SURFER gets a redesign

In his letter from the editor in the latest issue of SURFER, Todd Prodanovich takes a look back into the magazine’s dynamic and storied past. Built on the inaugural 1960 issue—a 36-page pamphlet helmed by the publication’s original founder John Severson— SURFER has 57 years of cultural inspiration under its belt.

With the latest changes, SURFER is positioning itself for the next chapter of its evolution—something Prodanovich and staff are embracing with the 58th volume of the magazine, and its redesigned pages.

Besides richer, thicker paper stock, the look and feel of the magazine has undergone a bit of a facelift under the guidance of Art Director Donny Stevens. The edit team has introduced a new satire column, “Corndogging,” and resurrected “Our Mother Ocean,” an environmentally-focused section that seemed as relevant as ever and perfectly timed considering today’s challenging landscape.

We took a few minutes to sit down with Prodanovich and hear the strategy and details behind SURFER’s new look.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

First of all, congrats. The latest issue looks great. Can you give us a brief run down on what’s new?

Thanks! We’re really happy with the way it turned out. The body and cover stock have been transformed from matte finish to high gloss which really makes the photos pop. The difference is night and day, and really plays to the strengths of surf photography.

As far as the editorial direction goes, our main focus is still telling the best long form stories in surfing, which I think is as important as it’s ever been, if not more so. Today, you can go to Snapchat or Instagram or Facebook for a quick fix of surf imagery or videos that get you fired up to paddle out, which is all well and good, but print is still the best format for long-form, in-depth, thought-provoking storytelling. We all get so much screen time already, sometimes it’s nice to just kick up your feet, unplug and dive into a great surf story filled with beautiful imagery. I don’t think that will ever get old.

One change in the direction of the volume is that we wanted to sprinkle in more columns and bite-sized sections to round out the issues. “Corndogging” is a new satire column, which is sort of our version of something like The New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs” or The Onion, where we poke fun at some aspect of the surf world.

“Our Mother Ocean” is another addition, which is actually an environmental column from SURFER’s past that hasn’t been int he magazine for years, but we felt needed to be resurrected. Surfing can be a selfish pursuit but I think through chasing waves we all develop a deeper love and concern for our coastlines. Our goal with that column is to inform people about environmental issues and get them more interested and involved in protecting our playground.

One of my favorite parts of the magazine is Justin Housman’s “Culture” column, which is not new to this volume, but it has  gotten a facelift and looks better than ever. We’ve given it more space and brought on a new illustrator, Jean Jullien, to give it a new feel. Julien’s work is beautiful and has a great, subtle humor to it. I think that plays well off of Justin’s writing, which is always wry and has certain edge that I always enjoy.  

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An illustration by Jean Jullien for Justin Housman’s latest Culture column.

What brought this redesign to life? Was it something that was a long time in the works, something your audience was specifically requesting, or were there other driving factors?

Yeah, the redesign and paper upgrade has been in the works for a while. Like I mentioned before, I feel like print offers a different, richer kind of reading experience for long-form features when compared to digital equivalents. Using better materials just makes that nice, kick-your-feet-up reading experience that much better. We didn't necessarily get requests from our audience to do that, but, unsurprisingly, our readers seem to be stoked that we did. It's a big upgrade in terms of the look and feel of it all.

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The “Wisdom” column is a solid way for SURFER to check in with iconic legends who have shaped the space.

How many issues can we expect to see this year? What’s your take on this?

This year's volume is going to be eight issues, which are much more premium than those of years past. If you look back to when SURFER first became monthly, the print magazine was the only thing the staff made, and the only source of surf news, photography, and storytelling for surfers around the world.

That's obviously changed completely. Now we've got these digital outlets through our website and social channels where we break news and give people those on-the-pulse daily stories, opinion pieces, reviews, videos, photo galleries, and so on.

Changing the frequency of the mag to eight issues annually allows us to not only make a better, more premium print product, but it also allows us to do more digitally, make better use of our social reach, and be more engaging with our audience on the day to day. It’s all a balance, right? And I think this format and frequency really lets us put our best foot forward in everything we do.

I’ve heard some rumblings about SURFER Films. What’s that all about?

SURFER Films is our new social channel on Instagram and Facebook dedicated to highlighting the best surf videos out there—whether it’s original films from SURFER, or up-and-coming videographers who are making awesome stuff that we want to shine a light on.

Surf videos are such a core part of our culture. Ever since the projection reel days, anytime we get a chance to watch beautiful waves and great surfing, we head straight for it like a moth to a flame. Now there's just so much of it out there online, so we want to present our best work, and curate what we think will be most inspiring for our audience. At the end of the day, we just want SURFER Films to get people psyched to surf and travel and be more involved in this rad little world of ours.