The Surfersvillage Interview
Weisberg talks about Richard Sherman, Lunada Bay and startups
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 11 May, 2014 - Zach Weisberg is a pro. During this interview I was hoping to uncover some insecurities or meandering career path choices but no. The guy’s got it nailed and knows what he wants and where he’s heading (at least through the comfort of emailed interviews he does.)
And what he's doing is growing an innovative platform (for surfing) which is expanding online as the web and surfers’ consumption of media changes. Published in The New York Times, Esquire and Oprah Magazine he was former online editor at Surfer before becoming most well-known as the pointy end of The Inertia.
What has helped him get here is that on top of his writing & editing chops he’s honed his business savvy with an MBA from USC Marshall School of Business.
How would you describe what you do for work to a very small, inattentive child?
I’d ask the kid if he had been in the ocean. I’d hope he responds yes. Then I’d tell him that I try to put that joy, power, fear, and everything born of that ocean into a computer. He’d get it.
What makes The Inertia so damn special?
The lack of pretense. We’ve cultivated a community and a disarming honesty that encourages people to be themselves. That’s hard to come by – and especially so in a culture as image-fixated as surfing’s.
Beyond that, in my mind it’s an accurate composite of what the global surfing community really looks like. Icons like Kelly Slater and Gerry Lopez contribute. Undiscovered new talents in photography, writing, and video contribute. Accomplished journalists and photographers contribute. Lawyers from Portugal and doctors from Maine contribute. A platform like this exists nowhere else.
What is it that you do that you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of bringing people together – be it through discussions, parties, short films, articles or even arguments. I love that. I love that The Inertia can serve as a common thread to unite two people in hopefully a meaningful way who otherwise would never have connected.
What has been your biggest mistake?
I’m not sure I’ve made it yet – at least not the biggest one. Mistakes mean you’re learning. They’re important. Salvador Dali said they’re almost always of a sacred nature.
What did you learn from that mistake?
I think what I’ve learned most in making mistakes on my path is that relationships drive everything. Treating people with respect and kindness is always a winning formula.
A lot of content comes through your inbox. Name something that happened but received little attention and made you scratch your head and think: “But this was soooo important! Don’t they get it?”
Off the top of my head, I wrote a piece after Richard Sherman freaked out on a reporter after a football game that pleaded for more Sherman-esque outbursts in surfing. It wasn’t in defense of Richard Sherman – whose behavior was disrespectful and lame – but rather a plea for spectacle. For entertainment, and for catalysts to drive conversation. That exchange in a post-game interview lead to all sorts of race and class discussions in America, and, as a rule, I think those conversations are all good. When we’ve got something dicey to talk about – where there’s actually something at stake, we all win. I think that article made too many leaps to really resonate. Made sense in my head. Ha.
As an editor you eat controversy for breakfast (at least we hope you do). Share with us one of the more colorful confrontations you’ve had while doing this job.
Somewhat recently, a contributor spearheaded an initiative to Take Back Lunada Bay to open it to the public. Lunada Bay is a historically localized spot, and I hadn’t seen the post before it went live. Within a few minutes, my inbox filled up with hate mail, and I was honestly worried about what might happen there. The piece was pretty incendiary, and a LOT of people read it. I just wanted everyone to be safe. There was a lot of anger coursing through our inboxes, comments, Facebook pages, etc…
It all ended up peaceful and fine. But I didn’t sleep well for a few nights in anticipation of that event. It’s a tricky balance at The Inertia. We provide a platform for people to share their work, and in some cases that work might be controversial or we might not even agree, as a staff, with its contents. But so long as it’s done tastefully and makes a point relevant to our community, we believe it has a place. That discussion around a tension point will only help surfing grow to a better place.
Now on to your biggest ‘Rocky’ type movie moment. Share some Triumph with us.
When Kelly Slater wrote his exclusive piece for The Inertia honoring the death of Andy Irons and explaining their relationship in candid detail on the anniversary of Irons’ passing – which also happened to be the day Kelly won his 11th World Title…and he got out of the water upon winning and was asked how he felt, he told the interviewer that he published a piece on The Inertia that summed his emotions up pretty well, I almost fell out of my chair. I knew we were doing something right and something meaningful for a moment like that to become real.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? Selling shoes?
I’d probably be working at Nike in Beaverton. I had an offer to join Nike full-time after business school at USC Marshall, but I declined in favor of seeing this vision for The Inertia through to its potential. Or I’d be working at a different startup in LA. Maybe San Francisco. Or I’d be rocking. Hard.
OK, you get to drop into five moments in history – surf or otherwise. Please name them and why.
I’d like to see a slice of the holocaust with my own eyes. I think that would inform and enlighten me in a way no other atrocity or life experience ever could. It’d become apparent beyond a shadow of a doubt what’s important. That is the first thing that came to me when I saw this question, which, I realize, is an odd instinct.
On a lighter note, it sure would have been nice to be one of the first surfers in Southern California. I can almost understand their resentment and nostalgia with regard to crowding. I often think of an Art Brewer lineup shot of Salt Creek from the ‘70s. It’s just an empty, grassy lineup. No Ritz. Nothing. There was nothing there. And that wasn't that long ago.
I’d like to have 16-year-old me meet 16-year-old Will Smith in Philly. I think we’d become really good friends.
Then, I’d like 16-year-old me to meet 16-year-old Mark Hoppus and Tom Delonge. Obviously, we’d make fast friends, and Blink-182 would have become a 4-piece with two guitars, and I would have slowly pushed my way toward lead vocals until they pushed me out of the band due to creative differences. It would have made a great VH1 Behind the Music. I’d still hold a grudge today. But that’d be fine, because I’d be hanging with Will Smith, and we’d all go to parties together on occasion.
It’d be cool to drop in on Shakespeare during his day. He tells a decent story.