Living at the Top of Their Lungs
At SURFING's headquarters in Carlsbad, CA, we have 50 years of magazines all neatly organized on a single bookshelf. Six hundred issues. Our entire history. Every month, we scour those archives in search of something rad for our "Back When Shit Was Cool" department page. Being that this is our Teen Age Issue, this month was easy. I knew exactly what to look for: The Bruce Irons poster, shot at Pine Trees in Kauai back in 1998, when Bruce was 16. If you've been reading SURFING since the 90s, turn to Pg. 110 and you'll recognize it. And if you're like me, you definitely had that poster pinned on your wall.
While perusing that 1998 volume, I spent some time with each issue. Laughed at old ads. Admired past covers. Took note of good ideas. And then, while flipping through the February issue, a small image near the back of the magazine caught my eye: a surf photo of myself, at 13 years old. My first published image, the size of a postage stamp. I was wearing a yellow contest jersey and the picture ran as part of 1998's ESA Eastern Surfing Championships coverage. The caption read: "Zander Morton, stylin.'" By today's standards the photo would never make it into print. In fact, it wouldn't even make the Internet or Tinder.
But at the time, it was the most exciting thing ever. I remember the moment my mom showed it to me. I remember what the waves were like in Saint Augustine, Florida that day. I remember riding my bike to the beach after school and surfing with more excitement than I'd ever surfed with before. Seriously. That little photo meant that much. And for two weeks — shit, maybe even a month — I'd look at it every night before going to sleep. It sounds crazy writing that now, but it's true, and it makes me wonder: In the modern age of Instagram and instant gratification, does getting a photo in SURFING Magazine still have that same impact on kids today? I'd like to think so.
For this issue, Editor-at-Large Beau Flemister went to Western Samoa for our biennial Grom Games with five of the best 13- and 14-year-old surfers in the world. They scored, and once again raised the bar for what kids at that age are capable of on a surfboard. Compare Sammy Pupo's frontside 360 reverse on Pg. 78 to my cutback from 1998 at the same age and you get a sense of just how far we've come these past 15 years (of course, I went on to work for SURFING Magazine, while Sammy may legitimately go on to win a world title, so there may also be a slight difference in inherent talent, too).
And the best part? Today's top groms are surfing at an amazing level, but back on land they're still just kids, having as much fun as ever. While in Samoa, Beau noted how Kyuss King had no idea how to use an ATM or what a PIN number was and that Eithan Osborne brought a Reef Girl calendar with him all the way from California. When asked why, Eithan said, matter-of-factly, "Because I knew there wasn't going to be any Wi-Fi." After the trip, Beau writes, "That's a place in life I'm jealous I'll never be able to return to." What a valid statement that is.
We also conducted a Peer Poll (Pg. 52). The best 13-to-19-year-old surfers from around the globe voted their peers into Top 5 lists in 10 different categories. The poll went out to one hundred teens. One hundred! In the polls, Filipe Toledo cleaned up, just as John John Florence did two years ago. Considering Filipe is the only teenager on the WCT, it makes sense. But while conducting the poll, we learned more than just who the "winners" were. We also got a sense of just how many talented teenagers exist and how much praise they have for one another. It's obvious a new generation has emerged, and it's one we'll be paying attention to for a long, long time. And sure, "Best Overall" was the most highly touted category, but I can't help but think the title of "Biggest Ladykiller" came in a close second. Being recognized by your peers as someone who pulls? Yeah, that feels good, especially to a teenager. We all remember the days when two words that started with "S" were pretty much the only things on our mind.
Looking through those back issues the other day made me realize something else: Print will always matter. I guess I already knew that, but coming across that tiny photo of myself from all those years ago was a nice reminder. Print is a tangible thing, and it's forever. A capsule in time. A magazine can't be swiped left or right, double tapped and forgotten about. What it can be is touched and held and crumpled and thrown on a coffee table, under a bed and in the bathroom. Hell, even in the trash. But my hope is that at least one grom and their mom save this particular issue. Eithan, are you listening? Fifteen years from now, when you're all grown up — possibly married, potentially with kids — take a look back at this issue, have a laugh, and remember the 13-year-old that brought a Reef Girl calendar with him to Samoa. You can learn something from him. —Zander Morton