Ben Marcus - Writer

When did you get your first surfboard? 

Best thing that ever happened to me was when my parents got divorced - which was bad - but my mom moved us to Santa Cruz around 1970. Santa Cruz in the 70s was hippie surfer heaven. It was great.

My first board was a Haut given to me by a guy named Dennis - he worked on our house and smoked Camel unfiltereds and coughed a lot and was building a catamaran in a vacant lot - when Santa Cruz still had vacant lots.

I loved that board and walked from our house in the Seabright area - close to where NHS/Santa Cruz Skateboards is now - over the train bridge they used in Lost Boys - to surf Cowells, every day.

I was in love with the ocean, waves, weather, surfing, the smell of surf wax. Everything. Intoxicated.

Out of the 60s and into the 70s, the Hells Angels would hang out along the Boardwalk and this is when the Hells Angels were lean and handsome and badass and scary to a 10-year-old kid.

So I would surf Cowell's every day. I bought a crappy, quarter-inch long john wetsuit from O'Neills Dive Shop at the Santa Cruz Harbor and wore a spring suit over that.

I was from the Valley and I didn't know shit and it was the happiest I have ever been.

I can tell you a story about sleep-walking with my surfboard, if you want to hear that.

I think I am about to cry.

P.S. This all mirrors what Jay Moriarity did about 10 years later - divorced mom, seven foot Haut, hanging out at Pleasure Point.

What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?

That I sucked and I was a dork from the Valley and I would never get good. This was at Cowells and I would look around the corner on giant days and see Middle Peak and be scared shitless.

But I got better and got addicted to the good feeling of being adrenalized by cold water and exertion and riding waves and it effected me deeply.

Still chasing it.

I think surfing is a legitimate chemical addiction, because if you don't keep doing it, you feel like shit and turn to drugs and alcohol and such.

What is going well/badly in surfing today and how can we best navigate it to have the greatest positive impact on our sport?

Too much information. Everything is laid out before you. Growing up in Santa Cruz we had to understand the ocean and weather and listen to it and smell it to know what the surf was doing, or going to do.

I come from a quieter, simpler time and I miss that time immensely.

Surfing has a lot of technical advantages now and I have indulged in a lot of them, but nothing compares to that learning to surf experience in Santa Cruz in the early 70s with a shitty board and a shitty wetsuit and no clue what I was doing.

Also, everyone is trying too hard to be hip now: top knots, tattoos. Surfers used to be cool.

And waaaaaay too much media, I think.

When I was a kid, Surfer Magazine was IT, and Surfer Magazine was enough.

How did you work your way into the position of being editor of Surfer Magazine?

Luck. I went to Texas in the late 1980s to write a movie about Texas football. It was called Out Back of Bourke and it was about an Australian kid who spends his senior year of high school in Texas and plays football.

While in Texas I wrote a short story about surfing in Spain called You Wouldn't Read About It. I submitted it, they ran it, I got paid $450 and they hired me.

Luck. But, I was good at what I was doing.

I worked at Surfer for 10 years and produced 130 issues of the magazine.

I went to Surfer Magazine with one finger in my ear and one in my ass, with the goal to put NorCal and Santa Cruz on the map.

Hit that one out of the park when I wrote the first story on Mavericks, boy howdy.

That was a big deal at the time. Can't stand Santa Cruz now.

Everyone is trying too hard to be cool.

I also innovated the Surfer Magazine Surf Video Awards.

Where has your career taken you since then?

Ha! Right now my life sucks. I took a job as a dishwasher for $10 an hour and I also work as a cashier at a place called Snappers.

I've written 20+ books and am working on a couple now and I edit two standup paddle magazines but people just don't want to pay well or on time so my life sucks.

I also wrote a screenplay called Live Like Jay in 2006 that was partially stolen and used in Chasing Mavericks - proof available on request.

I mean, I surf Waikiki every day and I live on a boat and it could be worse, but I don't like being poor.

My friends call me "The world's most famous homeless person," which is kind of right.

I work hard and am good at what I do but money-wise it's not worth it, at all.

Print is dying and book publishing is dying and I am dying with it.

A dishwasher. At my age. It sucks.

But you have to take the good with the bad, I suppose.

I was married to a perfectly nice woman who made a lot of money and would have supported my writing, but I was prideful and wanted to make it on my own and keep wandering.

In retrospect, a mistake.

What would you tell someone who wants to make a career in the surf industry today?

Don't do it. Or do it because it's your passion and you are young. - which it was when I started at Surfer - but down the line it could get ugly. You could end up washing dishes.

The world is in the middle of the Digital Revolution and everything is changing, so try to anticipate the changes.

This world worries me: too many people, not enough money, not enough opportunity. It's concerning.

There's just way way way too many people on the planet. Overpopulation is my #1 concern. The effects are everywhere.

How has it changed since you were the editor of Surfer Magazine?

When I started at Surfer Magazine in 1989, Surfer Magazine was a big deal and it was a big deal to work there. That was true for the 10 years I was there, but it's not true now.

Print is going, going and will soon be gone. Why go to the expense and waste and trouble of printing a magazine when everything is digital?

Surfer is going quarterly soon, I'm told, and that doesn't surprise me.

I was lucky to work at Surfer when I did, with the people I worked with.

If you handed me Surfer Magazine now with a red ribbon around it, I would hand it back,.

Surfer is now corporatized. It's part of some Action Sports Group, and is under the same roof at Surfing Magazine.

If Severson weren't alive, he'd be rolling in his grave.

Who did you look up to when you were a child?

Grew up in Santa Cruz, when the good surfers were Kevin Reed, Richard Schmidt, Carl Gallagher, the Van Dyke brothers. As a writer it was Drew Kampion.

The musicians who inspire me are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, the Sex Pistols, Weather Report. All that great mid-60's to late 70's music.

I think I was more inspired by music than writers. Music and movie makers.

Who/what inspires you today?

Music and movies. Smart people. T.E. Lawrence. The New Yorker. Good writers.

Music, mostly, I think. I read but not books.

What is your opinion of artificial waves and the place wave parks may hold in the future of surfing?

I worked with Tom Lochtefeld at Wave House on FlowRider and FlowBarrel and did a lot of research into artificial waves and I have some idea of what he is up to.

But Kelly and his Lovely Lads killed it with their wave. I haven't been that shocked in quite some time. I know how much money and R and D has been invested into getting it right - Kelly finally got it right.

It's a big deal.

But surfing in a wave pool will never ever compare to the mystery, danger, excitement, beauty and thrill of surfing in the ocean. Ever. 

Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?

Norway for girls and society and northern lights. Norway has the people/wealth equation figured out and I would live there if I could. Bernie Sanders is barking about Democratic Socialism. America is way too big for that to work, but it works like a charm in Norway. High wealth and low population = socialist utopia. Girls are epic. The place is beautiful, clean. It works. Best-run country in the world. Easily.

Ireland and England for scenery and music and good times and history.

Brazil for chicks and food and weirdness. They have a biofuels program that is the envy of the world. But again, way way way too many people.

What are your top 3 favorite waves/surf destinations in the world?

When I could surf well I liked Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor, Pleasure Point, San Lorenzo Rivermouth, Mundaka, Malibu.  

What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?

Surfing allowed me to escape the sadness of coming from a broken home. Made me happy and adrenalized when I was young. Taught me how to write and gave me the pride at being good at something. My parents were proud of me.

Surfing let me travel and gave me a look at the world and other ways of living.

#1 impression is, the world is grotesquely overpopulated by about 6 billion people, and that drives all the other problems, from refugees to the price of oil to war to global warming. Everything.

What’s next for you?

Very good question. I'm getting a little worried. If I had been smart I would have stayed married and been fine, but now I am the World's Most Famous Homeless Person.

Who has made the greatest impact on surfing and why?

Duke, Tom Blake, George Greenough, Jack O'Neill, surf magazine writers, Tom Curren, Kelly Slater, Laird Hamilton and about two dozen others.

Where can we find you online?

Instagram: @thebenm


Posted by: Dan Stokes Roman, on November 6, 2016
Categories: Interviews