Soon after we took over Zigzag, I had a meeting with our guiding guru, Craig Sims, the man who took Zigzag to the heights of its business and cultural success in the early 2000s. He reminded me that no one really owns Zigzag, we’re all just caretakers. Established in 1976 by legends Mike Larmont, Paul Naude and Doug McDonald, Zigzag is now the 3rd longest running surf magazine in the world. Only Australia’s Tracks (1970) and Surfing World (1962) have been around longer. From 1976 to 2023, Zigzag has produced 297 editions. Since I’ve been at the helm (we took over in September 2013), we’ve made and published 64 of them. That’s almost 22% of all the Zigzags so far. No small feat.
For years people have been telling us that “print is dead”. But we never drank that Kool Aid and kept cranking out our beloved South African surf magazine. Mostly, the audience and industry backed us. When times got tight, (as they did during the end of the Zuma / State Capture years) we doubled down on quality and rolled with the punches. Throughout, Zag continued to break even. Any gains, we pumped back into the business. No one got rich, this is surf media after all, but we were having fun, doing something we love. The evidence was right there printed on the pages.
When COVID struck, we did a little mid-face redirect, then cut back to 4 issues a year but increased the overall quality and almost doubled the amount of pages, offering a premium African surf story-telling experience in print that holds its own alongside other premium surf print operations like The Surfer’s Journal in the US and White Horses in Australia. The ‘new template’ of the modern print surf magazine. For 4 years we held up our end!
And then 2023 happened. Loadshedding, emigration, inflation, the Rand’s decline and general pessimism about the future. Business in South Africa got even harder. We sell a premium, lifestyle product, that sits pretty close to the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. As much as I believe surf mags, and surfing, to be crucial to life itself, our audience has shown us that our product is just not as crucial as bread and petrol. Publishing Zigzag in 2023 has felt like the old Bruce Springsteen line in ‘Highway Patrolman’: “Them wheat prices kept on dropping / til it was like we were getting robbed”. The energy going into each edition, was just not coming back to us. Every issue left us a little shorter than the last. Relationships with our contributors and creditors became frayed. And eventually, on a personal note, burnout caught up with me.
Ironically, the 3 issues of 2023: Exiles, Mozambique and Groms, are to me at least, among the finest Zigzags ever published. But that’s how it goes. They may not have been the roaring financial successes that they should have been, the content, design and production are world class – and so is the team who produced them. Financial success or not, I am no less proud of them.
So where am I going with all of this? Ultimately, times of struggle demand that we face our existential questions. What is the the purpose of Zigzag? This is a fundamental inquiry. Answering it will illuminate the path forward. I’ve been turning it around in my head for a few months now. And while I think I know some of the answers, and attempt to answer them below. I invite you, our stakeholders, to contribute. Please drop me a mail with your thoughts and ideas.
As the veteran surf journalist, Nick Carroll says, and I paraphrase loosely from memory: “A magazine exists as a line between its audience and its owners. Everything else (the surfers, contributors, subjects and even the industry) is strung up, somewhere along that continuum.”
For the audience, Zigzag offers entertainment and information. We facilitate connections to our shared surf culture, community and experience. And in so doing, hopefully, we inspire and create value in your lives. Simply put: surfing makes people happy. And happy people do more good in the world than miserable ones.
For the surfers, we offer a platform for exposure. This leads to recognition and affirmation in their skills and abilities and hopefully engenders a sense of belief that drives their careers forward. By showcasing talented surfers doing amazing things, we play a role in inspiring others to match and exceed those exploits and this contributes to the cycle of innovation.
For the contributors, it’s an opportunity to mix passion, technical ability and talent, to capture unique and original moments, that become surf history and this documentation, story-telling, myth-making creates the culture. The stories we tell ourselves shape who and what we are.
For the surf industry, we offer access to an audience that is enthusiastic, inspired and fixated on surfing. A market that aspires for exactly the products our surf industry manufactures. It sounds simple, but in truth, our role for the advertiser is much more important and nuanced. Brands can only be ‘surf brands’ if they invest and participate directly in surf culture. To be a ‘surf brand’, they have a purpose, and responsibility, beyond just selling apparel and products dressed up as ‘surf’. In order to be relevant and credible partners in surf culture, brands must invest in surfing’s cultural capital, (sponsoring athletes, events, exploration, while simultaneously developing innovative core products). The longevity of their businesses depend on it. And as Africa’s largest surf media platform, our goal is to not just to be a mouthpiece for the tribe, but also to facilitate (and at times mediate) the surf brand’s investment in surf culture.
In the long view, all of the stuff we do, this act of creating and promoting surf storytelling, becomes a record of our days: the people, the swells, the rides and everything else that advances this most enjoyable culture of waveriding as it plays out on the southern tip of the African continent. A continent that is perfectly positioned, pointing like an arrow into the Roaring 40s (where waves are born) and with vast, under-explored coastlines with their own original and unique surfing cultures and expressions, stretching from Cape Town up to coastlines all the way to the Middle East and Europe. That’s our zone.
So here’s what’s next. At the end of 2023 we’ll be dropping the LAST ZIGZAG! (Last, in the sense that this will be the final edition of our quarterly print mag format).
Thereafter Zigzag is going electric! A whole new world of original African surf content awaits and will come at you thick and fast online and across social media. But fear not, we’re not abandoning behind our legacy of 297 issues of print magazines…
After the Last Zag print edition – we’re committed to producing a NEW yearly Zigzag African Surf Almanac! Who knows, if there’s enough love and support out there for the idea, we’ll do it twice a year. Winter & Summer.
Right now we’re busy digitizing our entire archive, and making these highly collectible historical print mags available for sale online. Now you too can own the entire Zigzag collection spanning 1976 – 2023. Shop the archive here.
From 2024, you’ll see a lot more of Zigzag original content online and social media as well as events and partner projects.
Our beloved subscribers will receive our new annual (or bi-annual) Surf Almanac, plus merch, plus full access to our new premium online channel, featuring:
– Live Action
– Swell Events
– Surf Discoveries
– Travel and Exploration
+ Special Projects, like our Clutch program with Monster and our deep Corona Open J-Bay coverage.
We’re still working out the finer details, but as a Zigzag Premium Subscriber you will get a suite of amazing value, including:
– The Last Zag print mag – December 2023 + A Free Gift
– The Annual Zigzag African Surf Almanac – July 2024 + A Free Gift
– Monthly Premium Original Zigzag Content
– Access to the entire Zigzag Archive online
+ Free forecasting and surf coaching resources, event access, exclusive discounts and once-off offers and opportunities.
More on the full offering coming soon!
Finally, a heartfelt thank you for your enthusiasm, inspiration and support.
Andy and the team at Zigzag