Many years back, I wrote a book called Have Board, Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow. It was deliciously fun to write, mainly because I got to interview dozens of board-riding luminaries. Among the most interesting and insightful was Steve Pezman, co-founder of The Surfer’s Journal and longtime editor and publisher of Surfer.
“Surfing is like a mirror,” he told me. “You can see yourself in the act of riding a wave. And your personality and style shows in the way you ride it, whether you’re a defensive person, or offensive, or awkward, or graceful.”
Steve Pezman sliding pre-public Trestles, early 1960s. Photograph courtesy of the Pezman family collection. (Left) | Steve Pezman. Photo by Ron Brazil (Right)
He would expand on this idea in another interview: “You are as a surfer as you are as a person. People surf the way they dance, the way they act. Personality is revealed. When you’re young and you’re surfing, you can’t imagine how anyone ever leaves it. You’re there early and you stay late, and the fire in your belly is geared around being there for the perfect moment. In truth, you’re there for all the moments, and you get the perfect ones and you take full advantage only because you’ve been training through all the imperfect moments. Eventually you begin to master the wave—and yourself a little bit. Although surfing is an escapist, detached activity, as you gain chops you gain maturity as a human being. Unlike other sports, it’s very personal and not particularly social, even if you’re in the water with 20 other guys. To the uninformed, surfing appears to be a nonproductive act, but it’s also non-depletive. It’s just a dance unto itself. In surviving the wave circumstance, you learn lessons that you can use to survive the life circumstance.”
I’m reminded of something Bob Dylan wrote: “Poets tell us how we feel about things we ourselves can’t put into words.” Which is to say that Pezman articulated perfectly what I’d been trying to make sense of for several decades.
Steve Pezman at Sunset Beach, winter 1962/63. Photo by Don James. (Left) | Car hidden at the Bixby Ranch to surf Cojo, early 1960s. Photo by Leo Hetzel. (Right)
In 2022, TSJ is launching Turn and Go!, a 330-page hardbound collection of essays, profiles, interviews, reporting, and other musings from Steve Pezman’s time as editor and publisher of Surfer magazine and as co-founder of The Surfer’s Journal. Along with a selection of previously unpublished work, Turn and Go! is the documentation of 50 years of wave riding—its icons, its landmarks, and its broad culture from the pen of an author who didn’t just bear witness, but who lived at surfing’s gravitational center.
Says Pezman: “For the most part a ridden wave is a silent occurrence, but for the sound of the wave breaking. All the dynamics of what happens disappear, quickly absorbed into the ocean’s movements, and there is no lasting recollection of what occurred except in the mind of those who saw it happen. As such it becomes a non-tangible event, seen and recorded mentally, like a dance. Any artistic values assigned to it are purely emotional, even if commonly observed. I’m lucky to have seen so much of it happen many times and to many people. If expressing what I think of it all provokes the reader to consider their own point of view—or better yet, form a new one—I would consider that gain a worthy result. The stories in this book, I hope, are half a century worth of those results, and I’m pleased to share them.”
Turn and Go! 50 Years of Surf Writings hardcover is currently available for pre-order at www.surfersjournal.com/product/turn-and-go-50-years-of-surf-writings/ and will be released and shipped in early February 2022. For more information, visit surfersjournal.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.