Birdwell Blog

Salt-Water Wine Followed by a Shot of Acetone with Andrew Kidman
Dazzling Blue #133

I first met Andrew Kidman in the surf at North Narrabeen on the first day of my first trip to Australia in 1986. I knew no one; I paddled out to the crowded lineup and fell into an easy chat with a group of local guys who were about my age. That evening, I went back to the lonely apartment where I was staying expecting a lonely, quiet night. In the local newspaper I came across an ad: the Lime Spiders were playing at 8:00 p.m. in Manly. I loved the Lime Spiders. I knew their music from surf videos.

 

 

Being the savvy MF that I was (not to be confused with the feckless MF I have since become), I figured out that I could catch the 199 bus to Manly to see the show (Ubers did not exist in 1986, and I couldn’t afford a taxi). I waited at the bus stop. The bus arrived. I stepped on and paid my fare. In the front seats were your typical 7:00 p.m. bus riders—tired, detached, leave-me-alone faces. But in the back was a bunch of larrikins drinking beers. I recognized one of them from the surf. He waved me over.

 


“I’m Andrew,” he said. “Where you goin’?”

 

“To see the Lime Spiders.”

 

“So are we. Want a beer?”

 

So began my 35-year friendship with Andrew Kidman.



 On the bus ride, and in the beer garden before and after the show, he told me that he’d just gotten an internship at Waves magazine, and that he was writing a profile on California pro Dave Parmenter. I told him that I’d just turned pro, that I was in Oz for the Stubbies, Bells, Beaurepaires, and Coke contests. He said, “Based on what I saw in the water today, Curren, Carroll, and Occy better watch their arses.”

 

 

Actually, he did not say that. But he did offer words of encouragement. And he did feature photos of me in Waves—where he would swiftly get promoted to the editor position—in the years ahead. And we became good friends, each of us holding our respective posts in the pro surf machine. And when my career went belly up in 1991, it was Andrew who gave me my start in the surf media: an associate editor position at Waves.

 


In keeping with the spirit of surfing that had so seduced us as groms, Andrew and I fell into a duo of the Beavis-and-Butt-head/Bill-and-Ted/Laurel-and-Hardy sort. The idea was to bring as much humor to the workday—and thus to the magazine—as possible. We laughed tons. We less worked hard than made a cartoon of working hard. And while we did not make fun of the pro surfing demigods on the page the way, say, Derek and Chas at BeachGrit do today, we certainly did so behind the scenes.

 


The early nineties was a fascinating time in surf history. The eighties bubble had burst. The industry shrunk. It was as if surfing had gotten too big and bubble-gummy for its britches, leaving us in a sort of existential crisis: What is surfing? Why do we surf? On the frontlines of the surf media, Andrew and I felt this sharply. We were starved for heart and soul. We mined surf history to find it. The seminal Aussie surf film Morning of the Earth was a big one. We watched it over and over, listened to the soundtrack on our carpool ride to and from the Waves office in Rushcutters Bay. Occasionally we’d get visits from luminaries like Wayne Lynch, Simon Anderson, Jack McCoy, Terry Fitzgerald, Derek Hynd, and MOTE director Alby Falzon.

 

Our interest in the cultural and historical side of surfing did not align with Waves, which focused primarily on high performance and the World Tour. A year into my tenure I quit and moved back to Los Angeles, with the goal to make it as a freelance writer (and to write about things I cared about). Not long after, Andrew resigned from his editorship to pursue writing, photography, music, and filmmaking.



 

In 1995 he came to stay with me at my Venice Beach apartment. He was en route to Hawaii, Ireland, and South Africa. “I’m making a surf film,” he told me. That surf film was Litmus, an odyssey that synthesized everything Kidman was about as a surfer and an artist. I marveled when I first saw it. The film featured the surfers he most cared about. It also gave a glimpse of who he’d become.

 

Uncompromising, self-reliant, a guardian of surfing’s delicate soul, Kidman has since created a huge body of work that includes films, books, records, magazine articles, and hand-shaped surfboards. He lives with his wife and two kids amid the green rolling hills of northern New South Wales. On their farm-like property is a shaping bay and a music/painting studio. For a long time they had a beautiful cow, Mingus, though she recently passed away. Kidman’s most recent offering is Acetone, a zine.



 

“The first issue was an adjunct to my project, On the Edge of a Dream,” he told me via phone. “There was so much material that never made it into the film or the book, and so Acetone was a way of putting this stuff out there. And having worked in surf magazines my whole life, I have those skills, I don’t need a publisher to put them out.”

 

I asked that cliché of a question: Why print? “I just love magazines,” he said. “I loved getting the mags when I was a kid, I loved thumbing through them. I’m not that into digital, it’s not visceral. And so I knew how to do it so I just did it.”

 


I asked if he had a favorite surfer and he said, “Yeah, you, James,” and we laughed much like we did on that bus in 1986. “No, seriously,” I said. “Who’s your favorite surfer?” He answered the way I thought he might. He described a bunch of little kids he sees in the shorebreak on his way out the back at Fingal, a spot near his home. “They’re so into it and they’re so pure with it. When I see them surfing it just lights me up. I see myself in them. As for performance surfing, I don’t even look at it. It doesn’t do anything for me.”

 

I asked what part of surfing he’s most interested in. “How to stay in the ocean and derive the same sort of joy you got from it when you were younger,” he told me. “Because your motivations change. When I first started I just wanted to learn how to ride a wave, then I got better at it and got sidetracked with wanting to be a really good surfer. Now my motivation is just how to stay out there and still get enjoyment out of it. The lineups change, the crowds get heavier—it can ruin your life. I know a lot of people who just get bummed out by it. And that’s no good. So how do you navigate that? How do you stay excited just to be in the water?”

 

 

 

To check out Acetone click here -- https://acetonemag.bigcartel.com

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