The great zeldini (steve zeldin) brews up all the magic on and off the pages of all your favorite surf books. being the editor of transworld surf to water mag zelidni has brought that magic into your hands as the wordsmith behind the whole act. besides being the editor in chief with radical status, zeldo is a loving dad who strokes the guit pretty damn well, goes fast down the line and jams with his fam. so we rolled some tape, and shot a few questions about where the surf industry stands Today.
Abstractfilth: How did you get the name “Zeldini?
Steve Zeldin: From a magic show I did when I was 13. I was ‘The Great Zeldini’, channeling the secrets of the great magician Harry Houdini…sort of. In college one of my friends called me that again out of the blue so it was reborn.
You’ve been responsible for molding athletes, so how do you decipher who is going to make it and who isn’t?
The media has ways of creating little darlings. It’s usually surfers who’s talent stands out, and that are also cool and humble. There’s a lot of bitch-kitties out there, which is not who you want to promote, but sometimes those are also the best surfers. Unless you’re one of the top fifty or hundred best surfers in the world, then having an X-Factor really helps, like also being a surfboard designer, an artist, a musician, or just a pioneer or visionary; Think Tom Curren, Kelly, Machado, Rastovich, Jack Johnson, Derek Hynd..all guys who surf insane and also stand out in different ways.
Where do you think the industry is going in the future?
It will be interesting. There’s a shakedown happening that hasn’t occurred on this level in a long time. It’s getting harder to make it as a surf brand. Quikky, the biggest ever, has quite a changing landscape, internally, though they are still committed to their roots..they are supporting Pro surfing events, revisiting product that built their brand with regard to boardshorts, and still performing on so many levels, despite the industry jibber-jabber. ‘Bong has a really strong surf team, always has, and continue to focus on their endemic strength in lieu of big-picture challenges. The public doesn’t care about any of the here-say, that’s where the surf industry needs to take note. Rip Curl has humbly continued to manifest incredible surf stars and have always made the most respected wetsuits, along with O’Neill whom is hopefully poised to roll out their next big move soon. Those are the 4 oldest, biggest, most established brands, that still exist, and they will always either reinvent themselves or go back to their roots…something you can’t fake. Vans celebrated their 50th Anniversary last week, and along with these – and of course other brands that have been around since the beginning of the Surf Industry – have withstood the test of time and will always dominate. So where the industry is going is still in their hands..it’s theirs to lose. You'd have Hurley and Volcom in that equation now too.. Rusty, Oakley… RVCA was the last brand to really breakthrough the barrier and make a core statement, not including some successful board builders and eyewear and accessory companies, but on the big stage you’d now include Vissla.. If another brand is going to be considered top shelf these days, and command major retail rack space, they’re really gonna have to spend serious coin on big-name team riders and sponsor events and create product that is unique, and quality, and stands out. That all takes a long-ass time and a lot of extremely talented, experienced peeps all on the same page, working toward the same huge goal. A business is only as good as the number of good people involved. The Action Sports and surfing game is so fun, and challenging….it’s why so many people want to get into it, because it’s so compelling; You try, you fail, you learn, then you win…or you die with your boots on. It takes some time.
Being the legendary wordsmith you are, what is a key ingredient to cooking up a good book?
I think you have to create something that will allow people to talk about themselves freely. You need to ask your subject a clever question then just shut up and let them roll. It used to be all about magazines, and it still is and always will be to an extent..but the internet rules the world now so you have to really master that approach. Readers want more info in less time. More bang for their buck. Regardless, the work is done on the front end. You must ask good questions. If you want to sell a car for a profit, you make your money when you buy the car, if you buy it right. Planning is everything.
Do you find any correlation with your music and style of writing?
Definitely. All style needs flow, that’s where it’s born. You have to find a rhythm, like with surfing. When good songs are in your head, when you’re flowing and smooth, you have an undeniable tempo to your act. There are a lot of pros, guys on tour, that seem erratic…that can attack the lip, but don’t necessarily seem in a natural sync with the wave. A good drummer only hits a crash cymbal at the right time…he never overdoes that. That’s the same approach I feel on a guitar and how it has help guide my surfing and career. I think if you play or enjoy music it will bring something key to your surfing. I think punk rock and surfing are a huge combo, or any really driving music. It fuels your stoke..energizes you. Then again Pat O’Connell used to psych to Shania Twain before a heat in his headphones, and he fucken shreds. So that theory is up for debate. But Pat plays guitar too, so maybe there’s the spin.
What else is on your plate besides being a dad and overseeing one of the sickest joints, What Youth?
What Youth is going killer. I’m just a bit of the horsepower behind the scenes on that, but Travis and Scott and crew have been kicking ass since the beginning, and now it’s gaining some real traction in the surf world and deservedly so…it’s really entertaining. We also just launched, Herewith, a rad new girls’ lifestyle site and mag. Some former Roxy honchos are at the helm and the industry is fired up on it, so that will be exciting. I own a video production company too which has quietly been kicking ass for the past five years since Surfline bought me out of Water, and Foam magazines, so I’m trying to surf a lot and just really enjoying being a dad. My two-year old son loves the ocean and is such a little comedian and super fun to hang with. His mom and I are creating a lifestyle brand based on his life that is coming soon and will have an extremely refreshing twist.
Why did you never put an athlete on the cover of Water mag?
It was to evolve from the status quo and it became our signature mantra. Water was the only magazine that ever did that. People found it a little outrageous. The photographers loved it. The concept was conceived when Preston Murray and I were starting Transworld Surf. We we’re sitting at his house about to go surf, looking at a copy of The Surfer’s Journal. He suggested we could create a new mag at least that good, with high-quality printing, limited ads, legit editorial.. but for shortboarding. With all the surf mags that existed at the time, there was no other genre or style not yet covered, so we tried to mix things up and ran an empty wave on our cover. The industry ate it up. Those were good times. I’m working on a 30th anniversary book about my life in the surf media, which started in the late 80s with Beach Happy, which was the first real surf ‘zine in America. The book is another iron I have in the fire, with the working title, You Don’t Look Like a Surfer. I’ve been at it for awhile now…trying to edit down three decades of photos and stories, so gimme a couple more years. [laughs]
Roots. Thanks Zeldini!