[This feature originally appeared in our April 2017 Issue, “Evolution,” on newsstands and available for download now.]
Don’t oversell. Comedy rule No. 1, right there. The person who says, “Hey, guys, listen, this is the funniest story ever!” might as well try to light a fire with damp pasta. Former SURFER editor Drew Kampion understood this perfectly. Some hoodoo had been making the rounds, the way it so often does, about an approaching doomsday (May 21, 1970, to be exact), and Kampion wanted to riff on that in the magazine. Became a little obsessed, in fact. He started on Page 1. The cover of the May issue is gorgeous, as SURFER covers invariably were in that era: an Art Brewer shot of Rory Russell embedded in a small, late-afternoon copper barrel. You had to tear your eyes away from the photo to even notice the small, white, all-lowercase blurb in the lower right corner: “first annual end of the world issue!”
The wording is funny by itself, but the giddy exclamation point puts it over the top, gives it a little towel-snap of irony, adds a half-twist to the landing. We’re off to a great start!
Moving on to “Focus,” the issue’s photo feature: “Dear Reader,” Kampion’s intro begins. “There are moments that jump out from your otherwise dull, meaningless, run-of-the-mill, commonplace lives. Your high school prom, your wedding day, your first sniff of glue. That’s what ‘Focus’ is all about. Great moments out of great lives captured by great photographers. This being our End of the World Issue, these photos will be the moments that carry you down the path of eternity.”
Kampion even gives the subscription page a full-body massage: “It’s all over now. Because May 21st is the End of the World, it’d be pretty ridiculous for us to ask you to subscribe. But we’re asking anyway. Five dollars for six issues of SURFER. Ridiculous …”
Best of all? The “Time Capsule 1970” feature, in which Kampion and the staff gather together “some of the more meaningful and sacred articles of our surfing culture” in hopes that some unknown being in some distant future might “uncover the Capsule and come to know our world before the Great Wave carried us into the backwash of extinction.” The Capsule is there before us, open wide, and we’re invited to look. Items include Mickey Dora’s desk calendar (one year earlier, Dora had “predicted the Great Cataclysm; and as usual, he hit the nail on the head”), Corky Carroll’s first trophy (with its “special relevance in this age of surfing professionalism, anti-professionalism, and apathy”), and a gob of tar (“oil, for you curious, distant folks, was a substance refined at great expense in order to hasten the end of virtually everything good in the 1970 world”).
Probably the easiest gag was the hand-rolled joint, up there at the very top of the photo, glued proudly to the upraised hand of the little metallic champion figure on Carroll’s trophy. Not a chance Kampion was going to seal up that capsule drug-free. The riskiest call was to include 1969 SURFER Poll winner Jock Sutherland’s induction papers: “As history drew to an end, Jock—long noted for putting himself into the worst possible situations on waves—put himself into the worst possible situation in the world, and joined the Army.” True enough, and were it not for a timely hand injury near the end of his basic training, Sutherland, who’d been trained as a tactical wire specialist, would have been out there in the deepest of the shit, and possibly dead—which would have been a real kick in the nuts, comedy-wise, to the Time Capsule.
The world, and Kampion, carried on. He chuckled when I asked him about the Time Capsule: “The induction papers were fake; I just pulled a page out of my typewriter and folded it up.” And the joint? “Oh, the joint was very real.”