John Brasen - Pacific Longboarder

When did you first start surfing?
I got my first board when I was 10, a stringerless Greg McDonagh 9’2” poly board. All my mates had 3-stringer foam and fiberglass, so mine was weird, but as it turned out it was a cool board for the time. Shortboards hadn’t been invented yet.

Being a longboard enthusiast, did you ever surf shortboards?
My first couple of boards as a kid were longboards, and then Plastic Machines turned up around ’67, but they only lasted a few months. I came in around Trackers at 7’6” and then rode everything all the way down to 5’6”. Through the ’70s and ’80s I was a fanatical shortboarder, but around 1980 my good mate Billy Tolhurst made a few longboards and gave me one. I started to remember how good it was to use my feet again! I couldn’t believe how much I’d missed it. Ever since then I’ve ridden both.

How did you get into surfing?
I grew up in Woolgoolga and there was no other choice really, you would play rugby league on a Saturday morning, go surfing and fishing. That was it. It was an idyllic gromethood really. We were surrounded by a lot of beautiful beaches so it was just what we all did, us dozen or so locals.

Have you done much surf travel?
I’ve been to Hawaii a couple of times, California, France, Spain, Morocco. I started going to Bali in the ’70s and went a lot of times, Java, Sumatra, Mentawaiis in the ’90s when there were only a few boats out there. Telos, Cloudbreak, G-Land . . . WA, Vicco, South Australia.

What is your most memorable session?
Lighthouse at the bottom of the Mentawaii chain sticks in the brain because it was pretty big and scary. One time I had 5-foot Sri Lankas (Bali) pretty much to myself for a day. I just happened to stumble across it and it was amazing, I’ve never forgotten it. I still dream about it occasionally.

How did your career progress to where you are now?
When I left school I got a job in a darkroom in Castlereagh Street in Sydney, which was really lucky because I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was interested in photography and got this job working with a great old-school commercial photographer named Bruce Graham. I just wanted to process and print film because I loved it. I did it full-time for six years but it became a skill that slowly died out, over-run by technology. It’s back now, but it was gone for decades really. So I ended up driving trucks, concreting, professional fishing, barman and all kinds of things after that.

How did you involvement with Pacific Longboarder come about?
I was mates with Phil Jarratt, who among many things, is a great surf writer and a former “young radical” Tracks editor from the ’70s. I had a bit of money invested in his little publishing company in Noosa, and I went up and worked there in the late ’90s, just to look after distribution really. We were doing the Australian Surfer’s Journal, a local mag Noosa Blue, and a girls’ surf mag called Shred Betty. Phil was the guiding light, but he ended up being away quite a bit with Quiksilver and Channel 9 who’d headhunt him for writing gigs. Jimmy O’Keefe had stated working for us, he was an aspiring writer then (now an exceptional one). It was his first job and I remember between us we’d pretty much polish up articles for the Journal to get it ready for deadline . . . which is when I figured out that editing wasn’t rocket science but basically common sense.

Even though we worked our arses off, we still went slowly broke over a few years, so I found myself back painting houses. The guys who’d just bought Pacific Longboarder, who are now my great mates, asked me to come and sell the ads. The editor and publishers parted ways before the first issue was finished so I began putting it together while they were looking for a “proper” editor, and here we are 13 years and 70-something issues later.

I have a part ownership in the mag now, and it sells really well which is gratifying given the hours I’ve put in. We have other mags in competition with us of course, that’s life, but I feel our demographic is maybe a bit older, or broader, than what most mags are pitching at. In saying that, I’m always conscious of keeping the magazine look young and fresh, and that appeals to all ages. That’s the best thing about surfing, and particularly longboarding, it’s an ageless interest and passion.

What do you love about your job?
I love putting the magazine together . . . matching the photos with writing and trying to get the whole layout just right. My wife Sharon is the PLB artist and she’s really clever, with a great eye, and we always try to make every page the best it can be, a big call but we strive for that. I love putting in all sorts of surfing, and we run strong female content every issue, we’ve always mixed it up – fish, hybrids, finless, tri-fins, logs, whatever – it’s all surfing it’s all good. There is nothing better than getting it back from the printer and having a look through it, although initially I always think it’s bad. But after flicking through it a few times with a couple of beers, I end up pretty happy and generally convinced we’ve done a good issue.

What don’t you like about the job?
Selling the ads is always hard work. We do have loyal clients, which is great, love them ’cause they know the mag works for them, but you still have to chase down a lot of guys. Maybe 80% of my time in creating the mag is basically organising distribution, ads, printing and chasing the money to get it out there. Plus of course the website and social media these days.

Is it much easier these days to put together a publication as opposed to your first issue 13 years ago?
Yes and no. I used to really love physically sitting down with the light-box and transparencies and pencilling out the pages etc. But it is so much easier now in terms of accumulating content. Much of what you need is just a click away, and we also have a lot of talented photographers and writers who stay in touch.

Where do you guys stand on the whole ‘paying for content’ situation?
We pay for content, although there are mags now that don’t. It’s a sign of the times I guess, but we pay what we can and I think all magazines should pay for content, which is why we need advertising. There are surf photographers everywhere now, and guys starting out have such a tough road ahead to make money from their craft. They might get their images in these magazines for free purely for the photo credit and maybe a link to their website which could maybe lead to a sale of a print. That’s a lot of maybes.

I get sent quality photos from around the world that could all be used in the mag, but there is no context. Doing only five mags a year there’s really not much scope to just throw in random images. If I were a young photographer I would focus on creating a photo essay on an area or a particular group of surfers, have some sort of thread, and send a package through to editors complete with an intro and captions, maybe headings, quotes etc. Learn to write a bit. Because that could lead to a couple of spreads or an extended story, something the editor’s can work with rather than just a random photo with no real context.

What are your thoughts on the quality of writers in the industry?
I think writing is becoming a bit of a lost art. If somebody wanted to pursue being a good writer in this industry in particular, there are definitely openings. All you have to do is be able to tell a story. If you can spin a good yarn to your mates you can learn to write. And like anything, the more you do it the better you get. You don’t have to try and be tricky, all you are trying to do is tell the story and communicate to the readers. And never use a big word if a diminutive one will suffice!

Ideally, what does the future hold for you and the mag?
The ideal future is to just keep going. I don’t want to retire! This mag was a get out of jail free card for me, and I really do love the work I do here. I won’t be quitting any time soon . . . and to keep surfing of course, that’s more fun than ever.

Where can we find you online?


Posted by: Matthew Ryan, on March 3, 2014
Categories: Interviews