For sale: The world's biggest surf magazine collection
The entire written history of surfing history exists in Al Hunt's garage. It's a catacomb housing almost 600 magazine titles from 41 countries documenting every aspect of surfing - every contest, fashion, design change, and cultural shift - over the last century.
It's all sitting right where Al's XB Falcon should be.
Al has spent over forty years in pro surf administration, first with the IPS, then with the ASP, and lastly with the WSL. All the travel allowed him to indulge his complulsion, collecting magazines from around the world.
But this July it's all coming to an end. Al is retiring from his role at the Wozzle, so not only will the collecting cease, but he and his wife are downsizing the house and the collection can't come.
Swellnet spoke to Al about his beloved collection cum retirement fund.
Swellnet: When did you begin collecting surf magazines?
Al Hunt: Well, I started back in the '60s. 1966, I think it was, when I went to Bells. I went down with Alby Falzon and Col Smith. We stopped in at Bob Evans' place to ride down in his car. Down on the floor, there was a whole pile of 'Surfing World' mags from number one, right through. I said, "Oh, can I have one?" and Bob said, "Yeah, grab one of each."
Surfing World had been going for a few years by then, I think they were quarterlies at that stage. There may have been about ten of them, and that started off my 'Surfing World' collection, and my whole magazine collection.
For most people, magazines are transient, you read them and then dispose of them. But clearly you don't. Why not?
I don't know. I mean, I used to cut things out of 'Tracks' - stick them up on my wall. But then I just decided, and I can't really say why, but I went, "Oh, I'm going to start getting collections and everything," and I'd go through all the mags, make sure every page is there, there's no cutouts, the whole thing.
So I started getting full sets of everything. Then I got hold of about a thousand magazines off a guy that was getting rid of them, and from then I just went, "Oh, I've got to get everything." And as I was travelling around the world I could.
So not just Australian mags?
It was just Australian at the start, and some American ones, and then travelling around the world I gradually started picking up stuff here, there and everywhere, and finding out all the different mags, and making it a mission to get full sets of everything, and get everything I could.
Were you reading them along the way?
Not really. Just collecting. For a few years there I was getting 70 magazines a month.
More than two a day, every day!
Probably about 50 to 60% of my magazines are brand new. They've never been even thumbed through. They're all brand new.
So what is it,19,000 pieces?
Yeah, probably a bit more
How much space does 19,000 mags take up?
Well, they're stored in about 400 cartons at the moment and it takes up almost a whole double garage. The car's out on the street.
Have the moths attacked any of them?
Nah. Being in New South Wales - I'm on the Central Coast - the weather's good. There's not too much moisture. It's pretty good for storage. Plus I keep insect bombing and stuff.
Over the years, there have been some magazines that are much more historically important than others, say they have famous articles, 'We're Tops Now', or 'Busting Down the Door', do you count issues like that as favourites?
Nah, I don't really have favourite issues.
Well, which ones do you think are the most historically important?
That depends on what you want for history. If you want competition, or what we ride, or you want the history of surfing....how it all began.
I'm gathering that your collection is just too big for favourtism. OK, how would the market see it? First issue of 'Tracks', how much would that fetch on eBay? $1,000..?
It'd be up there. Like, first edition 'Tracks' were once $500 or $600, though I think prices have gone down a little bit. I sold two sets of 'Tracks', actually three sets of 'Tracks', for four grand each.
You sold one of them to 'Tracks' itself, didn't you?
Yeah, I finished off one of their collections they had.
An ex-editor of Tracks once told me that the insects had nothing on the staff, that bit by bit, the office collection would disappear.
Yep. So I finished them off once, completed their collection, but then all of a sudden it started to dwindle again. So when Neil Ridgway was there, he bought a full set and had them all bound. They were bound by the year, bound volumes, and then put under lock and key so the chances of them disappearing were slim.
Do do you talk to many other collectors out around the world?
Yeah. There's a few. There's a few around. A guy down in Victoria, Bob Smith's got a pretty reasonable collection. And Mick Mock used to deal with mags all the time, though I haven't talked to Mick for a while.
There's a lot of collectors in California.
That's where the most of the money would be, wouldn't it?
Yeah, but that said, the Americans really only collect American magazines.
Why am I not surprised by that?
Whereas I was collecting everything, from all around the world. There's a few guys around that collect here and there, but they're probably up maybe 5,000 or 6,000 pieces.
I heard a rumour that you not only have the largest collection in the world, but also the second largest collection in the world. Is that true?
Yeah. My swaps are around 6,000 or so of double ups.
How's it going to feel, Al, when you stop collecting?
I don't know. Ask me after it stops.
It also might depend how much you get paid for the collection.
So what are you asking? To buy everything at once, what's the price..?
I want two hundred grand. I'd been asking two hundred grand US. I'd certainly take 180 grand Aussie, which is 10 bucks a magazine. You can't buy the surf magazine these days, for 10 bucks.
Also, it's not just the magazine collection, which is complete, but all the double ups too, and then there are thousands and thousands of surf contest posters. There's so many posters. I've got twenty posters from Bells in 1980, and so on. Everything can be sold on eBay, so whoever buys it can make most of the money back straight away, if they've got time to sell it that way.
How long's it been on the market for?
Maybe a year.
Any bites yet?
A couple of people are interested. A lot of people want bits and pieces of it. You know, one guy wants to buy all the Japanese magazines, and then everybody's coming up, "Oh, I want to get this 'Tracks,'" or, "I want to get this 'Surfer'," but I don't want to break up the collection. It's too valuable as a full collection.
Are there any government organisations that would purchase it?
I don't know.
Ted Grambeau told me once that, I think it was Google are taking magazine collections, scanning them and putting them online, so you can get everything online. It might be worth talking to them.
What about Dirk Ziff?
Nah, he wouldn't be interested. I don't see him being interested in it.
Not a viable option? They're culturally relevant. If they all became property of the WSL, they'd have access to all the surfing histories.
Yeah, but probably not at the moment, it's probably not a good time to put anything to him.
I haven't put that to him, but the other thing is that there's a really good business that can be made from it. Luke Egan was looking at buying it a while ago, for doing like a clipping service. So, if a surfer like... well, like like Luke, or anybody... Ian Cairns, whatever, ever had a photo in a magazine, you can charge for the clipping service.
I used to get emails, "Oh, my father's turning 60 this year, and he was on a page six of Surfing World in 1970, and I want to get the photo." I'd get stuff like that all the time.
So you can charge people as a clipping service. Imagine like Kelly Slater...imagine his history in surf magazines. Kelly, although he's a bit of a tightarse, he wouldn't pay, but all the other surfers would be up for everything, because they don't have it that record of their careers. They've got no idea.
The whole collection would have to be scanned.
Yeah, but there's machines they have in libraries that scan magazines, and flip the pages one at a time. They go through and do it.
Then, if it's scanned with optical character recognition, then you can do a search, print it all out and put it on a disc drive or whatever. Or print it out as a book-type thing for them. You could sell it to them, but you can't sell it publicly.
Yeah, because all the photographers would have to be paid for every photo, but as a clipping service for an individual, you can do it.
You mentioned that Luke Egan was keen at one point.
Yeah, Luke was looking into it. He was trying to get a couple of guys, and then some things happened to Luke, and it didn't happen.
How long are you willing to wait until you get the right buyer?
I reckon by the end of the year, if I haven't been able to get anyone then I'm going to start selling it off sets at a time. I'll sell a set of Tracks, the Surfing World, this and that. It'll take a long time to get rid of everything, but it'll be worth a lot more individually. It'll be worth a lot more.
Well good luck selling them Al.
If you hear of anyone that's keen, let me know.