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Into the mind of Derek Rielly

An interview with the co-founder of Stab Magazine and Beach Grit.

Credit Photo: via Banks Journal

There’s a lot of factors that helped surfing become a renowned sport and allowed surfers to get a paycheque out of their passion, but there’s one aspect that we forget too often: the journalists.

Journalists in surf magazines helped pushes the surfing world in a specific way, for the bad or for the good. They share their visions of the world while allowing surfers to get their own voice out there, selling the dream of catching flawless waves to the most naive: the readers. But, as everything in life, there’s a dark side of the surf media industry and it is the lack of honesty. We show the good and the excitement, but keep hiding the weakness of this ideal world. It’s all about marketing and how companies will react to what we say, and that’s something really hard to avoid. But with Derek Rielly, it’s different. 

Originally from Perth, Derek founded Stab Magazine back in 2004 to finally end up launching (again) a personal project, BeachGrit! Obviously, Chas Smith and Rory Parker, his popular acolytes, jumped on board as well. His style is entertaining and honest, even though he goes on the serious side once in a while. What he thinks, he writes. And, that’s something rare. In an anxious surfing world, where everything could have an impact, he speaks freely about what he wants and this is the wonderful thing.

We asked him a couple of questions as it is someone we look up to, but especially, because he’s a strange piece of the surfing world that puts a smile on our face. 

That’s what surfing is all about, no? 

Surf culture is a self-centred world and people would easily be scared to speak with integrity about it; not you. Approaching the whole culture with rawness and fun is something that made you stand out. Were you scared of being totally upright in your writing while covering stories? 

I do believe, very much, in the Oscar Wilde maxim, “Moderation is fatal. Nothing succeeds like excess.” I used it on my CV when I first applied for a magazine job (at ASL). I see self-censorship everywhere and it drives me nuts. Scared? Only of being ruined financially by Australia’s tough defamation laws. Truth ain’t a defence here. 

Honest in your writing, but also when you publish. 

I once read an article about Paul Sargeant, “The Bottomless Vortex of Indulgence: Sarge”. You’ve published it while being the editor of Stab, and it was involving a lot of research and psychological aspects. A lot of editors would have ignored the article, as it was a delicate subject. What pushed you to publish it on Stab? 

Mostly, I avoid sex and drug stories. Who wants to carpet bomb a man just ’cause he likes kinky. The Paul Sargent story was different. Darker. If we didn’t break the story, who would? I chose Fred Pawle to write it because he has no hidden agendas, no ties to the industry, nothing except a reporter’s eye for a good story. 

Most people aren’t confident enough to reveal the truth as they are scared. Honesty is dead nowadays, but reading your writing that has no restrictions and a light tons is really inspiring. 

It is? I’m thrilled! 

 Stab aesthetic changed through the years, but their style stays unique. Stab aesthetic changed through the years, but their style stays unique.

Stab got launch almost 12 years ago, isn’t? Why did you want to launch your own surf magazine? 

The first issue of Stab was January 2004. Back then, rivers of gold flowed into print magazines. Sam (the other founder) and I could walk into a meeting with Billabong, say, and an hour later, we’d be a hundred grand richer. That isn’t the case in 2016. 

And I do prefer online to print. May I be honest? I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate writing for print. You spend a few weeks on a story, if it’s relatively minor, months if it’s serious. You hand it over to a designer who sits on it until a day before deadline. It then goes to the printer, proofs come back, it gets printed, it takes weeks to go on sale, and after all that you rarely get any feedback. A torturous process. Writing online is immediate, the feedback is immediate, and if you screw up grammatically you can quickly change it. I pray for the death of print. 

You are now fully online on your own paradise, BeachGrit, which is well-known to be raw & casual writing. What do you like the most about your readers? 

Oh, we’re all addicted to the spike of Google Analytics. Every reader is a little drop of dopamine! 

 Mostly by Derek Rielly and Chas Smith, BeachGrit! looks like the outsider of surfing - the one we are all hooked on!  Mostly by Derek Rielly and Chas Smith, BeachGrit! looks like the outsider of surfing – the one we are all hooked on! 

I’ll just be honest and say that asking you questions is quite stressful. Am I asking too many things? Or maybe not enough? 

When doing interviews, do you always limit yourself or you simply let it flow? 

Interviews should never be free-flow, I think, unless the subject is immensely quotable. An interview should engage and challenge the subject. Most interviewers are too busy trying to befriend the subject to create any sort of meaningful dialogue. I know the feeling. I’ve been there. No pro athlete is your friend. It’s a business arrangement. He, she, gives quotes. You give publicity. 

What do you think of surf journalism nowadays? Did it evolve in a good way? 

Some good, some not so good. There’s a million better writers than me, but, if you’ll allow me to flatter myself, very few with a better eye for what works.

If you could dig through all the articles you wrote, what was your favourite story to cover? 

The forgotten history of the 1989 world champion Martin Potter. I wrote a fundamental piece of surf history that was missing, reunited Martin with his estranged father, and made enough cash to buy a 1961 Rolex Air King.

A creative job isn’t an easy path to take, you need to deal with tons of criticism. Was it your career dream goal as a kid? 

My dream goal was to work little, surf much. If I could sail back in time, I’d study architecture.

Between us two, you are the journalist, and I am the amateur. You do this all the time and have been writing in surf magazines for what seems like forever. Is there a particular question you always wanted to answer?

Nobody has ever asked me why I enjoy fox hunting so much. I love being in the saddle! I love seeing a cornered fox!

Follow him through BeachGrit!


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