At the turn of the century there was no greater measure of surfing celebrity than getting a cover. Then, focus turned to getting the end-section of a Taylor Steele film. Today it's all about how many Instagram followers you have, or so it seems. And we wonder, does the cover of SURFING still command the same attention it did before the digital age? We asked four cover connoisseurs if the taste of Pg. 1 is as bold as before.
Getting the cover of SURFING? Game changer, baby. It's definitely on the checklist when you're a professional surfer and trying to be one of the best in the world. You want to have a sick video section, do well in contests and get good photos. And the ultimate photo is being on the cover of a magazine. There are only 12 issues a year, and it's something that will never go away, like a trophy. The thing's framed, hanging up in your house when you're old and gray. My brother got a cover of SURFING last year and I was on the outside looking in. The surfers and the people in the surfing community all rallied around it so hard. I've lived in both eras [print and digital]. I don't think a cover is as big a deal for people outside the core fabric of the surf industry, but I feel like it still means a lot to the surfers.
For me, SURFING has always been the father magazine, just because my dad grew up shooting with Flame [Larry Moore] and they were really close. My dad shot with him pretty much every day down at Creek. Flame took him on trips and helped him in his career so that he was able to start a family and raise me. So SURFING has always been the main magazine for me. When I got my first cover [June 2010] — an air at Creek, actually — it was just before the whole Instagram/social media phase. But the second one that I got from SURFING [May 2013] was in the thick of it. I was known as a small-wave air guy and that second cover was a pretty big barrel [at P-Pass]. It showed me that a cover is a big statement that can change how you're perceived. It's still definitely one of the biggest things you can do in surfing.
When you're first starting to get photos in magazines, to get a cover is a mindblowing thing. My first cover was for SURFING [August 1988], when I was 15 or 16 in a wave pool in Irvine, California, doing a backside snap. Flame told me they actually 'photoshopped' extra spray coming off my board. Pretty funny, an East Coaster coming from Florida and getting his first cover in a wave pool. Today, I still think it holds a lot of credibility to get a cover shot in the print mags. It puts your name out there and it sends a message that you're somebody in surfing. The Surfline stuff is more accessible to people, but it comes and goes real quick. And I think you'll find a lot of the best shots don't go online because the photogs don't get paid very much for them. For them, it's like, 'Man, I just spent all day shooting and made 35 or 50 bucks.' I think a lot of the best shots get saved for advertisement and editorial in print mags. It's an interesting question: What's more important for a young surfer's career: a magazine cover or 20,000 new followers on Instagram? I think the cover for their career and the 20,000 followers for their ego.
John John Florence:
SURFING is one of those top magazines that's been around forever. I've been looking at Kelly Slater and all the best guys on covers since I was a little kid, and to be a part of that is just insane. The last cover I got of SURFING was the Hawaii Issue [April 2014]. It was a pulled-back shot from the mountain of that big Pipe wave I got. Someone sent me a picture of the cover on my phone and I couldn't believe it. It's one of my favorite photos I've ever gotten at Pipe. Every time you get a cover it feels like the first time. It's the best feeling ever, and I don't think the online stuff has changed it. Photos online and on Instagram are there for a couple hours and then they're forgotten about. A cover is something you can hold in your hands and it's going to be around forever. Like, SURFING is having its 50th anniversary and you can go back and look at a SURFING Magazine cover from 45 years ago and you're still gonna be just as psyched on it today.