Hagen Engler is one of the most distinct voices in South African journalism and fiction. You can’t fake or imitate his droog Eastern Cape vernacular, which makes for insightful reading and seriously funny observations. Most surfers who remember the late nineties with any degree of clarity will know his stories and recall laughing their arses off reading them – especially people who grew up in his hometown, Port Elizabeth. From missions to the Transkei and Mozambique, to the general politics of speaking kak at the car park, he addressed the surfing sub-culture in a language we could understand.
After a long stint as editor at FHM, Hagen is back to doing what he does best: writing great stories and music from his home in Johannesburg – roughly 500 kays from the nearest beach. He’s grown and diversified over the years, and now speaks to a larger audience, but there’s still a surfer inside him. We dropped in on Hagen to chat about this inner surfer amongst several other things.
Zigzag: Your earlier work in Life’s A Beach and Water Features is some of the finest and most hilarious documenting of surf culture in both PE and the RSA during the 90’s. What do you make of what the guys are doing with surfing today?
Hagen: It’s barely the same sport, hey. There is so much variety to the surfing experience these days, with everybody experimenting with how to ride waves, which means so many more types of waves are rideable. Basically okes seem to be having more fun, in more ways, more often. Back in the day it was shortboards, bodyboards or waveskis and quite a cultural separation between them. Now there seem to be fewer divisions and guys appear more prepared to try out different styles and equipment.
How do you think a guy like Dane Reynolds would have been received in say, 1996?
You’d probably find that if he was around doing those horrific moves back then, there’d have been quite a few other guys killing it the same way. Once one dude shows what’s possible, it pushes his rivals to match him or beat him.
How is life after FHM treating you? What have you been up to since calling it a day?
Ha! I’m still in Joburg, so still no surfing! I’ve got a blog called hagenshouse (http://hagenshouse.blogspot.com/), I’m finishing up another novel about caning it on the PE underground, freelancing journ, a bit of ad copywriting, maybe another book about boning black chicks (I’m married to a black girl). I’d smaak to do some more screenwriting too. Also recording some music.
There has been some serious facebook photo tagging going down from your days with the Jedi Rollers (One of Hagen’s old bands). Is that a sign of a reunion coming up?
Ja, that was the one band I was in. We did amazing all-styles jams all the way from metal to hip-hop and spoken word, punk, reggae, whatever. I’d fuckin’ love to get back together with the okes. These days I just try collaborate with whoever’s game. I did an amazing show with my old surfing mate Joe van der Linden last time I was in PE. I’m recording a solo album of sorts here in Jozi with Cito from Wonderboom and Paul Flynn. They’re starting a record label. The thing with bands is it’s like a marriage, but there’s five or six people in it. Crazy hard to manage. Rollers was a collective of up to 11 people, so I’m sure I’ll work with some of them again.
For everyone out there wondering, what was it like being the ed of a mag that belters are literally throwing themselves at?
Epic, broseph! You gotta savour it while you’re doing it. You get to hang with the most beautiful women in SA in their undies. Sometimes not even their undies! And those ladies are all ambitious and they want the exposure, so they’re always super-nice to you. The one rule at FHM, though: “Don’t pomp the models!” Everyone needs to respect each other and keep it professional and then it’s all good.
Tough job! Anyways, you left the Eastern Cape some time ago for the bright lights of Egoli. Do you have any plans to ever bring the wife back to settle in PE? Or anywhere with a coastline?
Yuss, I’d dig to. If some decent work opportunity presents itself somewhere, or I work out that I can do what I do at the coast, then totally. I get down to PE several times a year and that place is paradise, I’m tuning you. Even if it gets flat, that’s just encouragement to get out to Seals, J-Bay or PA’s and surf yourself miff.
How kief is PE? Set the record straight – it gets waves and it’s cool in its own way, right?
It needs more nudie bars. Ha, joking. Actually, I’m not. That Golden Curtain is getting a bit samey! Otherwise, PE is sweet coastal living and that vibe where you bump into people you know everywhere you go is awesome. Just to pull into the car park at your local spot and to talk kak with some okes is a special privilege not to be taken for granted. To actually be able to surf is a gift from the gods.
What do you do to scratch the itch of going for a surf these days? Any kite surfing or SUP’ing in the Vaal dam?
No, fuck that. In Joburg I don’t even think about surfing. That’ll drive you insane. I went wakeboarding once, but it’s not the same. I get down to PE when I can, dig out a board and relaunch the surfing. When I get back up to Jozi it’s Jozi stuff – music, gym and getting cunted in bars with your mates.
Eish! What’s on the agenda for the rest of 2012?
Finish up my novel, which is called The Maid’s Room. Been grafting on that for ages, so I definitely want to put that out. It’ll be my third novel and the sixth book I’ve published.
We read that your new novel is going to be the edgiest yet. It would have to be pretty racy to oust Buttons For Gaia for that title. Can you give us a little info on what it’s about?
Like I say, it’s set in PE, and it’s more of an internal journey. It’s about a oke who runs out of bucks so he has to move into the maid’s room of his spot and rent out the main house. Then this black dude moves into the main house and starts pomping his ex chick and stuff. Bit of a metaphor there for you okes. Actually there’s lank pomping in it. It’s also about men’s attitudes to women and stuff. Soon come.
Sounds like a winner. Thanks for your time Hagen. Keep well bru!
Nicely. Zag is awesome. Keep representing!