The Deep dive: how advertising dollars spoiled Australia's smartest surf mag

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Digging In The Crates

In the 1990s Australian surfing was suffering a midlife crisis. 

After decades of dominance on the international stage, the arrival of Kelly Slater and the New School had seemingly relegated the Aussie dynasty to a second class power.

Slater had a firm grasp on the title, and was propped up on both sides by a coterie of tail sliding, air popping contest machines.

“Australians were feeling wounded by the idea we’re not tops anymore,” says Nick Carroll. “Wah! Seems funny now but back then it was real.”

Australian surfing was in a state of performance shock, and hadn’t yet figured out a response. Much soul searching was to take place. 

But the inevitable retort was splintered. While some fought fire with fire and Lick My Balls aggression, others chose a different path.

Australia’s own new school emerged. Ideas on the direction of surfing, independent of the mainstream narrative, that were as much planted in the movement’s roots as they were in the modern day.

It might not have registered at the time, but the 1996 release of Andrew Kidman, Jon Frank, and Mark Sutherland's Litmus captured a maturation of surfing’s psyche. The seeds had always been there, sure, but Litmus gave them a new form. 

Litmus showed a hankering for something else other than that juvenile, fun approach to surf,” says Carroll. 

“All sorts of things were going on at that time. There was just a feeling that the demographic of surfers was beginning to fracture, in the way that we really see now, and Litmus was the starting point for that”.

This was about promoting respect for what had come before - design, approach, style, icons - and showing how the past could instruct surfing moving forward. 

But that narrative wasn’t being reflected in the pages of the mainstream magazines. 

Australia’s Surfing Life (ASL) and Waves were super funny but also still very juvenile,” says Carroll of Australian surf media at that time.

Tracks had become a bitter kind of magazine in that period of Kelly’s reign too. It had become a bit nasty for a while there, at least until Sean Doherty got a hold of it again.”

Carroll himself had just moved back from a stint in the States editing Surfing magazine (“a stringent professional experience”) and in 1997 was ready to launch back into the Aussie scene. 

But despite some forays with ASL, the Old Man On The Point needed a permanent home. 

Along came Deep.

Deep's first eight issues were broadsheet, colour cover with newsprint inside

Deep was the brainchild of publisher Peter Morrison and then ASL-editor Tim Baker. It was already a couple of years old at this point: a core, grassroots broadsheet edited by Reggae Ellis emulating what Tracks once had been.

It targeted older surfers who had once been mag consumers, but had lost interest in mainstream surf media’s teen slant. 

“They didn't care about what’s hot and what’s not or Taj Burrows playlist,” says Ellis.  

Deep was different: newsprint, and text-heavy. Credible content for the discerning surfer.

“The surf industry in the ‘90s was definitely caught up in the ‘cult of the grommet’ as Nick called it. With Deep we wanted it to be authoritative, but still fun with a variety of voices and opinions. The ethos was to talk about surfing with a bit more substance.  Surfers were still active into their 30s and 40s, guys like Simon, MR, and Rabbit were still interesting, still involved in surfing and there was room for longform 2-3000 words stories and interviews.”

Carroll immediately found himself contributing.

“I wrote one article about the resurgence of grommet culture in Australian surfing,” says Carroll. 

“It was interesting to write a long story about grommets. Nobody wanted you to do that then! But Reggae had a very relaxed, laissez faire attitude as an editor. Not one of those bare bones, Ockham’s Razor-type editors. He’d just give you an idea and let you go with it.”

Carroll was then in the hot seat when publisher Peter Morrison saw the opportunity to convert Deep from a broadsheet throwback to something that was ahead of its time.

It could still be a reflective magazine for older surfers, carrying the longform tradition, but in a more refined medium.

“Morrison thought well fuck, Nick’s here, I’ve got [Morrison Media stablemate ASL’s designer] Gra Murdoch here, they are able to do a magazine like that. Let’s see how it goes.”

Deep mark 2 was born in the first quarter of 1998.

First up was creating a new visual identity for the mag.

“For Deep, we thought let’s just really pare it right down, get rid of anything unnecessary,” said Carroll. “So we ripped away all the colours and let them come through the photos instead.”

With its minimalist design and book-like spine, Deep was a mix between Tracks of old and The Surfer’s Journal, all with a distinctly Australian bent. Taking the old and making it new again.

The mag was split into two sections: Windswell, which was short bites, and Groundswell, home to the longform pieces.

“The editorial process was quite different to any of the surf mags I’ve worked on before,” says Carroll. 

“I guess because it was so pared down you had to focus quite hard on quality and make sure the stories were selected carefully so they sat next to each other really well.”

It also eschewed gossip and current events. 

“We weren’t really interested in being newsy in any way. Deep was meant to sit back from the news and have a look at stuff people weren’t paying much attention to.” 

With a team of writers like DC Green, Mike Perry, Tim Baker, Fred Pawle, Derek Rielly and Steve Shearer, Deep further solidified its reputation for getting, well… deep. 

There were stories on the clubby wars. Historical analysis of climate change and how it was affecting swell patterns. Features on the northern beaches, gonzo travel in Indo, why surfing could never puncture the mainstream (sound familiar?). 

It also rediscovered some chapters from history that are now part of our folklore. One article that stood out was surf doyen Mick Mock’s piece on the famous Peter Crawford and Michael Peterson Dee Why session in 1980. 

Says Carroll, there were a couple of beautiful photos of MP unearthed for that story no one had ever seen published. 

“There was one of MP where he was doing this cutback at Dee Why, and fuck it was such a great photo. It was like woah! Like a core underpinning Australian-style move. Crawford and MP just by themselves out Dee Why Point, making history.”

Deep, Summer '99

As recounted in the story, during that session in 1980 Simon appeared on the Point with one of his first ever thrusters.

“MP just took one look at it and thought oh fuck, this is it, it’s all over. And just bailed.”

This was the type of story that defined Deep. A lesson from one of the greats - about reading the writing on the wall and finishing on top - that provided clear instructions for any that would listen. 

But Deep eventually became a victim of its own success. 

“We had a really strong and loyal core of readers who would buy every mag we made,” says Carroll, “but readership alone couldn’t keep it functioning.”

The mag deliberately had a limited advertising page count, focusing on quality over quantity. But some companies cottoned on to the unique predicament this put its buyers in. They deliberately began playing Deep off against ASL, its Morrison Media stablemate. 

“At the time the people running surf advertising in Australia were… well they had a pretty crude idea of what they were doing,” says Carroll. “They didn’t understand market segments, that type of thing. Ads weren’t cheap in Deep. Part of the idea was you keep the ad count down you can charge more for them.” 

But the vision wasn’t shared. The fear that advertisers would pit the magazines against each other instead of supporting both of them in different ways - recognising the different audiences they were speaking to - was soon realised.

Advertisers grew more demanding in their concessions. Ultimately, the publisher was faced with a difficult decision. ASL or Deep

Everybody knows how that went. 

It’s a familiar tale, and not just in surfing. Market forces always correct, and often it’s the consumer left losing out in the end. 

But the spark Deep lit is still burning today, more needed than ever.

// SURF ADS

Comments

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 6:01pm

Wow, the inside story, thanks Surf Ads. Had no idea of the intricacies behind my fav surf mag of all time.

The MP issue - I still have it and it's a keeper. That story on the rocks at DY.

I was caught up in the whole fracture. I found early 90's low volume thrusters unrelatable and at the same time you've got Litmus whispering in your ear and an old single fin sitting neglected at home. Something clicks. The speed cranks up a notch.

And then you get Deep. It's intelligent, visually restrained but oh wow doesn't that cover page knock you for 6. The Richo/Joe cover as well - that Burleigh wave.

A postscript: I'm watching my son take a 7ft single fin I shaped and absolutely fly down the line, and it's all smooth and so fast. He's suppressed some of the shortboard biomechanics and he's going faster for it. With the mousey blond hair in curls, he's looking like a young TF. 25 years after Litmus and Deep.

waterhen1's picture
waterhen1's picture
waterhen1 commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 8:50am

a grommet I was, witness to the big guy from narra destroying dy point. Possibly the best surfing on the planet at the time. Simon by PC was everywhere.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 6:11pm

I hope this comes across as a compliment but I kinda consider Swellnet the Deep of surfing websites.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming's picture
indo-dreaming commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 7:10pm

Think i only ever bought one issue of this mag, the Indonesia one, id just stopped buying surf mags by then, but i still have it and its quite a good mag.

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 7:29pm

who was the Tracks Ed who suffered the burn from Carroll ?

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 7:50pm

Surely you'd know that.....

Tim Baker?

Nah.....hang on.....he was at ASL.

Fuck.....it annoys me that I don't know cause I read em' all back then.

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 7:51pm

Neil ridgeway? was Ed 94-97 ie the lead up to Deep starting

ringmaster's picture
ringmaster's picture
ringmaster commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 7:54pm

Bang on L.D

nickcarroll's picture
nickcarroll's picture
nickcarroll commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 8:12pm

There's no personal burn here. Tracks was a bit bigger than its editor at the time. It was tapped into Australian surfing pride, which was hurt by Kelly and co's rise. It had no option but to reflect that.

There's plenty of bitterness in Australian surfing culture aside from that given rise to by the early '90s.

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 10:20pm

I can’t remember, but did Kelly being sponsored by Quiksilver who were now based in the US add to that?

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 8:31pm

sure is, you've only got to read some of the score-settling in any surf star's memoir to realise that.

probably a universal human trait though if Shakespeare is to be believed.

You get any of that Uesi swell Nick, I thought you were going to come up here and get a piece of it.

Surf Ads's picture
Surf Ads's picture
Surf Ads commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 8:37pm

How was the point?

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 8:39pm

big and good.

nickcarroll's picture
nickcarroll's picture
nickcarroll commented Monday, 24 Feb 2020 at 10:53am

I did but I got stuck on the Goldie. Then came back to Syd and surfed the Friday, it was bombing! Craziest day in ages.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 8:29pm

'High Plains Drifter'

You need to revisit that style, Steve.

 

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 8:38pm

straight Conrad rip-off Stu, literate man like yourself should have picked that one up.

buy you a Sixpack of your favourite hipster beer if you can guess the angry local it was based on (hint: now dead).

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 9:28pm

I remember buying a few of these when I was just getting right into surfing.
Can still remember that cover of Padang inside looking out shot. Mustafa Jekson if I remember right?
Also Parko’s uncle on one.
Brings back young memories

thedrip's picture
thedrip's picture
thedrip commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 9:31pm

I loved Deep. It’s really hard to find mags and stories that don’t pander to illiterate, mono-syllabic dweeb monkeys. I pretty much never buy mags now. Reiterative pics with “slap on the back” boys club stories.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 9:57pm

So much for the online replacement of print .

Besides Swellnet there’s.....nothing .

Beach grit ? Sharks and hair salon “ industry “ gossip . Longtom is the only reason to ever visit if I’m honest. Surf ads should pull the pin.

Stab ? Beach grit without sharks. Fuckers have non ironic conversations about which pro surfers are a “ good fit “ with which surf label’s contrived image.

What else is there ?

Doesn’t the subscription model work for stand alone editorial online ?

tango's picture
tango's picture
tango commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 1:20am

Cmon Blowin, you've got to get into The Horse, mate. Bloody brilliant. Different medium to Swellnet.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 8:38am

I bought a few issues at the fag end of my magazine obsession. It’s been years since I’ve been into a newsagent now. Great magazine though.

The print concept is just too expensive to justify these days.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 12:17pm

I take back what I said about Stab.

Their video productions are leading edge. Forgot all about that part of their identity

https://youtu.be/S5rAqQb3rBk

The website itself isn’t worth much at all.

jayet-010's picture
jayet-010's picture
jayet-010 commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 10:51pm

Who took the MP photo?

Would look good on my wall!

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 10:56pm

The one on the cover?
Says it's a PC

Seymour Scagnetti's picture
Seymour Scagnetti's picture
Seymour Scagnetti commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 12:17am

Great article and clearly a major gust of fresh air and validity at the time. Highlights how shit the Machine is so much of the time. The audience was obviously there. And still is!

Spuddups's picture
Spuddups's picture
Spuddups commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 6:22am

Am I imagining things or did MP have a bit of a poo stance?

Sheep go to heaven's picture
Sheep go to heaven's picture
Sheep go to heaven commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 7:30am

Yea White Horses is a great mag - goes off on all sorts of interesting tangents - a knife maker here , a sculptor there . All sorts of really interesting travel stories . and the photos .....

bill-poster's picture
bill-poster's picture
bill-poster commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 7:42am

Phil J's Oz version of Surfers Journal went under around the same time? Think that was to do with the Asian financial crisis, printing costs or something? Also great while it lasted.

boxright's picture
boxright's picture
boxright commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 7:57am

For mine its another reminder how intertwined surf media and the industry where back then. Not saying Deep were compromised, no fear or favour etc, but if their very existence relied on surf company gratitude they were always vulnerable. Though it's no doubt easier to say that in hindsight from the far side of the GFC.

Surf Ads's picture
Surf Ads's picture
Surf Ads commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 9:54am

That's the nexus I'm so interested in - how do you fund quality journalism/writing without relying om the industry that supports it?

Obviously Swellnet does a good job with paid subscription, but it's still a difficult ask nowadays. Beach Grit does it with a million pop up ads.

The rest still basically follow the same model of old. But I think readers are waking up to it, and asking the right questions as to how the whole model works.

Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 8:31am

Working with Nick on Deep was probs the most fulfilling period of my design career. We really gave it all we had. Eternally grateful to Peter Morrison and to Nick for the privilege.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 9:57am

Got a kick out of getting the whole Deep back catalogue out and tracking the changes, especially in light of the 'Sledgehammer' article.

nickcarroll's picture
nickcarroll's picture
nickcarroll commented Monday, 24 Feb 2020 at 10:57am

Likewise Gra.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 9:55am

I bought pretty much every mag from early-80s onwards, but those last three years of Deep were the publication I felt the greatest affinity with. Partly a time of life thing, as around that period a lot of my friends were quitting surfing while I was doubling down, immersing myself ever deeper, and partly shared interests, as I cared about the topics they wrote about.

I remember renewing my subscription and receiving a short and presumptuous reply: 'Deep' is finishing so we're rolling your sub over to ASL.

Err thanks...

Nice to finally get to the bottom of it.

curbs's picture
curbs's picture
curbs commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 10:15am

ASL or Deep. For PM it must have been like choosing your favourite child.....and learning that you'd made the wrong choice.

channel-bottom's picture
channel-bottom's picture
channel-bottom commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 2:35pm

I guess I was exactly the target market for Deep at the time. Not interested in the youth focused content of ASL, Waves or Tracks but interested in surfing and good writing.

Deep was fantastic and a real loss when it finished up. White Horses seems to made up of a very similar team and is at a similar level of quality in terms of writing content, photo's and production. I'm a long term subscriber and haven't subscribed to anything in print for years.

Anyone have a back collection of Deep they want to part with?

Womble123's picture
Womble123's picture
Womble123 commented Monday, 24 Feb 2020 at 1:49pm

Nah but i do have about 20 years worth of Surfing and Surfer from 2000 to date (well Surfing until they went under) plus a fair few Tracks etc.... I'd swop for something useful!

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 3:55pm

Great book/ mag,
Was a time in ones life when surfing was a top priority, so much so I only purchased the odd issue. Or borrowed and read them from the library.
Stumbled upon most issues about ten years later.
Picked em up for a steal from some old book store in coolie, for a dollar or so a piece.
Great to revisit, ironically they aged well........
Thanks.

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 4:03pm

Would also say that recreational Australian surfing was in a great place at the time.
Pre superbank.
Plenty of cheap great local boards to be had.
Less crowded line ups.
Less surfing population.
Less " casual workforce"
Less fucking kooks.....there I said it.
No Fucken jet skis !
Loved the late 90s.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 9:32pm

Don't forget cheap coastal land and cheap coastal rent...
35K flat near the sea with $65p/w rent

Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean's picture
Lanky Dean commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 9:44pm

LOL I was actually going to re edit to include, then just decided not to bother...late 90s style ...

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 9:37pm

Oh yeah, Swellnet is the Deep of today. Right down to the white background on the cover. Serious compliment, well done guys, I hope the subscription and quality keep you independent for a long time :)

Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch's picture
Gra Murdoch commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 7:27am

Here's some trivia for yers The mag's moniker “Deep" was coined by Derek Reilly who was editing ASL at the time.

Henry's picture
Henry's picture
Henry commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 10:22am

Get onto White Horses fellas – beautiful images, great deep long reads with meaning – for either the coffee table or the outhouse… High quality production that can be gone over again and again…

Rojosh's picture
Rojosh's picture
Rojosh commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 9:42pm

2 things That had a profound affect on me .. Litmus
And ASL dropping the AUSTRALIAN out of they’re name

julioadler's picture
julioadler's picture
julioadler commented Wednesday, 26 Feb 2020 at 5:52am

Bought some Deep mags in California and Hawaii - impossible to find in Brasil.
Friend of mine, Rick Werneck, got me a couple he received as a photographer contributor.
It was a feast!
Aussie humour/sarcasm and delicious tales.
D.C. Green in his prime was priceless.
Thanks Surf Ads for the memory.
(all my magazines are stored in a friends house far from where i live...)

spelled3's picture
spelled3's picture
spelled3 commented Wednesday, 4 Mar 2020 at 8:12am

Fun read. I was OS late '90s and only ever read one issue of Deep that I found at the oppy a few years ago. It was great. Another nice write-up Surfads.