Making It: Scott Bass
Figuring out how to link your passions into the workplace is one of those perplexing things for a lot of people. Finding that connection between the two doesn't always prove to be easy. For Scott Bass, he has been able to carve out his own path within the surf industry, starting by at SURFER Magazine which helped him get his radio talk show, Down The Line, and eventually started what is now known as The Boardroom International Surfboard Show (formerly Sacred Craft). By staying true to his vision and through a lot of hard work, Scott has found a way to do what he loves all the while getting wet when he needs to.
Describe your personal evolution in the surf industry, what different jobs have you had?
Any job I've ever held has always been with on eye on surf time. "Will this job allow me to surf a lot?" Not necessarily in the surf industry but close to good surf. One of my best jobs was working at El Pescador Fish Market, both Del Mar and La Jolla, because a surfer owns the joint. You could slide down to Horseshoe or be slightly late from a Blacks run. I once got a dream job as an assistant boatswain on a Tall Sailing ship - The Unicorn. We set sail out of Guernsey Island and cruised the coast of Europe, went to the Canaries, across the Atlantic to Barbados. That was a real eye opener. That job helped me to adjust my value system. When I got out of high school, the dream job seemed like working in the 'surf industry'. But I would tell you that working around the ocean is the dream job, what ever that is. Fishing or Scripps Institute or Coast Guard, Lifeguard...stay connected to the ocean. The ocean is where the love affair happens.
Unicorn: Bass crewed on gaff rigged, top sail schooner UNICORN for five months in 1991; sailing around & surfing occasionally in Normandy France, Cascais Portugal, South Point Barbados. "I learned how to roll my own cigarettes into the wind with one hand. I got fired for too much drinking."
I worked as a writer/editor type at SURFER Magazine from 1997 through 2009. Working at SURFER was great because I got to surf a lot. SURFER was my first 'industry' job. I was lucky to work with Steve Hawk, Evan Slater, Sam George: these guys really took their craft, writing, seriously. Me, not so much. I was surf motivated. One of my first days there, Rob Gilley, the photo editor at the time, came up to me and goes, 'Okay, here's the deal, it takes exactly 17 minutes from our parking lot to the waters edge at Lowers, that's if you have a skateboard in your truck and...no traffic." Gilley knew where I was coming from: surf time.
As the Online Editor at SURFER, I was charged with procuring editorial content. This was around the year 2000. The internet boom was in full swing. VC money was flowing. Photographers were getting paid $5K per month from sites like Hardcloud.com -- just on retainer -- without producing anything. It was a ridiculous boondoggle. The result of that was photographers wouldn't provide me with any surf images, at least not for cheap. Plus, any leftover images submitted by SURFER staff photographers, well, understandably, the photo editor wanted all the images for the magazine. The pro photographers were all contracted up by BlueTorch, Hardcloud, Surfline, Swell. I realized very quickly, "I have to become a surf photographer." So I purchased a digital camera, one of the first ones ever developed, Canon/Kodak DSC5000. Pierre Tostee helped me out, sort of showed me the ropes. It cost SURFER $8000 - used! Overnight I became a surf photographer. A really crappy one at that. But I had to produce images for the SURFER website and this was the only way. I convinced higher ups that I could write, shoot photos and produce videos all for relatively cheap. SURFER magazine sent me to a lot of great waves and I was very fortunate - blessed really, to work there. I surfed my brains out.
Mammoth wedge of water meets happy go lucky Shane-O. photo: Bass
The Laird wave at Teahupoo put the SURFER magazine website on the map. The "Oh My God..." wave. I was lucky enough to get ahold of Tim McKenna's video footage. That's another thing that cost an arm and a leg. Video. During the internet boom compressed video sold for $500 / minute. Now they are giving it away. Anyway, the Laird video footage received lots of eyeballs. That footage more or less put SURFERmag.com on the minds of many internet savvy surfers. Plus the message board, you know the forum over there, at SURFERmag.com, it was and still is over the top. Looney. Super hilarious. Vitriolic. Stupid. Smart. All forms of sophomoric internet hi-jinx and all at the same time. The message board is how SURFER got all of its internet traffic. By 2003 the internet replaced the water cooler. You could hang out waaaay longer, and no one knew you were there. For surfers stuffed inside a cubicle from 9-5, the SURFER message board was fun place to hang out to pass the time. I got paid to monitor the craziness.
The internet was an exciting format to work within. Things changed so quickly, and believe me, nobody in the print business knew anything about it. The editorial staff just stuck their heads in the sand, hoping it would go away. The publishers struggled with monetizing it. At meetings I would throw out crazy new vernacular like Flash, Java, CMS, Web 2.0. The biggest issue was always content. I needed new content every day. The magazine staff was on a monthly content calendar. I was on a daily content calendar. I had very little resources. It was frustrating; the 'print consciousness' that reigned at SURFER during that time was ridiculous.
Surf mag days: SURFER editor Chris Mauro, publisher Rick Irons, Rob Machado at Cosmic Creek in 2005. photo: Bass
Surfline absolutely dominated the surf internet space, mostly because of Sean's cam network and world wide forecasts. For years my mantra as online editorial director at SURFER was, 'we must have cams and forecasts." Eventually I realized SURFER was never going to get cams and forecasts. SURFER was bought and sold four times while I worked there: Better Living to Peterson to Emap to Source Interlink. The upper management , the leadership, lacked continuity.
I was going to have to make changes myself, "How can SURFERmag.com be different?" In 2004 I walked into my boss's office and I said, "Hey, I want to start an internet radio program, surf talk radio." My boss said, "Absolutely not." So I left his office, walked into my office and ordered all the hardware needed to produce a radio show. I just completely winged it. I was so frustrated. By the way, it wasn't necessarily my boss's fault. He was under strict 'prove you can monetize it, then we'll fund it" policy from above. That's how corporations operate. They filter risk. Luckily one of the higher-ups loved the radio idea. Coincidentally Rob and Ed Machado started a surf talk show on FREE FM in San Diego, and they asked me help out. That's how I got started broadcasting in terrestrial radio, I would fill in for Rob while he was on surf trips. Then XTRA SPORTS and Clear Channel asked me join their team and I've been on 1360AM producing Down The Line surf talk for five years or so.
The Surfers Journal cover was shot by Jeff Divine, the other shot is one Scott took of Jeff Divine as Divine shoots the cover shot. 2004
By 2007 I was jaded. I needed to scrape the jade. I loved working at SURFER, but the writing was on the wall. I think they were over sending me to Indo. I had brought in Zach Weisberg (theintertia.com) as an intern, a Duke grad, and he was waiting in the wings. Looking back, SURFER Magazine was a blast and a great place to work. I made great friends and wonderful memories. I still benefit from the contacts and networks I created within the industry during my years at SURFER. In fact those contacts helped me start Sacred Craft®* in 2007.
What projects do you have your hands in these days?
Each week Baldy (Jeff Baldwin) and I do one hour of surf talk radio on XTRA Sports 1360AM. That's super fun. We just shoot from the hip -- parking lot banter. Baldy brings a lot to the table.
The two big projects in the short term are The Boardroom International Surfboard Show and the Surfing Heritage Vintage Surf Auction presented by Quiksilver Waterman Collection.
Surfboard show crew: SkyDog, unidentified, Renny Yater, Marc Andrieni, and Kirk Putnam at 2009 Ventura Sacred Craft. "I don't make many decisions about my surfboard shows without first checking in with Kirk Putnam. KP is a big part of the success of the shows. He keeps me on course."
How did you get the idea to start Boardroom (formerly Sacred Craft®*)? And what was the impetus behind it?
Surfers put more energy and thought into what they are riding than any other equipment decision they make. The main vision was to put surfers in front of shapers. After the 2005 Clark foam closure a lot of good and a lot of bad happened. The good was that basically a new playing field emerged. The bad was that as the marketplace shifted and corrected itself, a lot of culturally important shapers and manufacturers were pushed aside. My idea was let's put the surfers in front of the shapers and celebrate the surfboard. And that's really the impetus for the show. Just because Clark Foam closed down, it didn't mean we had to flush away 50 years surfboard know-how and surfboard culture. The Clark Foam closure and then the recession of 2007 left a void in the marketplace which was partly filled by really crappy surfboards and really short-sighted business plans. In so doing this left a lot of great shapers and manufacturers struggling. I created Sacred Craft®* to bring back some sanity. Surfboard manufacturing isn't a strictly fiscal market. If you want to get rich, sell guns and bullets. If you want to enjoy your work, sell big wave guns and wax. There must be authenticity, truth, passion. The cheapest widget does not necessarily win. Thankfully, the surfboard industry here in the USA stepped up big time, and is now, I believe, in a very healthy place.
Surfing culture is sort of broken down into regions, into communities. You know like West side, East side, Santa Barbara, Ventura, LA, San Clemente, Encinitas, La Jolla, ...you get the picture. All the different regions, more or less, have their regional shapers, which are the fabric of the surf culture in their communities. I think if you lose that, then we're losing a real sense of self, and identity, and our culture. So my concept is look, lets bring all the surfboards in front of all of the public. Get some insight, meet these people, and recognize them by face. You used to know the shapers because they owned the surf shops. Not so much anymore. These days, some surf shops are owned by people who don't surf, people who aren't in the parking lots, who aren't embedded in the culture. Good people, hardworking people, just not surfers. So the impetus for the surfboard show was to get the shapers who are in the water, who are integral parts of our experience, who are crucial threads to the sub-cultural web, to get them in front of their client base, enthusiast surfers. There had been a disconnect.
Why the name change from Sacred Craft®* to Boardroom?
Let me be clear that I did not change the name. I can't change the name of something I do not own. The Boardroom International Surfboard Show is in fact an entirely new surfboard show and is in no way affiliated with Sacred Craft ®*. I can't talk too much about Sacred Craft®* because it is not my property. I do not own it. It is not really my place to discuss it. The Nielsen Corporation, the company that produced the ASR shows in San Diego, owns Sacred Craft®*. I can tell you that I was told by the Nielsen Corporation that Sacred Craft ® won't happen in 2012. The Boardroom International Surfboard Show honoring 4X World Champion Mark Richards takes place Oct. 6 & 7, 2012 at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
Bass Pendoflexing his Hynson Fish in the Hinakos.
Was there an initial framework behind what you were putting together? Or was it a "figure it out as you go" type of thing?
Well yeah, the initial framework was more or less what I mentioned earlier. You know, get the shapers in front of the surfers. From an operational and logistical standpoint, when I began the show in 2007, I faced a big learning curve. But look...really it's not that difficult if you have the surfboard industry behind you, telling you to go for it.
The first two calls I made were to Rusty and then to Matt Biolos. Both were unequivocally supportive. These two are big hitters in the space, and to their credit they were very supportive of a show that highlighted all the surfboard design energy that was out there-not just their own. They both wanted to hang out with like-minded surfboard designers. I think for the surfboard industry, some of the bigger trade shows didn't really feel like home anymore. They wanted a show where surfboards were at the core of the energy, the way shows used to be, and they were stoked. But to your point, to this very day I am figuring it out as I go. That's what makes it fun.
A couple of weeks ago I designed two brand new shaping bays - they are being built now. I'm also having a miniature CAD CNC shaping machine built. I don't know what the hell I'm doing, I just know it needs to get done, so I dive in. Life is about taking action. Sitting on the sidelines is for the antagonists. If it's cool, then I want it in the show. I'll figure out the money part later. I've always looked at the shows from a users perspective. What would I want to see? Because really, I'm a surfer at heart. I love to ride waves. I love surf craft. Whatever it is. My garage is a joke. It's embarrassing how much wave riding stuff I have: skim boards, noseriders, gliders, modern classics, quads, twins, 2+1's, hand planes, SUPs, boogie boards, swim fins, 10'5"s and 5'10"s, each and every wetsuit available. I know that I'm not alone. You have all this fun stuff too.
Bass exits Blacks 2010. Gary Murphy aka Brownfish Hand-planes makes some real beauts. Photo: Kinnear
What advice do you have for people looking to transform their passion into a business?
My advice is all rather cliché. Stay true to your vision. Don't be afraid of failure. Get into action. Surround yourself with smart people. That sort of thing. Thick skin, there are people that create things and people that criticize people for creating things. You want to be in the first group.
SUP: Scott will ride whatever craft you put in front of him. SUP in the Telos Island chain.
Where do you think the surfing industry is headed in the next 5 years?
Where I surf on a daily basis, I can name a handful of shapers that surf there regularly... Greg Saurtich, Steve Clark, Hank Byzak, Pat Mulhern, Steve Ford, uh, I'm sure a forgetting a bunch too. Gary McNabb, My point is they are all around us. The surf industry was started by Velzy, Hobie, Bing, Noll, Yater, Quigg, O'Neill, Hansen et al. many others....and they all made surfboards. Rip Curl made surfboards. Everything else was and is secondary. Surfboard culture is important. When the surf industry recognizes that, and many have, believe me, Paul Naude understands it, Bob Hurley understands it, Tom Holbrooke understands it, then the surf industry has a solid and safe foundation. Heck, Hurley was a surfboard shaper. We must have a place from which to disembark, a place from which to forge into new markets. That place is the surfboard, and shapers, and surfboard manufacturers. From there we can authentically create markets for fins, boardshorts, wetsuits, rash guards, wax, leashes, boardbags, cameras, watches, headphones, sunscreen and yes, even underwear. Well maybe not underwear.
Tommy Hilfiger does not have a foundation in surfboards. They do not have the business DNA of Dale Velzy or the innovation of Hobie Alter. They don't have the moxy of Rochlen or McKnight. It would be fun to see a Quiksilver ad with an archival photo of Bob McKnight from 1975 or whenever, hawking boardshorts out of the back of his car and the slogan would be "Did it already!" Acknowledge what we have. There's an old saying, "Stop searching for God, he's not lost." That could be adopted by the surf industry, "stop searching for credibility, it's not lost." We have what no one else has, surf cred. Surf cred is like street cred on steroids. The surf industry's foundation is surfboards. As an industry we are all that flows from that foundation. Be proud of it. As long as we keep true to the beginnings of the surf industry - the surfboard manufacturers -- the surf industry will be fine. As long as we celebrate surfboard manufacturers as a deep and rich and significant cultural segment of our industry, we can then focus on the future and we will all prosper. If we highlight the past we can focus on the future. That's what The Boardroom is all about.
* Sacred Craft® is registered trademark, owned by Nielsen Business Media, Inc. Furthermore, Scott Bass, Scott Bass, Inc. and The Boardroom are not endorsed, sponsored, or affiliated with Sacred Craft® or Nielsen Business Media.