Interview: Zach Weisberg

In the surf industry, no media source is building a community around contentious issues like theInertia.com. Zach Weisberg, Founder and Editor in Chief of TheInertia.com, has taken on the mission of creating a place where insightful commentary can be expressed in a way that explores issues in a honest and open way by utilizing the global surf community’s most prominent and thoughtful figures. And much like Korduroy, theInertia.com was founded on no outside funding and has rallied around Zach’s prowess with words and experience in the surf media. In the interview below, Zach shares his experiences as a writer, former college wrestler, and what he thinks it takes to create a successful media outlet.

What drew you to become a writer?

Honestly, when I discovered that writing was a viable way to earn a living after an internship for Scott Bass at SURFER in 2006, I found it difficult to seriously pursue anything else. I was a student at Duke University studying English at the time, and the idea that I could get paid to travel, surf, and write about those experiences seemed too good to be true. This internship came on the heels of a class where we read a lot of Emerson, and his writing really resonated at the time. It seemed to say, “Go write about surfing!” So after leaving, I bugged Scott on a weekly basis from 2,500 miles away, was given an amazing opportunity, and started branching out from there.

Photo: Patrick Ruddy/ruddyphoto.com

You were the Editor at Large and Online Editor at SURFER Magazine. Why leave there and start The Inertia?

Well, the leaving and the starting weren’t exactly premeditated or even directly related, but after about three years there it became clear to me that I wanted to redirect my career. I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly, but I knew I wanted to go back to grad school and hopefully broaden my horizons. The surf industry provided an amazing lifestyle that I feel lucky to have experienced and may continue to work within, but I felt a need to look elsewhere to learn and test my intuitions.

In the meantime, while studying for the GMAT and filling out business school applications, I recognized a void in surf media, and I felt like I was well positioned to try to fill it. I figured that I might as well give it a go. The worst thing that could happen was that it might fail. I felt passionate enough about the project to risk that. I don’t regret it for a second. This whole foray into “surf writing” was a risk.

Photo: Patrick Ruddy/ruddyphoto.com

What is the goal or mission behind The Inertia? And how do you stand apart from other surf media/surf websites?

There are a couple of goals behind The Inertia. The first is to provide a platform for thoughtful and talented folks in the surf community to share their ideas, opinions, art, and photography.

Historically, surf magazines have created a product that they think will serve their readers’ interests, but with The Inertia, readers create a community and content for themselves – with a little help from us. Luckily, our community includes some well-respected pros, world champions, and industry players, and we love hearing from them. But we’re just as excited to hear from everyday surfers who are more than qualified to share fresh perspectives in a meaningful way.

Otherwise, The Inertia aims to address contentious issues in the world of surfing constructively. And it’s surprising how many actually exist. From bigotry to homophobia to misogyny to drug-use, surfing, like all cultures, wrestles with its imperfections, and, in my estimation, the editorial climate preceding The Inertia wasn’t very hospitable to the idea of honestly and openly investigating divisive topics. I wanted to change that, and I think talented writers like Tetsuhiko Endo were up to the challenge. As an example, Ted wrote a powerful piece about the controversy surrounding Andy Irons’ death, and that’s something that couldn’t have been and hasn’t been done in any other outlet – despite being probably the most significant story in the history of surfing.

I don’t see any reason why difficult issues can’t be addressed respectfully in surfing. That’s how we learn and evolve. It can be uncomfortable, but, ultimately, I think we have an obligation to make sense of our history – even if it’s uncomfortable. I absolutely love journalism. Real journalism – where a reporter does his best to present a situation as fairly as possible and trusts the reader to form an opinion – is a beautiful thing. I want surfing to enjoy that gift, too.

Photo: Patrick Ruddy/ruddyphoto.com

What does it take to have a successful blog? Describe the challenges a person must overcome.

That all depends on how you define success.

The challenges associated with organically attracting a modest readership vs. the challenges of creating an outlet that will eventually support a mortgage are very different. I can’t offer much insight on the latter…yet. Ha.

In the short term, the greatest challenge is to consistently create quality content. Then, it becomes an “if a tree falls in the woods…” scenario. You need to attract a readership, and starting from scratch, that requires commitment and creativity. Beyond that, you have to figure out how to sustain the output required to succeed over a long period of time. Even trickier.

You started The Inertia like we did it at Korduroy with no outside funding, how is this possible?

When it comes to the Internet, the barriers to entry are low. Luckily, I have an extremely talented network of friends and colleagues like Ross Pfahler, Matt Bauer, Alex Haro, Johnny Blades, Jay Ashenfelter, and Chris and Corey Jones who believed in the idea, and were willing to offer their services without asking for much in return. I also invested some of my personal savings into the project.

Photo: Patrick Ruddy/ruddyphoto.com

You were a talented wrestler in high school and college. How did you go from wrestler to surfer? Or were you a surfer before a wrestler? Is there anything you take from wrestling and apply it to your surfing?

I grew up going to the beach in the Outer Banks, so I think the beach thing actually came first. Wrestling wasn’t far behind, though. My older brother wrestled at Brown University, and I was eager to follow in his footsteps, so I took that challenge pretty seriously. I think I wrestled in my first tournament when I was either eight or ten. I probably weighed 60 pounds.

Honestly, I can’t think of much crossover when it comes to wrestling and surfing. Wrestling is a culture of ascetics. It requires so much discipline and self-sacrifice and starvation that I almost consider it diametrically opposed to the idea of surfing, which, to me, is pure pleasure. After cutting up to 20 pounds each year and being pretty miserable doing it in college, I made a conscious decision to only pursue things that made me happy. Surfing topped that list. It’s much better than losing 17 pounds in two days to fight someone.

Photo: Patrick Ruddy/ruddyphoto.com

What’s the ultimate scenario for Zach? The Inertia?

Both are continually evolving. I’m hoping that The Inertia will keep growing and maybe one day develop into a more robust, diversified media outlet. But that’s a long way off. I couldn’t be happier with the site’s progress thus far.

As for me…I actually just started the Full-Time MBA Program at the USC Marshall School of Business last week, and I’m loving it. They have a really innovative business school that excels in media, entertainment, and the business of creative industries, and I’m excited to explore their resources and opportunities. Where exactly it will lead, I’m not sure, but it will definitely build upon all the great things I’ve learned from working in the world of surfing for the last five years.

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes