Ben Marcus - Writer

When did you get your first surfboard? 

Best and worst thing that ever happened to me was when my parents got divorced - which was bad - but my mom moved us from Santa Clara to Santa Cruz around 1972. 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 Sex 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.

The Internet and surf cameras now laser-beam crowds to spots when the surf is good. I’ve seen that at Malibu, I’ve seen that at Pipeline. Bad idea.

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.

I’m hipsterallergenic, so I have a hard time being in Santa Cruz or the North Shore - I break out in rashes.

Surfers used to be cooler, I think.

And waaaaaay too much media.

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

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.

I got VIP passes to the first Surf Ranch Pro and can say with confidence that 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.

People say it’s going to wreck the soul of surfing and yadda yadda yadda but it’s not. Purely on engineering and financial terms, it’s interesting to see someone get right where so many others have gotten it wrong: Like Tesla, and Surftech.

Surf Ranch is a great wave. I just wish they had a machine to make me 18 again. I would love to ride it properly.

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.

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. The Santa Cruz I wanted to raise up is long gone now.

Everyone is trying too hard to be cool.

I also innovated the Surfer Magazine Surf Video Awards in 1996. That was a lot of fun - especially the first one - and it’s still going.

I think it was more fun when we did it, because we bootlegged all the music and movie clips, and just did whatever we wanted. Now it’s too polished. Not as sweaty and rowdy as the shows we did at the Galaxy Theater.

Where has your career taken you since then today?

Anthony Bourdain summed it up well: “What do you do after all your dreams have come true?”

Good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share.

I punched my way out of Surfer Magazine and forced my wife to sell our house in San Clemente and move to Tiburon - which wasn’t so bad. Tiburon is the NorCal Malibu.

I was the first person hired by and lived in Tiburon during the Silicon Rush of 2001. Took the ferry to Giant’s games. It was fun.

But I was kind of angry and lost and figured she’d be better off without me, so I told her that and hit the road. (Joanne moved to Walnut Creek and married her high school boyfriend and had a lovely son named Jack, so that’s great)

I drove to Alaska twice and all over Montana, British Columbia, Yukon and Alberta. Chased a girl to Fiji. Went to Brazil a couple times.

Talked Clark Little into doing a book on his shorebreak art, and that was successful. We did a first-rate job on that book. He sold them for $100 to $250 and sold a lot of them.

Spent a few months on Maui writing a book for a guy, and then three years in Waikiki, working on books for Marc Andreini and Buzzy Kerbox and other projects.

It’s been interesting and I tell myself I am like Mozart or T.E. Lawrence - productive but impoverished.

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

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

In retrospect: 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.

Oh well, it hasn’t been dull.

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

I don’t know. It’s a different world.  I was lucky to do what I did, when I did it. The surf industry was booming in the 90s, cool people were involved and anything was possible.

Now most of the big companies are owned by corporations and the clever bastards that started them are retired and practicing philanthropy.

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.

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. Surfing Magazine is pau and you have to wonder how long Surfer Magazine will survive: 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 Enthusiast Group, and is under the same roof at Surfing Magazine.

Or was, until they killed Surfing Magazine.

Is Surfer next?

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

Where did you grow up and 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.

Surf stars were all South Africans and Australians and Hawaiians and I wanted to change that by shining a light on Santa Cruz.

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-60s to late 70s 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 are you most proud of, as the former editor of Surfer Magazine?

The first Mavericks article was a big deal and also the Surfer Video Awards. A lot of other stuff, like The High School Issue and the Comedy Issues and the fake video review I wrote for Atop 16 - which fooled a lot of people, including Skip Snead. 

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, Rivermouth, Mundaka, Malibu, Shark’s Cove Lefts.

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. 

I think the threat of global economic meltdown is greater than global warming and climate change. Which is why I’m a big fan of Elon Musk, who seems to be trying to save the world, single-handed.

Teslas are bad ass.

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