The Sam Article
Trying is the first step towards failure. That’s what Murphy says. However, here is an opposite point of view:
“It’s all about putting your balls on the line. It’s always going to be hard, at least for the first year but it only grows you and you come out stronger on the end of it. You don’t do it thinking you’re going to make a million dollars, and if you fail then who cares, as least you’re a guy that’s had a go. Make a decision and put your neck on the line. Going broke isn’t the worst thing in the world, it’s good for people to try. If you try something and it doesn’t work, then it will only make you better the next time around and you won’t make the same mistakes.”
No that wasn’t Yoda talking to Luke Skywalker, that was Sam McIntosh, publisher of Stab Magazine talking to Empire Ave. Sam contends that most people have a business idea, but hardly anyone actually gives it a crack. It’s rare for someone to back themselves and put their money on the line to do something they believe in. This is the whole reason we’re writing an article about Sam and not talking about some dude who didn’t start his own surfing magazine, but instead kept at his Biomedical science degree, even though he hated it. No shit, Sam studied Biomedical science for a brief time.
Before Stab, Sam was just another Australian grommet hitching rides to the beach so he could go surfing.
“I’d catch the bus from Casino to Lismore and then from Lismore to
God’s Country, North Wall. I’d get down there and it would be utter slop, but you’d surf no matter what. I would do whatever it took. It felt like I had this handicap when I was a young kid, living 40 minutes from the beach.”
Eventually Sam’s family bit the bullet and moved to Yamba.
“I went from living in what felt like what was the worst place ever, to living in the best place ever.”
The McIntosh family bought the local pub in Yamba, and Sam starting working there as a young man. I envisioned him and his 16 year-old mates going mad in a country pub, getting stuck into the bar after hours. But Sam dispelled my romantic fantasies.
“Because I worked there I wasn’t a real big drinker, I saw what it did to people: people thinking they’re funny or the aggression. It’s sobering. For a long time I hardly drank, now it’s been a long time since I’ve worked there and I drink a lot more than I used to. It was such an eye opener, but you know, for every person that who is obnoxious there’s another twenty guys having a good time.”
But surely it helped him pick up some young ladies?
“You know when you’re younger and there some older girls that you think are crazy hot, like I was 15 and they were 17. They seem like the oldest girls in the world. Next thing you know, your old boy is responsible for kicking them out. It’s such an awkward feeling at the time.”
So pub-life as a kid isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. However, life in Yamba fuelled Sam’s passion for surfing. After a short blip on the radar studying Biomedical Science in Sydney, he decided it would be better to pursue the sport he loved most.
“I went and did the Pro Juniors for a while. Poorly. My results mirrored my ability. Then I studied business on the Gold Coast. While I was there I got a call from Adam Blakey from Waves. I’d gone for a job at Tracks, I think I was 19, and they said I was too young. They had told Blakey and he called me. I drove down there and got the job at Waves. We made some god awful magazines together. I was there for four years I think. When I first started I guess I was 20 and Blakey was 21 or 22. We worked really hard. This was long before the net and there was no way to get any surf news. I really wanted to make the bi-monthly magazine a monthly so it would be taken seriously, which we did. Well, still it wasn’t taken seriously. It all turned around when we did Seven Days, Seven Slaves. We pretty much doubled our sales and finally it was a world class mag. At that point there hadn’t been a cover-mount DVD. The thing was, I’d sold it to all the companies; they all paid a couple of grand to cover the trip, because EMAP had no budget for it, they wouldn’t spend any money to make money. We were the golden children for a while because of that issue, we did this thing that didn’t actually cost EMAP a cent, we went to Indo and back and hadn’t spent any of their money, it was all that of the surfer’s sponsors. It was a crazy seller!”
However, Sam and EMAP didn’t see eye to eye on many things. After struggling along with it, he finally decided to move on.
“We were always in trouble with that mag, because you’re different from Tracks and we always used to butt heads with the publishers, because they didn’t understand it. I don’t know, you’d see the look at the numbers and go, okay cool, well, we’ve got this problem here, but you’ve got this other bonus that’s making you a big pot of money here. Like we had these issues, but we were making probably 150K in advertising, and that’s really serious money, when you’re talking 12 mags a year. That’s before you’re even taking sales. But as far as the publishers were concerned that job was credited to the ad staff, it couldn’t be credited to the editorial, which is something that always used to frustrate me. It wouldn’t matter how crude the maths you’d run on were, you could see the numbers. It went from conversations with publishers like, ‘do we kill the mag in winter months when advertisers don’t want to spend and light it up in summer, to how do we make more Seven Days Seven Slaves issues? So it got to the point where I was like, okay, maybe it’s time to put my own neck on the line, which is what we did. At that point, Derek Rielly was editing Picture, a weekly quasi-porn mag. He had come and done some work at Waves. We butted heads with the publishers at times during that period so I worked on a book with Taj, then we did Billabong’s 30-year anniversary book and then we started Stab.”
Stab came bursting out of the gates as one of the most anticipated action sports magazine releases in a long time. It was hailed as something different; a new take on the world of surfing.
“Back in the day, the big thing we thought, the ethos behind it was that surfing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. We were in this pigeon hole that was, ‘this is what an Australian surfer should be’, or internationally this is what surfer’s are. We didn’t feel like we fit into that category, we didn’t feel like everyone could identify with that, so we just went and tried something different. I’m glad we did it (Stab), it’s good to be in control of your own destiny, rather than just doing things that people perceive you should be doing”
Since the first issue Stab has made a huge impact on the international surfing scene. They are often mimicked by other mags and have introduced a more fashion approach to surfing as well. Stab, have often received criticism for being intentionally controversial. From their opening Kelly Slater cartoons to the more recent Mick Fanning ‘Jew’ hoopla, it’s something that has become part of the DNA of the mag. Sam denies that they try to push peoples buttons on purpose, but admits being the black sheep of the media doesn’t bother him. At least people have a strong reaction about the magazine either way.
“We’re polarising. Some people really love us, and you can tell from message boards that some hate us. But when you’re in this game of surf media – and there are five mags in Oz – there’s nothing worse than anonymity. If you do things and people don’t notice then what’s the point? Surfing is fun. It’s not worth taking seriously. Derek has a great line: We’re not the Washington Post. I tend to agree. I love surfing more than anyone, but the moment you take it all too seriously is the day you should hang up the fins, I reckon.”
Sam and Stab aren’t afraid to spend money on something they believe in either. They started the mag with a helicopter photoshoot, and have been pulling the stops out ever since.
“There was this one issue where we did a trip with Koby Abberton out in the desert and dressed him up as like a Gay Caballero. That cost us somewhere between 15 and 20 grand, just for like 12 pages. We went down once, and it all came together; we got Koby in the barrel, guns in the air, his holsters and his patent leather gloves on. The photographer was in the channel and it feathered outside, and he just freaked and ran for the hills. Freaked out. So we went all this way, drove down to the desert, took two jet-skis and the photographer missed the shot because he was too scared. We were in the middle of the desert and we were like, hang on a second, we only bought two hats, two ensembles, one wipe out on that wave and it’s all gone. So here we are, in the middle of nowhere, the waves were pumping and we didn’t have what we needed. It was so stupid. We had to go home. So then we had to go back and do it all again. There was a big entourage, like eight or ten people each time we went down. Getting that many people around; hiring jetskis, drivers for jetskis, all of that, it really adds up.”
It’s not always mistakes though. Remember that first crazy wave pool shoot in Kuala Lumpur?
“The most successful shoot we did was the wavepool with Joel and Trent Munro and Taj. Taj and I went there first a couple of days before everyone. We went to the wavepool, had our boards there and asked if we could go and test the wave. They were like nah, nah, nah, those are hard boards, you’ve got to ride soft boards. It was like, hang on a sec, (Taj is like 2nd in the world at that stage or something), we’ve got a pretty good surfer with us, he’ll be ok. They were like, nope, soft boards. So Taj and I put on some button up shirts, we looked like fools, and we went into their board meeting and pitched what we wanted to do. We got through with the surfboards. We then tried to run a quad bike beside the pool, with a rope attached to it, so we could tow in. That obviously didn’t work, so we asked them if we got a jetski with bio diesel and all this amazing stuff, and it won’t impact the pool, can we put a jetski in there? They went ‘okay, let’s see what we can do.’ So we looked all over KL just trying to find jetskis, and clearly none of them were going to be any good on the environment of the pool. We got this old beat up two-stroke so we looked like we were going to film on the water. We did a couple of goes and realised it was going to be amazing. After a few more runs the wake from the ski started to peel the tiles off the bottom of the pool. We’re in this big glass house thing, and everyone knew we were walking on egg shells, so Taj and the boys were picking up the tiles and throwing them in the garden so no one would see. That was a two day trip, it was so surreal, because you’re in chlorine, and this alarm goes off and the water drops. We got to the end of the trip and Joel goes, ‘if you ever do one of these trips again and don’t invite I’m going to be mortified, you have to invite me on the next trip.’ That was pretty cool. I think that was the most successful because we’d expected nothing and got something really special.”
The shoot that Sam is most proud of however, is one you’ll likely never see the shots of.
“The best shoot we’ve done you’ll never see. The best one ever was one with Stephanie Gilmore. It wasn’t a surf one, we got a Vogue photographer and stylist, rolled out the red carpet and used all the best contacts and people we had. Steph came to us and said, look, I’m sick of being ‘Happy Gilmore’; I want to bring some kind of edge to my profile. So I show people the photos, I’ve got them on my hard-drive, I never email them to anyone. I show people and they go, oh cool, when did you do the model shoot, man she’s hot, who is that girl? Who is that model? And you go, well it’s Steph Gilmore, and people are like my god! She looks incredible! And she does, she looks absolutely incredible. She was going to be on the front cover of our big hard-cover book, with a really cool interview. But, she never felt comfortable enough to reveal them to the world. It was death by committee. When something’s bold like that there will always be people who don’t agree on it. She was taking control of her own image and making surfer girls as important as tennis players and the like. I’m just waiting now for the phone to ring. After four world titles, I think she’ll go, you know what: the world needs to see this side of me. Please, Steph. We’re ready. But I don’t think it’s ever going to happen. If that had have come out, it would have changed the way people saw Stab. They’re not sexually explicit or anything like that, there’s a couple of shots where you were you can see a little bit of nipple, which I’d happily ditch, I don’t care about that. I just feel like it could usher in a new era of women’s surfing. And I mean if she doesn’t do it, then someone else well and it will lose its impact.”
Sam gets super excited whenever he’s talking about one of these shoots. He’s obviously proud of his work, and intensely enjoys it. According to Sam, it’s something he’s loved since he was young.
“I’ve always been really into surfing magazines. I can’t write, I’m an awful writer, but I like putting things together, or trying to organise some special things. Derek does all the writing and creative and I do all the background stuff. I make the shoots happen and try to put the pieces together. That’s where my limited skills come in handy.”
Part of the success is not in managing, but letting the creative minds behind Stab have some rope to play with.
“I let the writers do their own thing. We know what we want. Derek is such an amazing writer, and Jed’s getting there as well. I don’t want to put someone on and then micromanage them to death. I put them on because I believe in what they’re doing. Derek’s mind is twisted but inspirational. It’s unbelievable what he cooks up and that inspires our younger writers. It’s definitely a peculiar take on the surfing world, some people don’t understand it. Or like it”
Outside of Stab, Sam still has plenty of other things on the boil.
“I’m really interested in the internet. We’re spending more time on Stab’s site. I love the web, I love everything about it, just how quick it is, and the access you’ve got, it’s just exciting, something happens and it goes up. I love Little Weeds and how it nurtures talent and exposes them to the world. The where are they now from last year’s Little Weeds is crazy. These kids tell me how it’s changed their lives. It’s really crazy.”
Sam is also helping create some capsule fashion collections for the industry. One of these was the Billabong Taj Collection.
“That’s a side project I did. Taj and I about four years ago, because we did the General Pants magazine called Our People. We were making that and got all the product into the office and shoot it all, and I was thinking, once upon a time Billabong used to be in General Pants. All the surf labels were. Their orders just diminished and diminished until there was nothing in there at all. I was like: there has to be a range by the surf companies that these guys would run with, like a little fusion range, like any of the big collaborations that happen in the fashion world. So I went, why don’t we do something with Taj? We’ll throw in a logo that kind doesn’t look like his name and pitch it to them. We drew up the logo, did a range and we did a photo shoot and the ads and everything. We went in and they said, ‘well, we want Taj to represent Billabong, not another little brand.’ But then they came to us about a year ago and went, okay, let’s do it again. The collection is pretty simple. It’s all about good-fitting tees and better fabrics and a couple of special one-off pieces. I think it went quite well. The new range looks really good.”
I looked at Sam’s attire and he appears to be more of a fashionista than a surfer. He has high end denim on, a black scoop next tee and leather wrist cuff. I wondered if he still thinks ‘surf gear’ is cool?
“To me, surf apparel has lost its identity a little. It’s not hugely different to what you buy in fashion stores. I think that’s a real danger for the future when it all starts to morph toward the same trends. Surfwear used to be its own look and then its market share wasn’t threatened. Still, no-one makes boardshorts as well as the surf companies. And what do I wear? What do I like? Oh well, there’s no answer to this question that’s not going to make me look like a complete fucking wanker. I spend way too much money on clothes. There’s nothing I hate more than buying something that’s disposable, whether that’s clothes or printers or computers. I try to buy things that are good quality. I hate to buy something that after two or three washes it’s ruined. Therefore, I tend to wear stuff that’s higher end. I still wear surf clothes, like I wear the Quiksilver Sam Elsom jeans, or some pieces from the Taj range, Stussy make great clothes, or have you worn the Diamond Dobby boardies yet? They’re unbelievable. More than ever surfers care about what they wear now though. This really freaks a lot of people out.”
It doesn’t freak Sam MacIntosh out though. This is because he is unafraid of change. He tends to see the shift coming and embraces it. Thankfully, there is more evolution to come from Sam, new projects on the way. Some people are sure to dig their heels in to resist what is he is cooking up. But not us. We like seeing people sticking their necks out. We enjoy seeing risk pay off.
So, if you have a great idea, why not extend yourself and do it? Maybe we’ll be writing an article about cool things you’ve done some day. Or, you could just continue wasting your time on internet sites, reading about the success of others. It’s your choice.