Santa Cruz Waves, the glossy periodical devoted to covering surfing and its influence on Monterey Bay culture and environmental issues, has ceased publication. “To put it quite bluntly,” CEO and founder Tyler Fox told Lookout, “I was just not getting enough financial return to make it worthwhile for me, personally.”
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After nine years of thorough and beautifully photographed coverage of Santa Cruz’s surf culture, Santa Cruz Waves is no more. The glossy, locally owned and operated magazine recently published its final issue — at least for now.
With six issues a year, Santa Cruz Waves was devoted to covering surfing as a lifestyle, as a calling, as an athletic skill. But it was also pursuing a broader focus on the culture that surfing inspired and influenced in the Monterey Bay region. Over time, its mission expanded to encompass pressing environmental concerns, particularly when it came to the ocean. The magazine’s final issue, in fact, was dedicated to the climate crisis.
Tyler Fox, 41, the magazine’s CEO and founder, talked to Lookout about his publication’s legacy in Santa Cruz, and what’s next for the brand and for him.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Lookout: Let’s begin with the obvious question: Why was ceasing publication necessary, and why now?
Tyler Fox: What I’ve been doing for a while now is putting the company and the brand before myself, which I think, as an owner, sometimes you need to do. But I’m not in my 20s anymore. And I’ve got a wife, and we want to start a family. To put it quite bluntly, I was just not getting enough financial return to make it worthwhile for me, personally. It was tough because I really love what I do, and my team is awesome. But at a certain point, you have to look out for what’s best for you and your family.
Lookout: Had the financial picture at Santa Cruz Waves changed in recent years? Was this something new, or has it always been a struggle?
Fox: Well, it’s never been a big money-maker, even in our best months of advertising sales. Our printing costs went up because our page count went up, and we were paying more writers and photographers. So from the beginning, it’s always been a kind of labor of love. I just really enjoy all aspects of [publishing], from meeting a ton of amazing people and getting to photograph them or write about them, and working with fantastic photographers and writers and my editorial team and sales team. But, especially after the pandemic, when a lot of local businesses couldn’t stay open — they were cutting their hours and cutting their advertising budgets — it really made me take a hard look at our financials as as a whole. We got some of that [Paycheck Protection Plan] funding from the government, which helped us get through. But ever since then, with all the inflation, with the rising costs of production, our printers continually raising the rates on us, plus shipping got more expensive — it just made it more and more challenging to continue to produce the same quality product that I felt was necessary.
Lookout: And you didn’t see how that trend might reverse itself in the future?
Fox: Exactly. I think it’s definitely a trend. It may change in the future, but I just can’t wait. I just can’t hope and pray for the next five years.
Lookout: I suppose you could have made the choice to cut a bit here, shave a bit there and make this a more gradual process. But you decided not to do that.
Fox: I didn’t want to cut corners. I think that’s why people love the magazine, because of the quality of the photography and the journalism. I’d rather leave on a high note than to continually pull back and cut down on quality.
Lookout: It’s hard to speculate, I know. But if COVID had never happened, would you have reached this point?
Fox: It’s tough to say definitely. I don’t know. I do know that the whole pandemic was a wakeup call for me to really look at our financials more closely. In the earlier stages of the business, I was more just enjoying the day-to-day moment. It was more of a fun ride back then. And if I was making a little bit of money, I was kind of like, “Oh, this is great. I’m making money and I’m doing something I really enjoy doing.” But, I’m 41 now and, as you know, to live in this town, you either gotta have three jobs or you gotta hustle to make it work here.
Lookout: Reflect with me, if you will, back when you first started. What were the beginnings of Santa Cruz Waves?
Fox: With the magazine, we did our first issue in June 2014. But I started the company as a website back in 2010. And the website was primarily surf photo galleries that I was going out and taking myself. Then I added more and more content to the website, keeping it updated regularly. Pretty soon other photographers were submitting photos and posting galleries. From there, I just felt that there was so much content getting getting lost in the digital realm and I wanted it to be more permanent, something that people could really hold onto and cherish, some to be more tangible to display.
Lookout: So that’s when the in-print magazine started. Was the original vision to just chronicle the local surf community? Or was it something larger than that?
Fox: I think the original vision was to showcase not only the surf community, but all the other talent in the area that came out of the surf community, from extreme sports, to art, to the culinary stuff, really the whole gamut in the area, which I felt like wasn’t being displayed.
Lookout: Tell me a bit about what you’ve heard from the surf community about your coverage and your magazine.
Fox: Well, to be completely honest, in the beginning, a lot of people were concerned about any sort of exposure to sensitive surfing spots, bringing more attention and more surfers to some surf breaks. But I think as people began to figure out that the magazine wasn’t just all surfing, and it was more about the community as a whole, those concerns subsided. Overall, I think it’s been a great response from the surf community.
Lookout: This next one is a two-part question: What’s next for the brand? What’s next for you?
Fox: What’s next for the brand is maybe pivoting to more mini-documentaries on people and businesses in the area through our social media. That doesn’t take nearly as much of the production costs [as publishing]. We have done a bit of that already, and I’d like to revisit that.
Lookout: And for you, personally?
Fox: I’m entertaining quite a few things. I’m passionate about sustainable housing, for one thing. I actually live in a tiny house. And I think that for a lot of not only the homeless population, but just the younger generations coming up, it’s now almost impossible to afford a 3,000-square-foot home in this area. So it would be cool to see more tiny-house villages, more smaller dwellings that the next generation can be able to afford. So that kind of excites me. And then, also things around ocean protection, conservation work. I’m definitely still very passionate about the protection of our environment.
Lookout: How do you feel about stopping the publication of Santa Cruz Waves. Is there a bit of melancholy there?
Fox: Yeah, obviously, it’s bittersweet. I’m proud of what we’ve done, what our whole team has done. But I know now that I’ve learned enough that I could bring it back in a year or two or three, somewhere down the road. I’ve learned so much that I feel confident that at the right time, I could bring it back if there was a different situation where I could make a bit more salary and that we could make it work. So I don’t think this is completely set in stone, the ending of the magazine. I do think that it could come back in the future. But for now, we need to take a pause.