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Skip Snead. For those readers of Surfing magazine back in the mid-90s you know his verse well. A former editor of said publication, he's also the creator of the "air show" concept, which if you think about it, puts him right in the mix when it comes to talking about today's progression obsession. By 2003 the air show era had essentially come to a close, but their impact is still being seen in just about every World Tour heat you watch. These days Snead edits and publishes an Orange County-based surf rag called Ghetto Juice, which is worth a look if you have the means (it's free). And most recently he brought the air show back to his backyard at 54th Street in Newport Beach. Here's the man in his own words:
Tell us about the beginning of the air shows?
The idea for the air shows came about during the North Shore winter of '95/'96 when Barney Barron and I were going for some lunch, driving on Kam Hwy, talking about doing an aerials-only contest. Everyone was so stoked that we could pull all these great aerial surfers together in one place, plus all the air guys knew they'd never have a chance on the ASP, so the air show tour began. The first year had $3,000 in prize money, but by '99 Vans would jump on as title sponsor and prize money went up to $100,000 over the next few years, and there were a few new air show world champs, like Christian Fletcher, Ratboy and Randy "Goose" Welch from Maui.
Where did the air shows ever go?
After I left Surfing Mag for Bluetorch, which sucked, the air show expanded, but not in a great way. They introduced scaffolds, and pop-up tents, and proper judging, and even a rulebook. The rulebook was the death of the air shows in or around 2003. So many guys, not enough focus on the air masters. It turned into a donkey show.
Why bring them back now?
Bringing them back now because kids are all practicing airs every single day. Airs rule, and most comps, it's three to the beach. Sure, the big guns do airs, but maybe only a few during an event. The air show, well, in the first round of ours, we had over 40 successful airs landed. It's all about grassroots, hanging at the beach, no pressure, just big airs. It was way more of a hit now than it was 15 years ago when we started, and the kids couldn't be more stoked. Kolohe didn't win the air show, and was competing for just $1,000, but he wouldn't have missed it. Too much fun, too much good energy he said.
Was this one in Newport a one off, or are would you like to see more on the calendar?
The Ghetto Juice Air show presented by Sanuk was definitely the start of the Ghetto Juice Air Show World Tour. After the first one, we have official world air show rankings! Mason Ho is the leader. Next one will be held during the U.S. Open, and all the guys want to do it ... as well others.
A lot of people credit the air shows for taking "progressive surfing" to the level it's at today, what's your feeling about the impact they had?
The original air shows were legendary and had people all over the world talking. Talking about how the air show positioned the ASP, and for a while almost made it look like a joke, air shows were happening. Thank god the ASP started their Dream Tour, or it might've turned into one big air show. I'm pretty stoked how the early air shows influenced the world, most importantly waking up the ASP and letting them know the world's best surfers don't just compete on the tour. Looking back, I am actually blown away that the air shows had so much impact. The copy cat air shows that have been happening all over the world since then have always been a guilty pleasure. Sometimes I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard the world "air show." I guess Simon might feel that way about the Thruster ... if he had a nickel for every set of thrusters.
And your little grassroots publication, tell us about Ghetto Juice?
Ghetto juice is a mag I started in '92, but scrapped it when I got hired by Nick Carroll at Surfing magazine. I credit Nick Carroll for giving me my big shot at Surfing. All these years later, I found myself scouring the Internet for cool content, and couldn't find much. I ran into former Surfer art director and Hurley creative guy Joe McElroy on the beach about a year ago and asked him if he'd want to partner up and put out a sick mag for the kids ... OC flavored, of course. And here we are, six issues out! Seems like a lot when you do it all yourself.
Regarding why we started a mag in this day and age of Internet, it was really about a strong desire to return to my roots of magazine making. Taking the time to produce an issue, not rushing to get it on the web, or spoil content. So that was a reason, basically making mags is so much fun! The other reason is because there are so many photogs and young surfers in OC who rip, but might not ever make it into one of the big mags. And we're hoping to drive people into surf shops once again so they can pick up the mag and buy a bar of wax rather than buying their surf mags and wax from a liquor store.
As a former editor of Surfing, what's your take on the "surf media" landscape?
Washed out, over produced, and over art directed. The big two mags, Surfer and Surfing, well, Surfing's leading the way, followed by Transworld, then Surfer's at the bottom ... a bit of an identity crisis it seems to me. The big mags are so political, so full of ads, that Ghetto Juice truly is a breath of fresh air. We've had nothing but good things come from the groms who love it. Plus, it's been over 10 years since a free mag called Wave Action ... but that was the worst magazine ever, worst photos, etc. Ghetto Juice is just trying to have fun and keep the sport of surfing loose and carefree, no rules.
Where's the mag headed?
I think we're gonna grow here and maybe start shipping it internationally. There seems to be a lot of interest regarding the OC surf scene and its surfers. Plus, it seems the world's always coming around here.
Finally, best thing you ever saw at an air show?
The best thing I saw? It would have to be at our Ghetto Juice Air Show when Mason Ho beat Gorkin in the final doing a move Gorkin invented in the older air shows ... a Gorkin Roll. Talk about irony.
But still to this day Nathan Fletcher is the best air show performer I have ever seen. Although his older brother won the first world title, Nathan held his own. Performing the first 720 on a surfboard -- barely missed sticking it -- that was during the Santa Cruz air show in 1999, and then Nathan again later that summer in Newport, he launched a six-foot frontside air that he stuck ... and you still don't see too much of that today. I guess the best thing also would be crowning bona fide world aerial champs like Fletcher, Ratboy, Barney.