On Surfing

Janna Irons

Illustration by Matt Titone

Janna Irons is like many in this series: an all-out creative. She came up through the magazine world and was born in Hanalei, Kauai—born to the venerated Irons family. Bruce and Andy Irons (1978-2010) are Janna’s cousins. She’s the former managing editor of SURFER magazine and the founder of the short lived but adored publication, Salted magazine. Since leaving SURFER three years ago, she’s worked for many magazines and creative agencies as a freelancer. And recently, she and her husband lived out of a van and worked remotely for a full year, replete of the quotidian rhythms. Now the two live in Eastern Washington where they’re restoring a 1909 craftsman bungalow. Irons still opined that Rincon was her favorite wave.

Can you describe one of the most challenging aspects of surfing to you?

I don’t really know how to go left. I’ve always lived in places with perfect rights, so I just never really went left. So, there’s that. But if I’m going to get all naval-gazey, I guess the most challenging aspect would be realizing that surfing doesn’t play the same role in my life as it once did. For a long time, surfing was my world; it was core to my identity; it was what I did every day. But after spending the last year driving around the country in a van with my now-husband, much of which was away from the coast, I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of other activities that make me happy too—hiking, biking, skiing/snowboarding, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I still love surfing and always will, but it’s been an interesting transition figuring out what does define me now that surfing isn’t at the core. (As far as how big of a challenge that is though, I’d say not being able to go left is the greater obstacle.)

What is one of the most redemptive or rewarding parts of surfing?

For me, it’s definitely the friends. I know that at all my favorite breaks that I can paddle out alone and run into people I’ve known for years. It’s such a great feeling to come back to Santa Barbara, Cardiff, Hanalei or even places in Australia or other parts of California and to see people that I love who’ve made up the backdrop of some of the best days and sessions of my life. 

What has surfing afforded you in your life?

In my teens and 20s, surfing gave me an excuse to travel to incredible places on surf trips and for surf contests, where I met people who became lifelong friends. Then for six and a half years, it provided me an (admittedly insubstantial) income a surf magazine editor. I got to travel to surf, while doing work that I loved. Since leaving the magazine, it’s become more of my escape. It’s where I feel the most “me.”

How long can you go without surfing?

As I mentioned, this has changed quite a bit over the last few years. I don’t know if that was a product of being away from it, or whether I was okay with being away from surfing because I began discovering other things that made me happy. But now I can go a month or so and not miss it too much if I’m doing other fun things outside. Right now, I’m living away from the coast, so I plan plenty of trips to get my fix.

How and when did you fall in love with surfing?

I grew up in a family where everyone surfs, so I started young. But being the stubborn child I was, I decided at about 7 that I was not going to be a surfer because that’s what everyone else did—I did ballet, soccer, swimming, and all sorts of other things. Then when I was 13, I had a birthday party and my mom talked all my friends into taking all her longboards to surf the tiny waves out front at Pinetrees. Reluctantly, I went. And had the most fun day of surfing ever—and maybe since. We spent the whole day in the water catching tiny ankle-slappers, just laughing and getting sunburned. I was hooked.

What’s one of your pre/post-surf rituals you hold dear?

Burritos and bronzing, not necessarily in that order.

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On Surfing is generously supported by our friends at McTavish

Michael Adno

Michael is a writer and photographer born in Florida as a first-generation American to Austrian and South African parents. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, and The Surfer’s Journal among other magazines.

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