Surf Shacks 013 – Sam McIntosh

You may not have heard of Sam McIntosh – especially if you live here in the states. So in case you didn’t know, he founded a not-so-little Australian surf mag called Stab that has pretty much blown the doors open on the modern surf scene. Oh, and he also charges a not-so-little surf break called Ours sometimes before work. We had the pleasure of catching up with Sam recently to talk shop and had our friend from down under, Trevor King go show up at Sam’s place with his lens to give us all a peek into his rad pad in Sydney. Check out the full article here:

You may not have heard of Sam McIntosh – especially if you live here in the states. So in case you didn’t know, he founded a not-so-little Australian surf mag called Stab that has pretty much blown the doors open on the modern surf scene. Oh, and he also charges a not-so-little surf break called Ours sometimes before work.

We had the pleasure of catching up with Sam recently to talk shop and had our friend from down under, Trevor King show up at Sam’s place with his lens to give us all a peek into his rad pad in Sydney.

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a gent with scoliosis who is very passionate about very good surf.

Where are you from?

I live in Sydney but I’m originally from Yamba on the north coast of NSW, it’s a country town two hours south of Gold Coast.

What do you do for a living?

I own a small biz called Rolling Youth Press. Stab is the main focus but we also publish Life Without Andy, do contract publishing projects, we also provide social media strategy and creative solutions for biz in the youth space.

Where and when did you learn to surf?

I grew up about 40 minutes inland in a town called Casino and learned to surf on the north coast around Byron Bay and Evans Head. I used to work doing paper runs when I was young and poured over surf mags. All I wanted to do was live by the beach and always said I’d live as close as I possibly could. Then, when I just turned 13, my parents bought The Pacific Hotel in Yamba overlooking the ocean and my life changed forever. It was the ultimate place to grow up. Almost a different wave for every wind and swell direction. 

How long have you lived in your Sydney home?

Three years. 

Who all lives here with you?

My awesome little fam: my girl Arabella and six-month-old boy Bobby.

For all us Northern Hemi folk, tell us about the area you live in.

If you surf, I believe Sydney is one of the greatest cities in the world.  It has all the metropolitan upshots, like opportunities for career and business. Plus, it’s a real cultural hub. The climate is great: we get really hot summer days, heavy-duty storms, the snowfields are relatively close in winter. And we often get world-class surf. Both a few hours north and south of the city have some unbelievably good surf.  

What are your favorite things about the area?

It’s alive and there’s always something to do. Sydney is still big enough to be on the radar for international acts. Like all cities, it’s good because you can be anonymous. Uh, the airport is close by too. 

What is your favorite part of your home and why? 

Certainly the view. It was built in the 1920s and when I bought it, it had one tiny little window facing the ocean. I guess in those days it was all about protecting yourself from the elements. The moment I knocked out those walls and the view opened up, I couldn’t believe where I actually lived. And I like the use of the hallway as a galley kitchen.

What is the surf scene like in Bondi and how are the waves compared to California?

The day-to-day waves are comparable in that we get a lot of small and sloppy surf. There’s probably more backwash here than California. But the main difference is that we get a lot more swell. I know you guys have Northern California and monster waves but we get eight-foot plus waves a lot. We get waves like Hurricane Marie maybe a half dozen times a year. 

Where are your favorite places to surf nearby?

I surf Maroubra and Tamarama mostly. I try to only surf Bondi when it’s onshore. Tamarama is a small and shitty, backwashy beach that’s mostly uncrowded, but I like it. And Cape Solander (Ours) is one of my favourite waves in the world.

Ours looks so gnarly. How did you get into surfing that wave?

I’ve always surfed lots of reefs and I love that on a stormy and windswept day, you might get one wave that is better than anything you can get on a 10-day Indo boat trip. You can paddle out in big and stormy surf and get a genuine wave of your life. Plus, I surf with Mark Mathews a lot. He is inspiring and likes to push himself and those people around him. Every week it’s a text about chasing a swell somewhere else. 

What is your favorite travel destination and why?

Surf-wise, it’s certainly Fiji. Cloudbreak is a classic wave and I love how it’s unpredictable and not perfect. It has pockets of perfection but I don’t think it’s a wave that you ever really master. I like the wash-throughs that sort out the crowd and the locals are cool. 

What is your magic board these days?

A 5’11”Chilli. It was an experimental board James Cheal made for me for heavier waves. It’s thick, has boxy rails, heavier glass but with a pulled-in tail. I recently rode it in eight foot plus waves at Cloudbreak and it rode like a 6’4”. In surfboards we regard weight as the devil but it’s been feeling great even in smaller waves. And, it’s been the strongest board I’ve ever owned. It’s taken heavy beatings and never broken.

We are big fans of Stab and it’s fresh take on surf culture. Tell us about the magazine and how it got started.

I started the magazine with Derek Rielly after I wrote a how-to surf book with Taj Burrow. Des wasn’t that keen initially but I kept pushing and he came around. I knew we could make an impact. He had big ideas and I did the grunt work to make em happen. The combo worked. A lot has changed in the past five years. It wasn’t until we invested heavily in our website that we went global quickly. The decline of the surf industry and the changing of media was our greatest opportunity. When other media were scared about their future, we got lucky. We like to plug surfing into elements of the world that aren’t as affected by the kind of cultural vacuum that surfing can exist in. We try not to be too serious. I feel like we both inspire and infuriate our readers. We’re not parochial. We don’t favour an Australian over a Californian or Frenchman. Talent is talent, regardless of origin. And, we love inspired photography. From surf concept shoots to shooting product to portraiture. That’s always been a big focus. 

What have been your biggest challenges in starting and running the business so far?

Obviously no one has really worked out how to make modern media work. We’re certainly in a transition period not unlike the music and film industry. Once upon a time, we used to sell ads on pages and it was quite simple. Now we’re learning as we go so we have to keep trying new things. With such a heavy digital quotient as well as an app and social, so in terms of advertising you’re literally up against every big digital company in the world. In reality, you’re up against YouTube, Google, Facebook, Instagram, even someone like Shazam. But, the trap is being content. It’s moving quick and if you’re not good enough, you die. 

What are the biggest rewards and accomplishments you’ve had with it?

We did the tow thing with Taj and Mark at The Right just recently and that was the most viewed piece on Red Bull’s entire media platform (well beyond just surf) for six months and it went on Nightline and went viral. Same goes with the Bruce Irons flare thing we did a few years ago. But, probably the biggest accomplishments is setting up Stab in the US. We’re as big now in the US as we are in Australia. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some great partners there. And, I’m proud that we’re still completely independent. 

You have had the opportunity to cover some pretty awesome stories and personalities over the years. What are some standouts in your mind?

The Irons family have always been very good to Stab. And Andy has always been one of my favourites. Super raw and passionate, and not dreary or politically correct which can be polarising and not always that pleasant. Wind back a few years to the Globe Pro in Fiji. It was a free surf day before the contest started. I was on a set out at Cloudbreak and Andy was paddling back out. I could hear him screaming from the channel. Not hooting, screaming. Like, really making a scene paddling out. He always wanted the best waves and he was furious I’d managed to get a set. At the top of his lungs he was screaming, “What are you going to write about? Huh? Yourself!” 

He was humiliating one minute, warm the next but always passionate. You have to respect a man with an opinion. He might just be the last of that generation.  

What is your take on the current state of the surf industry and modern surf culture in general?

Well, leading on the from the last point, I don’t like the homogenisation of surf culture. I mean, I like all the pockets and I’m all for surfing anything. Waves, crafts, whatever. But, the recent Surfer Poll drubbing of Noa Deane and Dion Agius upset me. It’s just the freedom of speech. We want to be painted beige. We’re driving the characters away from surfing if we react in such a way. That’s what was so special about Andy Irons. Mankind has friction. We don’t always love everyone else. There are different ways of living. And we should be open to that. Can you imagine the acceptance speeches and post heat interviews in the future: “I’m honoured to surf this wave, I got really lucky to beat Aritz Aranburu, he is a truly gifted surfer and I am humbled with the experience.” But every reaction creates an opportunity. It’s all cyclical though. Mick Fanning won a world title with a heavy training regime and suddenly everyone is training like crazy. Then Dane came along as an antithesis of this and the world fell in love. And now he’s into training. It’s kinda cool.

What’s next for Stab?

The very next project is a fun one. We’ve had the world’s best shapers attempt to make the world’s best surfboard for one of the world’s best surfers. Completely white-labeled. No stickers, no markings, nothing identifiable. One surfer to test and identify the best surfboard in the world without bias or any preconceived notion. And the catch is: neither the shaper nor the surfer know who the other person is. The goal is to judge a surfboard only on its merit and not because a guy has a big team or marketing budget or whatever.

If you could take a surf trip anywhere in the world with whoever you want, where would you go and who would you bring?

I once tried to put together a bodysurfing trip with Barack Obama and Kelly Slater. That’s the one I’d want to go on. I wouldn’t care where but maybe that (censored) right in the Caribbean that breaks right on the sand that Ben Bourgeois always gets on. Maybe when Obama is done being president we can bring that one to life.

Check out Sam’s brainchild here:


/ Interview by Matt Titone
/ Photography by Trevor King

Check out more Surf Shacks here.

Matt Titone

A goofy-footed graphic designer who hails from the first state, Delaware. After attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL then graduating from SCAD in Savannah, GA with a BFA in Graphic Design and Illustration, Matt moved to NYC and found work as a freelance designer and art director. In 2006 he moved west to Venice, CA where he co-founded ITAL/C Studio and now resides a bit further north in Oxnard.

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