: Snowboard trip or Religious Retreat??

@ Jordy Sheen: Love It! send photos next time.

21 01 2010
Blasphemy Rottmouth

@Smyrna,

Let’s hope he wore his favorite Firefighter’s suit. He’ll need it with all the fire and brimstone around.

21 01 2010
Viking Leech

Better travel articles are needed. Less fluff “travel” shit like the fucking Red Bull team in Indo. Longer, more in-depth profiles, and Q&As are never bad with the right person. Less self-back-patting in the Letters–where are the haters? I know they write to you guys. More edge, but distanced from whatever TWS and ING are trying to do. Less pro-surfer worship. Shitcan the Hot 100. Shitcan all the wetsuit guides and gear guides and gay fluff. Get rid of Curious Gabe. Better photos are needed, often. Better cover shots, too. For an example of a great surfing magazine, look no further than Oz’s Surfing World. That’s what Surfer needs to be in the USA. It needs to get back to being a mag you end up keeping in your bookshelf/house instead of tossing it into the recycling bin after a quick flip-through while on the shitter. Because that’s what ER, TWS, and ING are these days.

21 01 2010
SmyrnaJeff

Viking Leech is Lewis Samuels.

1,000%, for sure, on my grandma’s grave, done deal.

21 01 2010
Frank Woodbury

The next time Joel Patterson should ever be mentioned is when he “retires” from surfer and takes over sales director job at some gay, soul less company based in irvine.

Next up is vegas bindies and insider trading.

Just fing sayin. Yatches.

21 01 2010
Viking Leech

Viking Leech is not L.S., FYI

22 01 2010
Blasphemy Rottmouth

@V.L.

Don’t worry. Most of us aren’t that retarded.

24 01 2010
Jamon Bagel

One more thing Joel Patterson… How about maybe Surfermag beats Surfline to a story? Any story. You guys are consitently days behind…

24 01 2010
Jamon Bagel

…but at least you can spell better than a bagel…

27 01 2010
Steve

Surfer’s beaten Surfline to a heap of stories. They broke Chris Ward getting arrested and Koby going to jail.

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