The Coast News Group
Steve ‘Pez’ Pezman about to say the eulogy at the recent memorial of his close friend Jackie Baxter. Photo by Chris Ahrens
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: Lessons from Pez the Prez

Above: Steve ‘Pez’ Pezman about to say the eulogy at the recent memorial of his close friend Jackie Baxter. Photo by Chris Ahrens

 

I first became aware of Steve Pezman after seeing his photo in a 1964 Surf Guide Magazine where he showed power and grace while riding a wave at Lower Trestles.

The next time I heard of him, years later, he was the editor of the most prestigious surfing magazine of its time, Surfer.

I never knew if Pez, as he was and is affectionately known, had earned his editorial stripes in college, or if he was simply a gifted wordsmith, dependent upon a keen mind and a wide range of experiences.

I only know that before his days in print he was a surfboard shaper and a salesman for Jack Haley Surfboards in Seal Beach.

Beginning in the mid-‘70s, during his tenure at Surfer, I would occasionally walk into his little office with my sloppily hand-printed stories, expecting that he would want to publish them.

In my thinking, tales of Mexico surf trips in the $100 1954 Ford station wagon I owned half of with my friend, Dave, or the sad story of the destruction of Dana Point were worthy of a Surfer feature.

Looking back, I’m glad Pez never published them — they may have had some sparkle, but any gems found were buried deeply beneath typos and inaccuracies.

Still, Pez was encouraging and helpful as he patiently put on his reading glasses, skimming the article while occasionally looking up to get clarification on one word or another.

He was generally complimentary in his appraisal of my work but inevitably would return the crumpled pages to me with a smile, a nod, and the suggestion that I try again.

And try again I did, striking out each time like a pro baseball player approaching the plate with a toy bat.

In time I did break into Surfer Magazine. Just when I was comfortable there, I got a call from Pez saying that he was starting his own publication and wanted to meet with me about doing some writing.

I drove to the small office space and sat down to discuss something a concept he called The Surfer’s Journal.

The magazine, he said, would be more like a book, perfect bound with only five advertisements and a cover price of $12.95.

This was in a time of $2.50 surf mags, and I still recall registering sticker shock and thinking that nothing about the new publication made sense to me.

Again, I wrote (printing it out neatly this time) a short piece on the passing of our mutual friend, Hawaiian legend Buddy Boy Kaohi.

To my surprise, the magazine became an instant hit in the surfing world and quickly became everyone’s favorite surfing publication.

I began to write longer pieces for Pezman, the longest being a massive tome called “Welcome To Windansea.”

It’s probably been 15 years since I drove Scott Hulet up to meet Pez and we all went to lunch.

Hulet had worked with me on some small projects and, seeing his vast literary potential, I wanted to help land him a writing gig worthy of his talents.

After taking the helm of Longboard Magazine, Scott made the short hop to the editor’s chair at The Journal, a position he continues to hold down.

I don’t see Pezman often anymore — mostly at surf shows or, increasingly, memorials for friends we have known.

As always, he is witty, honest, and eloquent in speech.

Then, I think of that day in his first SJ office where I inwardly scoffed at the idea of a surfing magazine costing as much as breakfast for two with a handful of ads for support.

A quarter century has shown me how wrong I can be. If he ever decides to start another magazine, listen up — it will surpass everything that has come before.