Derek Rielly is one third of the trio behind Beach Grit: the popular online thorn in the side of the surf industry. We chat with him about what makes him tick and why a less serious mentality is more often a better one when it comes to approaching surf.
So you’re from Perth in West Aus, what was it like growing up on the ‘other’ coast of Australia? Did it help you become the journalist you are now? What’s the main difference between those from the West and the East coasts?
Let me tell you about Perth. It’s a Tale of Two Cities, least it was when I was riding my little bike around town. Y’either grow up south of the river, in the suburbs, not so much poor as locked into football and whatever else. I liked motos and throwing rocks through windows. When I hit 13 I was old enough to ride my bike an hour and a bit to Cables and Cottesloe, a couple of crummy beaches.
North? You’re on the river or the beach. You have a boat so you surf at Rottnest and the outer reefs. You might even have a grotto to park your boat at your riverfront house.
Did it impact on my writing? On journalism? Yeah, I think it did. I came from not much so I never really had much to lose. If you really want me to be frank, I don’t think of myself as a writer, more an editor who can assemble what I hope is an Evelyn Waugh-Huysmans-Tom Wolfe-sque paragraph or two. Here’s a little trip down memory lane. I had to write an advice column for ASL and, suddenly, the old Oscar Wilde quote, “Nothing Succeeds Like Excess” hit me and I wrote as if nothing mattered. I didn’t expect it to be printed. I just wanted to have fun. The publisher was stunned at my sheaf of handwritten pages (“You wrote this?”) and it made me realise the importance of writing freely, without self-censorship or worrying what people might eventually think. My goal, which I’m yet to reach, is to write exactly how I think.
How does one go from being a blackjack dealer to running ASL Mag in only a few years?
Saw an ad for Editorial Assistant at ASL in a newspaper during my break. The way the blackjack game works is you take twenty minutes off every hour. Asked my brother to write me a story, stole another one from Tracks, put it all in a CV and got the gig. Doors opened quickly, newspapers, other magazines etc.
Humor has obviously played a huge role in your success, being able to poke fun at a lifestyle sport that’s notoriously known for being ego driven and pretty serious [at least the tour], what pushed you to take that route?
I never felt surfing was a terribly serious pursuit. And, in the real early days, like nineties, I called up Brock Little and asked what he liked so much about ASL and he told me, “Because you don’t take surfing seriously.” It confirmed everything I instinctively felt and convinced me I was on, maybe not the right track, but…at least an original…track.
So from ASL, you went and created Surf Europe in France, then Waves Mag to Stab and now BeachGrit. What’s your goal and overall mission of the new project?
Real talk? Make cash and laugh my ass off with my friends Chas and Rory. Everything had gotten a little stiff, which it does from time to time, and we felt like we could have some fun and that our humour, and hopefully a more worldly, less surf-industry oriented view, might connect.
Where are you living now? Where’s BeachGrit HQ?
We’re so almighty and dynamic and powerful we have three bureaus: LA with Chas Smith, Bondi with me and Kauai with Rory Parker.
Is surf print dead? Did the online comments section kill the surf mag?
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 tortuous 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.
Did online comments kill the mags? No, the inability of companies to shell out tens of thousands of dollars for paper ads that reached very few people did.
Speaking of print, what’s up with your column on Sydney Herald? How’s the reaction been to that?
I just finished up with that, as it happens. They wanted me to write listicles. Screw that. I used to write about religion, abortion, the rise of Islam in the west etc. Ten Things Every New Dad Should Know isn’t something that excites me…
Beach Grit seems like it loves to create controversy, you ever been entangled in a controversy worthy enough for the BeachGrit homepage?
Little old me? Oh, I’m such a homebody! I like cats and serious non-fiction books.
What’ve you got in store for us this year?
A video series. It’s called Like Bitchin! Shot by a squadron (I can’t say squad) of very sharp filmmakers! I think you’ll love. Jared Mell is going to be in an episode!