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.