Being the editor of a large publication is no easy task. But Vaughan Blakey has taken on the duty as editor-in-chief of Surfing World Magazine for the past few years, keeping one of the world’s best surf magazines. But Vaughan seemed to know he would end up in the industry at the ripe age of 14 when he sent in a poem he had written to Tracks Magazine. This became the catalyst for a strong career as a writer and eventually editor. Vaughan’s experience in the industry is more than credible in our opinion and we wanted to find out a bit more about the man himself.
From what I’ve heard, your writing career got started by sending a poem into Tracks Magazine as letter to the editor. How did that lead into a career in the writing/publishing industry? And what was the draw for you?
I was a boring kid cause I loved surfing so much that it fully consumed every bit of me. If I had a geography class and the teacher would ask “Who can tell me something about France?” I’d put my hand up and say, “Miss, France has the best beach breaks in the world. Miki Dora and Tom Curren both moved there for a time and if you go an hour or two down the coast and across the border into Spain there’s a left hand rivermouth called Mundaka that supposedly barrels as good as Kirra!” And the teacher would be like, “…okaaaaay, anyone else?” It’s all I talked about, all I thought about. All my books had waves and surf company logos drawn all over them. One day when it was raining my friend and I decided to write a letter to a surf mag. When mine got published I couldn’t believe it. Everyone in school was talking about it. One kid who used to pick on me came up and said “You think you’re hot shit now huh?” And he grabbed the mag out of my bag and chucked it in the bin. I cried about that but then I wrote letters every month, entered every contest and just tried to get my words in the mags all the time. I interviewed Lisa Anderson in ASL as part of a reader interview thing and one of my questions was “Can I give you a massage.” I think I was slightly mad. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I ended up meeting the editor of Tracks by chance one day and I just told him I was gonna work there. And that’s kinda how it panned out. It was never a question of if… only “when do I start?”
Surfing World Magazine is Australia’s longest running publication, but since you’ve taken the helm it has gotten infinitely more rad. What elements do attribute to your guys’ success?
There were actually a few elements that fell into place when I became editor that helped Surfing World return to prominence, the first being myself and Matty G the art director being employed full time. Before that SW was a quarterly publication kept alive thanks only to the passion of the guys who owned and edited the mag. If you look at those older issues the values and production quality are pretty similar. But having full time staff and an increased publication cycle, (we’re now monthly again) allows you to be much more creative and specific in terms of the content you want to explore. The other big factor was Surfing World becoming partners with Coastalwatch, which is the largest surf forecasting site in Australia. That partnership allowed us to let Australian surfers know that we were still around and we weren’t selling surfing short. We believed you could have a premium Australian surf mag that any surfer of any age could enjoy and not be embarrassed by. The basic values of SW and CW are pretty similar.
From a personal point of view I’m so proud of what the mag has become in the past three years. Our team has a really good time putting Surfing World together and our only objective is to make mags that people get stoked out of their heads reading.
Looking at surf culture as a whole, what has changed the most since you first entered the industry?
There have been so many changes both positive and negative. The web has obviously had a huge impact on the way surfing is delivered to the public. It’s had a huge effect on surf retail and even the humble old surf check is something you do from your lounge room now. The growth of surfing and the industry world wide has been huge too and there are a lot of ethical and environmental issues that the surf industry needs to examine more closely and take more responsibility for.
But if I had to pick one major change that stokes me out it’d be that people’s general attitudes within surfing are far more accepting and open minded than they’ve been in the recent past. I love the variety and freedom to ride what you want to ride, to express yourself in any way you choose and the level of appreciation out there for choosing such a path. In the late 80s early 90s there were all these questions about what surfing should be: Is it an art? Is it a sport? Is it a lifestyle? A religion? There was a lot of aggression because you kind of had to choose one way to surf and then defend that choice as the only way. Nowadays it’s all these things and more and people are pretty cool with that.
What do you think Australians pull the most out of the US surf industry and vice versa?
Ha! Man, that’s a tough question. There are a lot of kids in Australia looking like Southern Californian hipsters at present so maybe we’re taking fashion tips from you guys. What is the American surf industry pulling from Oz? I wouldn’t have a clue. I tell you one thing you should adopt from here though, No Black Balls. That law is just off the charts wrong.
Where do you see the future of surf media going with the increased digital avenues of distribution? Do you think there will always be a place for an actual printed magazine?
Surfing is beautiful and surf photography can’t be properly appreciated when flicking through websites. When a photo sits on your wall and you stare at it day after day putting so much time and imagination and stoke into it… I mean that kind of inspiration becomes so deeply entrenched in your being. When I was a kid I even had surf photos on the roof above my bed just so I could stare at them before I went to sleep. In so many ways the internet has surpassed the service that surf mags used to provide: news from the tour, photos from recent swells, the general flow of information, it’s all right there the moment it happens. But the internet is about speed. You get on and stuff your face as quickly as you can with as much as you can. It’ll never give you time to just sit back and relax and break down an image, to put yourself in that moment, to examine every aspect of what the wave is doing, where the board is placed, the light and the magic of the moment. That all comes with time. The printed image gives you time and that’s why I believe it will always have a place in surfing.
What about the future of surfing? What do you think we’ll be seeing down the line in the future of our culture?
I was just saying to a friend the other day that the best thing about surfing is that it can surprise you every single day. Like last month we had some of the best waves I’ve ever surfed around home, ever, in the history of living here. And I remember thinking, “Man, it’s gonna be a long time before I feel that kind of stoke again.” And then on the weekend my five year old Iggy and I paddled a longboard out at this point on the North Coast on the most perfect Spring day, we got surrounded by dolphins and then we rode his first wave standing up together for 200 meters. And it was one foot! I can’t speak for the industry or the culture but surfing will definitely continue to surprise and stoke all of us long into the future.
What has been the most memorable moment of your career or what are you most proud of that you have been a part of?
These past few years have definitely been my proudest years in surfing due mostly to the work we’re doing with Surfing World. It feels incredible to have an 11 year old girl say she loves the mag and then Craig Anderson say the same thing and then Bob McTavish say the same thing. All those guys represent a wide cross section people and they love surfing so much and for them to say we’re doing a good job is thrilling.