Bye-Bye, butt floss

Wahine carves the new publishing style

Photo courtesy of WahinThe letters come in bunches. So does the poetry, the affirmations, the suggestions- "Waterwomen out there: please wear earplugs"-the outrages and the thank-yous. "I was paging through [another surf magazine] yesterday," writes Desyl from Santa Cruz, "and while devouring the tasty travel pics, I stumbled across [an advertisement] asking for photos of the 'Biggest Set in North America,' and they weren't talking waves. How discouraging to be reminded again of how women are perceived in male surf culture. Thank God for magazines like Wahine."

Actually, there are no other magazines like Wahine, which is why the letters come, why the letter writers sometimes hand-deliver the letters to the magazine's Belmont Shore office, which is located above an exotic-gifts shop. They knock on the door and let themselves in. They ask to speak to the owners and if there's anything they can help with. Do you need volunteers? Somebody to answer phones? Stick stuff in envelopes? By the way, I've written this poem. . . .

Someone-certainly not me -might say the magazine empowers them, gives them a sense of ownership. They return that in kind with their patronage, and so Wahine, the only regularly published magazine devoted to female surfing, has nearly tripled its size and more than quadrupled its ad space and circulation since hitting the stands in 1995. Clearly, chicks dig it. Subscribers come from 45 states and around the world. Letters pour in from the usual locales: Hawaii, Florida and Australia, as well as such exotic climes as Ecuador and Illinois. "The most beautiful girls are the ones who SURF," writes Troy of Corvallis, Oregon.

What makes readers respond to Wahineis not that it merely presents girl surfers but how it presents them-strong and in charge, even when a wave is handing them their lunch. Cute, at times, but never cutesy. Always doing. Or on the verge of doing. Or basking in having just done.

"We've put a face on something girls have felt for a while now," says Elizabeth Glazner, the magazine's editor. "More than being a surfer, I'd say our typical reader is active. You know, about 55 percent of our readers have zero to three years of surf experience. We sell a lot of magazines to active girls in Kansas who dream of [surfing] Indonesia." When the magazine publishes a cover photo some think shows too little carving and too much skin, it gets, "I would have thought this was another bikini beach mag . . . from Hiromi in Hawaii." When a story describes a girl as "petite," letters fly in about body image. A sense of ownership is a wonderful thing when it extends as far as the $3.50 you invested at the newsstand. For the two women who run the magazine, founders Glazner and publisher Marilyn Edwards, the game is a good deal trickier. They strive to say what surfing should be-open, respectful-while always staying true to what the sport is and what sells: fun.

Nowhere in the magazine is this tight wire walked more tenuously than in the ads it chooses-and chooses not-to run. Any magazine, let alone one that has been publishing a tick less than five years, can ill afford to turn down money. On the other hand, Glazner and Edwards know their readers won't stand for what they can find in the guy surfer mags: bikini models spread over the hoods of cars, planted in the shoreline or sitting in the sand, waiting for their men to return from surfing. The images and the models may be stunning, but they are always stagnant.

"You know, that stuff you find in the boys' [surfing] magazines works for them, and that's fine," Edwards says. "But we'd lose a lot of faith with our readers if we ran that. It's not that we have any problem with being sexy. I think our magazine is very sexy; I think our ads are very sexy. But we think it's sexy to show beautiful women doing things, not just sitting around like mannequins. I mean, those ads would argue against the very concept of Wahine."

Which is why they've refused some ads and why their advertising brochure has encouraged clients to "stretch their creative limits in producing advertising that affirms feminine strength and intelligence." A nice way, Glazner says, of telling them, "We don't do butt floss."

Ah, yes: the bikini as proctological instrument-which is not to say Wahine doesn't run bikini ads; they do, but again, it's all in the presentation. If the woman is doing in her bikini, that's fine, though some bikini ads represent that doing in a hint of surfboard to the side or in the background. "I'm not saying I'm always happy with what we run," Glazner says. "It's not always easy to figure out where the line is." They say they refuse fewer ads now that their standards have become well-known. Certain companies, such as Brazilian swimsuit company Reef, which is known for its skimpy swimsuits and sexy models-sans surfboards-automatically bypass them. "I have no problem with Reef. What they do works great for them; it just wouldn't work for us," Edwards says. "We'd be willing to work with them to come up with something. We'll work with anyone on that. I mean, we want the magazine to stand for something, but we're not naive. We want the magazine to survive."

Which is why they were willing to work with the guy who was marketing his surfboard holder. "He had invented this thing, and he came to us with the picture he wanted to run, and it had this girl in a bikini laying all over his invention for no apparent reason," Glazner says. "We told him we couldn't run the ad like that. So he came back with something else, and it still wasn't acceptable. We kept working with him until we got something." Which turned out to be a picture of the invention with about half of the body of the bikini girl sitting off to the side-something Glazner wasn't totally happy with. "We want our advertisers to be happy," she says. "We want to run really stunning ads; that's what sells in this business. We just think you can do that without having, you know, butt floss. And we know our readers feel that way because we get letters saying, 'Thank goodness you're not running butt floss.'"

Helping their cause has been the success of brands such as Roxy by Quiksilver, which markets to women who actually do things at the beach and has made it apparent to much of the industry that active sells. And so others have come around to their way of thinking, if not moved by principles then moved by the possibility of increasing principals.

"I think there's been a wising up of the industry," Edwards says. "I think a lot of companies are coming around to this conclusion because it's become the sensible thing to do for business."

Which may explain why a while ago, someone tried to start a second magazine devoted to female surfing. It failed. "It was run by men," Edwards says and leaves it at that.

Soon after, the interview ends. Glazner escorts me from her office to the front door, taking just a moment to let me feel the heft of one of the poetry folders. "And there's more coming all the time," she says. An associate interrupts to tell her that she has received a call from a man and then says the man's name. Glazner replies, "I don't know who that is."

"Well," the associate says, "he said he's from Reef."

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