Professional surfing is a business-that’s why it’s “professional.” Sure surfers have been given the ability to do what they love, but the underlying motive of sponsorship is sales through exposure. Bron Heussenstamm understands this. His innate comprehension of the surf editorial process has deemed him, according to many, as the ultimate “photo slut.” A surfer who shoots all the time and gets the job done-proven by his ability to get shots.
My mother once told me to never use the word “hate”-it’s too strong. But when jealousy among surfers arises from the heavy demand for editorial pages, it’s not uncommon for his name to be brought up first-he’s hated that much. Talentwise, he’ll be the first to tell you he’s no Kelly Slater, he’s never won any major contest, and he’s cocky-the three main reasons, according to the pro surfing world, why guys like him “don’t deserve it.” So while many make decisions according to what’s cool in the surf world, Bron makes business decisions. If surfing were judged on brains, he’d be winning the WCT.-AC
In another interview in this issue, your name came up as being in every single photo-you have a reputation of being a photo slut. Why is that?
Okay, I’m glad you asked me that, because this is a good chance to clear that stuff up. I think the word “photo slut” is thrown around a lot and is kind of misrepresented, because when I think of someone that’s a photo slut, I think of someone that doesn’t surf unless it’s a photo opportunity-there’re some guys like that. And that’s cool, and that’s their thing, but I surf everyday regardless. It just so happens that if I’m going surfing, and I see that the sun’s out and the waves are good, I’ll take photos, because that’s my job-to get in the magazine. For people to take notice and call me a photo slut, that just means I’m good at my job and unfortunately they like to sleep in or they just don’t know the business of getting your picture in the magazine. It’s just like anything-our job is to get exposure. Companies sponsor us to get their logo in the magazine-that’s my job. I’m supposed to win contests, and I’m supposed to get my picture in the magazine. For someone to call me a photo slut, and say that I get my picture in the magazine too much, well that’s just crediting what I do. It’s a complement that means I’m doing a good job.
Why do so many people want to hate on you getting so many photos?
I think it’s totally impartial. If you get a magazine photos, they’re gonna run them. Even I look at the mags, everybody who’s looked at a surf mag wondered who got the photo and why. That’s just a mystery, because the photo editors are the photo editors, and they run what they want to run at that time, the way they feel. I hope they understand the influence they have, because a lot of money is thrown around on who gets those photos. I don’t think that sometimes they quite realize how important that is to the surfers. It’s kind of unfortunate there’s so much pressure on getting your photos, but for some people to be like, “Why does he get photos and I don’t?
“-you can’t hate the player, you gotta hate the game. Some people do their job. Other people maybe shoot once, and they think, “Why didn’t I get a photo from that day.” Maybe they already had five other photos just like that of other people from the same day. You just never know. I’m even flabbergasted as to why sometimes I get a photo from one and not from another, and why you fly halfway around the world and don’t get a photo and you get a photo, right in front of your house.
All your photos are frontside turns. When will we see a backside turn photo?
Dude, I try to do backside turns, I have good ones. Some guys get backside turns, some guys only get pictures doing airs-it’s the judgement of the photo editor. One photo editor loves one photo and another guy doesn’t like it. That’s why you have magazines where the photo editor is like, “This thing’s sick,” and people are like, “This sucks”-it’s a judgement call. It’s really unfortunate so much weight has to be put on who gets the photo, because there’s just not enough of the pie to go around for everybody. Unfortunately, you only have so many pages, and there’re 300 professional surfers all shooting for eight pages of editorial. You gotta do what you gotta do to get your photo in there-whatever it takes.
Why is that so hard to understand?
I don’t know. It’s almost like you should be taught-it’s a job to get in there. Fortunately for me, I had really good people when I was growing up, like Brandy Faber and Mike Parsons, that really told me what to do and gave their fifteen years of professional surfing knowledge. I don’t hold out. If anybody asks me, I’ll tell them. I’m honored when I get a shot, because I know the work that went into it. I know how good I surf, and I know where I stand. I’m not the best surfer, I’m not the next Kelly Slater, but I am good at the job I do. Everyone has their time-go on some trips, do your thing, and don’t dislike people because they’re doing good.
In your opinion, what are contests good for?
Contests are good for the same reason competitive sports are good, it gets people down there, and they can watch their favorite surfers surf-they can know he’s actually trying. They can see how good he is compared to the next guy. It just gives that bar, that level for all the surfers to try for. It’s a progressive sport, because everyone’s constantly getting better to try to win contests. If the money’s there, then guys are gonna do it. If they were putting up a 100,000 dollars for first place instead of a thousand, like some of the contests now, you’d see people training like crazy. It’s just like other sports.
What bugs you about modern surfing?
What bugs me is the fact we have to get paid to do endorsements, and there’s no medium for us to go out there and make money. The tour’s great, but unfortunately I keep trying to make the ‘CT and can’t even seem to come close. It’s just the fact a lot of guys-say Ryan Simmons, Jeff Deffenbaugh, or Chris Drummy, that surf incredible and can win contests-can put a jersey on and go, “Hey, you have to rip this wave right here. You have one chance at this wave. There’s no editing, no photographers, no falls.” They have one chance for this wave, and they do it every time-consistently. And they can’t get sponsored because they’re “unmarketable,” which is a joke, because for any marketing manager to say a guy is unmarketable means he just sucks at his job. You see toys on the shelf, and they’re all about marketing. I mean G.I. Joe with a new backpack is no different from G.I. Joe with a new helmet-it’s still a G.I. Joe. Guys that win contests that people claim are unmarketable-those terms get thrown around too much. It makes me mad some people can be “marketable,” and other guys are unmarketable-if you do your job right, you should be able to sell a couch as a pro surfer, because you know what you’re doing.