The 10 Best Surf Covers of 2013
Words by Derek Rielly...
Is a page one of a magazine still the gift from heaven it once was? Or is it a last-century curio that has only endured because we still haven't got our heads around consuming magazines on some kinda electronic tablet?
Mitch Coleborn, the surfer from Australia who missed out on a World Tour spot by a point in December, explains it best: "I might be old school but even if a clip online gets a million hits it doesn't excite me as getting something in print. To see yourself on a cover still gets me super fucking jazzed."
Fucking jazzed! It's true.
The here-this-second-gone-in-a-blink nature of websites, as well as the ability of servers or their masters to destroy forever any proof that something ever existed, means ink spilled on page has a permanence… evidence!… that online can't touch.
Of all the world's surfing magazines in 2013, here are the 10 that took the reader somewhere pretty special. Maybe it was a slice of exotica, or a new photographic technique that took your breath away, or it was a humorous moment that made you sit up and smile a little.
Obviously I had to include my own work, but ain't that the way of a seething ego? A desire to preserve your favourite kicks in perpetuity?
1. Conner Coffin at Jeffreys Bay by Grant Ellis/Surfer/December 2013
It's comical the number of cutback and cutdown shots I've knocked back for covers of my own magazine. Mostly, the cutback is a simple, but fundamental manoeuvre, to place the rider back in the pocket of the wave. Very occasionally, even just once a decade sometimes, along comes a cutback that is so photogenic, so beautifully and perfectly executed, you have to stand back and, for more than just a lingering moment, really drink it in. This cover of Santa Babs teen Conner Coffin riding a Tom Curren Black Beauty for the movie High Line at J-Bay is the best cutback shot since, and let's open the door on a little irony here, Tom Curren at Off the Wall, shot by Tom Servais. Classics are rare now. But this is classic.
2. Christian Fletcher and gateway drug for kids from the Fletcher family archives/What Youth/Issue 6
It ain't no secret that I'm a fan of What Youth, the magazine from Kai Neville and the one-time staff of Surfing magazine. Actually, issue two's cover of Kolohe Andino standing with his back to the camera, with dog, is my all-time favourite of the title but this, coming in during the last weeks of December, is a zephyr in the often too-serious world of surf. It's four-year-old Christian Fletcher guzzling a Coors and shot by his dad Herbie. Show a set o tits in a surf mag in America and it's like your bringing the country down with your perversion. I can't even imagine how apoplectic some of the more Christian-centred surf co's are going to take this. Do you really think What Youth cares? Steering a culture requires steel in spine and plenty of drunk nights putting the show together. Hardboiled!
3. Benjamin Sanchis and the monkey-on-the-back camera angle by Laurent Pujol/Surf Session/May 2013
I found this cover of Surf Session kicking around on Instagram back in April. The photographer is former French pro surfer Laurent Pujol. Ignored by the rest of the surf media, I found the photo one of the most arresting images I'd ever seen and by exercising the fingers on my right hand soon had Laurent on the phone. Turned out Laurent had been inspired by the angle of GoPros but figured if he could get towed in behind a surfer, all padded up so he didn't get too beaten up, and carrying a high-end DSLR in a housing, he could trump the angles of Slater and angles of Forence with their hand-held and board-mounted cams. But what was most interesting about Laurent's experience was his sudden appreciation of other surfers. “Surfing’s an egotistical sport for individuals,” he says. “Even when you’re out there with your friends you want the bombs. I got caught up with that. Now when I’m shooting I’m rooting for the other guys, I’m stoked for them for once. It’s a different mentality. I’m not getting as tired, I’m having more fun and I’m getting 20 lock-ins every session with my friends. I’m getting more barrels now! I’m getting deeper, baby!” Perversely, our interest in Laurent back-fired a few months later when we got caught up in a bidding war for a shot of Bruce irons, the shot eventually going to Surfing.
4. Dylan Graves in the Caribbean by Chris Burkard/Surfer/June 2013
"If you discovered this wave, would you tell anyone?" is the coverline married to this photo of Puerto Rico's Dylan Graves. East Coast surfer Ben Bourgeois certainly would and, every year, when the right application of north swells suggests it'll light up this pink sand beach, he brings another gang of pros and cameras. But, still, the juxtaposition of a perfect and virtually impossible to name wave with a coverline that sinks its teeth into our egos, is a combination that works.
5. Michael Hoult in Tasmania by Stu Gibson/Transworld Surf/June 2013
It was curious to me that when GrindMedia decided to euthanise one of their three surf titles, they took out their best. And even though this is a tow (Gay!) and the surfer is using straps (Gayer!) you can't argue with a wall of reef and a backwash slinging itself back into the face.
6. Dane Reynolds with Blowjob Betty, Mia Sohony and Aunt Jizzie by Morgan Maassen/Stab/March,April 2013.
It was the dog-centric napkinapocolypse Instagram of Dane's gal Courtney that turned me onto this idea. Looking for a way of running an okay shot of Dane I tweaked an old quote from William Randolph Hearst ("Give me a magazine cover with a beautiful girl, a dog, or a baby on it, and I'll give you a magazine that sells") and used Dane's and Courtney's dogs to illustrate the words, "Give me a magazine cover with a Dane Reynolds turn and three naked bitches on the beach and I'll show you a magazine that sells." The cover resulted in a spoof letter of claim from Mia Sohony aka Pam, written we presume, by her master Courtney and sent from the Reynolds' family house.
7. Dane Reynolds by John John Florence/Stab book/January 2013.
How about this for an idea? Get the world's best surfer to shoot the world's best surfer. Great as an idea thrown around in an office. Difficult to pull off. But in a back street five blocks from Huntington Beach we had John John shooting Reynolds during the period of the US Open. Here's how it was reported…
John John squints at Mr Reynolds though the viewfinder of his Leica M7 rangefinder camera. He twists the barrel of the 35mm f2 lens until the two focal images sit perfectly atop each other.
“Who do you want to look like on the cover?” he says, from his position in a deep squat.
“I want to look like Luke Stedman!” hoots Dane.
There is nothing so promising or so warm as an engaged Dane Reynolds. It’s a measure off his integrity and depth of character when he and his gal Courtney arrive at the shoot 30 minute early.
“Can the photographer focus up that close?” continues Dane.
“Yep, yep, but don’t call me the photographer, it gets me too nervous” says John John, who is squeezed by brain fatigue but who is also pumped-up by the candidate’s warmth.
Dane performs like a circus tumbler, an actor, a buffoon. It’s a light comic business of the sort you don’t normally see on a photo shoot involving professional sportsmen. Dane’s guard is lowered and his humour, often shielded, is present in great measure.
John John isn’t a master of technique, but he has the one thing that matters more than anything in this game, ACCESS.
Their mutual respect means John John sweats on the quality of the photo and it puts Reynolds in such a benevolent mood he ain’t afraid to step outside the normal boundaries of cool.
The Stab book is a low-circulation exercise in cultural CPR and is, therefore, rarely held let alone owned. But this cover, only just squeezing into the 2013 period by virtue of a missed shipping date, is my favourite Stab cover of all time.
8. John John Florence by Morgan Maassen/Monster Children/Issue 37.
It ain't surf, it's a skate-culture hybrid. Yeah, I get it. But MC designer Campbell Milligan has a way with photos and design that get you just right.
9. Taj Burrow by DJ Struntz/Surfing, October 2013.
Surfing magazine has the best photo editor and colour corrector in the biz, a Mr Peter Taras, proudly cuckold, and ever-so-proprietary about a magazine that just don't deserve such a man. Marry this to a great photographic staff, in this case DJ Struntz, and an iconic pro surfer, and rabbits jump out of hats.
10. Craig Anderson by Todd Glaser/Surfer/July 2013.
Simplicity always wins.