Wipe Out

Girls surfing mag Wahine set trends, caught sets and then ate it

Wahine magazine—"The girl's guide to surf, skate and snow"—is gone, swept off its seven-year ride by the roil of market forces, and in a weird way, that's progress.

Women's surfing was scarcely a market, never mind a force, for most of its modern history. Its roster of stars stretched from Gidget to Lisa Anderson, but it rarely went beyond them. And those two might not have been famous either, except that Hollywood convinced everybody the mousy Jewish girl Gidget looked like the beach-bunny shiksa Sandra Dee—and because nobody could quite believe that a surfer who shredded like Lisa Anderson really looked like Lisa Anderson. There were no women athletes in board shorts signing autographs at the Action Sports Retailers conventions, only made-up models with fake boobs shopping skimpy resort bikinis.

That began to change in July 1995, when Wahine debuted at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach. With clear prose, vivid photos and true integrity—that eternal harbinger of martyrdom—the magazine explored the real world of women's surfing and its relationship to women's lives. By reining in the fantastic extremes of female stereotypes (advertisers were prohibited from using images or language deemed sexually exploitative), Wahine gave authentic body and deep soul to the varied dimensions of femininity—and it didn't leave out the real Gidget, the likes of Sandra Dee and the ever-amazing Lisa Anderson, either.

"The magazine led women's surfing out of the Dark Ages," asserts publisher Marilyn Edwards, who rightly predicted there was a market for all these principles. Over the course of 24 issues, Wahine grew into an international quarterly with a circulation of some 40,000. Culture and capitalism both noticed.

"Wahine has had such a passionate readership," says founding editor Elizabeth Glazner. "Women and girls never stop writing just to say, 'Thank you.'"

Surfing equipment and apparel companies were appreciative, too.

"The 'Surf Divas' and the 'Surf Chicks' brands—not to mention the women's divisions of major surf companies like Roxy Quiksilver—had nowhere else to market themselves where they would actually reach their potential consumer," says Edwards. "Together, we made up the core of the women's surf market."

Nonetheless, the lights are out in Wahine's quaint headquarters—an above-a-side-street-gift-store apartment in Long Beach's afflu-hemian Belmont Shore district. Edwards acknowledged the magazine's demise the day after Christmas, when it became apparent that most of its major advertisers were not going to renew their contracts for 2002.

Instead, most of the big-money accounts are turning to a bigger-money publisher: Surfing Girl magazine, once an advertorial insert tucked between the pages of Surfing magazine, both of which are owned by Primedia Inc., the gigantic outfit that recently purchased emap USA, which owned the other major surfing magazine, Surfer, and you get the idea—everybody's got the same boss now.

Of course, advertising revenue is down big-time at magazines and newspapers everywhere. But the independently owned and skeleton-staffed Wahine was in no position to wait out a rebound. The magazine might have survived, say Edwards and Glazner, if they had agreed to some companies' requests that the purchase of ads guarantee editorial coverage. "We decided to close the magazine rather than resort to compromise," says Glazner. "We are proud of Wahine."

Suddenly, that leaves Surfing Girl, which spun off into a stand-alone publication in 2001, nearly all alone on the newsstands. For now, anyway. The question is whether the better resources of this young magazine will translate into a better publication than Wahine. It's a tall order.

Over time, Wahine had expanded its surfing coverage to include female skaters and snowboarders, too, along with windsurfers, swimmers and canoeists. There were music reviews. There were medical tips. There were environmental reports. There were travelogues. There were recipes. There was hard news, and there were spiritual meditations. There was camaraderie. And now that adds up to a market force.

"Wahine is not out of business," Glazner emphasizes. "We are shifting our focus." Wahine Inc. still maintains a thriving website. It owns the Wahine brand, a trademark it has successfully defended. Edwards and Glazner intend to license Wahine to clothing, equipment, entertainment and sporting events. They are pursuing other publishing options, such as books, calendars and special issues.

None of this was conceivable when Wahine launched its set of idealistic principles seven years ago, and as Edwards and Glazner struggle to accept the end of their magazine, it has taken them a while to perceive these leftovers as rewards.

"I realized when inquiries came in about licensing our name that . . . we did it!" says Edwards. "We accomplished what we set out to do."

And they won't rule out the possibility that Wahine might someday re-launch as a magazine. There's a market out there for it. That's progress. Weird, huh?

Dave Wielenga was the only non-female and non-surfer/skater/snowboarder ever to serve as managing editor/cabana boy forWahine magazine, where he worked for two issues in 1997.
 
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