Passions: Today's best surfing magazines show the way forward for print media

The rise of the internet hasn’t been kind to surf mags, but the best of today’s survivors offer a reader experience that cyberspace will never match, writes Roger Cox

Your house is on fire, loved ones and pets are safe, if you could rescue one thing, what would it be? For me, it would have to be my collection of surfing magazines, dating back to the mid-1990s. Trouble is, I'd need a decent-sized wheelbarrow and about half an hour to get them all out, which – given how quickly glossy paper burns – probably wouldn't be enough.

Assuming I had time to escape with one wheelbarrow-load, though, which ones would I salvage? Definitely a few copies of Wavelength, the UK surf mag I first started reading in my teens, not so much because production values were particularly high (they weren't), but because the enthusiasm of the then-editor John Conway was infectious and the day-glo wetsuits the pros wore in the 90s were wild.

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Next up: a few key editions of the late, great Surfer magazine – the "Bible of the sport" until it was killed by covid in 2020. The first copy I ever bought, back in 1994, with Laird Hamilton on the cover, pioneering tow-in surfing in monster waves on Maui, would definitely have to come, as would the psychedelic August 1995 edition, guest edited by blue-sky thinker Rob Machado. The 35th anniversary edition from October '95? Check. The 50th anniversary edition from January 2010? Not actually as well put-together as the 35-year one, but still – in the wheelbarrow. All the giant-sized annual collector's editions? Absolutely. I'd rather lose a toe than leave those to burn.

Past editions of The Surfer's Journal, Surfer and The Surfer's PathPast editions of The Surfer's Journal, Surfer and The Surfer's Path
Past editions of The Surfer's Journal, Surfer and The Surfer's Path

Then we get to The Surfer's Path, which I subscribed to on and off from 2005-2012. Brilliantly edited by Alex Dick-Read, it all-but ignored the pro tour and majored instead on surf travel, surf history and the environment. Issue number 50, from Aug-Sept 2005, is definitely in the salvage barrow, with its crowd-sourced profile of surfing's quintessential outlaw, Miki Dora. Also saved for the reading pleasure of future generations: Issue 83, from March/April 2011, which featured Ryan Burch and Cyrus Sutton touring the California coast on foot, towing boards and belongings behind them on DIY rickshaws.

Last but not least: all my copies of The Surfer's Journal, dating from Oct/Nov 2019 to now. A near-perfect bi-monthly distillation of surf culture, produced to an eye-wateringly high standard, the Journal is everything a good surf mag should be, and an endorphin-stoking sensory experience that the internet can't even come close to replicating. The past, but also the future.

Roger Cox is Arts & Books Editor of The Scotsman​, and writes a weekly outdoors column in The Scotsman Magazine