Sam McIntosh funded irreverent Surf rag Stab Magazine on the back of an accounting error by his then-sponsor Arnette. Don’t worry he’s since paid them back, but the title he launched six years ago is still inspiring surfers and making the rest of us cry. After penning “How To Surf” books with Taj Burrow, collaborating on clothing lines, working on films and launching other publications, McIntosh weighed in on his career thus far, what it takes to get Koby Abberton in drag and starting life as a “pedophile’s dream”.
How did you get to where you are today? How did Stab Magazine come about? I edited a surf mag called Waves. Publishers were never overly fond of us and we copped a lot of heat about content/nudity/lawsuits. I thought, we sell this much in advertising, we sell this many magazines and I earn this? Some crude mathematics coupled with that fact that I was working on a surf mag from a cubicle in Chinatown gnawed at my soul so, I wrote a how to surf book with Taj Burrow. I didn’t have enough cash to pay for the print bill so I booked the job to my then employer, publishing giant, Emap. Because it was an established company, I had 90 day terms to stump up the cash. I was on a paltry wage and certainly had nowhere near the 20 gee bill but knew something would work out. One day I checked my account and I had sixteen grand sitting in there. Back then, I earned the princely sum of $1500 a year to ride for Arnette as a surfer. And, beyond the mistake of them paying me to endorse their product, their accounts department had also overpaid me $14k. Before the panicked phone call from Arnette arrived I quickly threw down the cash on the print bill, apologized to them, organized a payment plan and drip fed the money back to them every week until it was quashed. I used the cash from that Taj book, along with a book we made for Billabong, Only A Surfer Knows the Feeling to bankroll Stab. My pal used to work for a surf mag ASL and we published the books under our new company RollingYouth Press and then we did Stab.
What’s been your highlight of your career so far? The first main success was making a surf movie called Seven Days Seven Slaves for Waves. It was a golden period before the web had kicked into gear. Along with Adam Blakey (from the Goons of Doom and now at surf mag SW), it was paid completely by our advertisers, edited by Chris Searl art directed by Campbell Milligan (yup, the Monster Chooks) long before we went off and did our own things. It started a slippery slope with surf movies on surf mags and was the biggest (and would still be) the biggest sale of any issue we ever made of Waves. Since then our Stab parties have been fun. It’s good to see people getting drunk and dancing in the daylight. We did a website called Little Weeds that went way bigger than we could have ever expected, a kinda talent search thing for the surf industry. We hired a wavepool and we went from not being able to use fibreglass surfboards in there to using a jetski in there for towing some of the best surfers in the world (we said the fuel was biodegradeable) way back when, too. We were the first to shoot hi-fi surfing from choppers that kickstarted a little fad.
Have their been any surreal or really crazy moments? Seeing a childhood hero trying to snort his own bodyweight in cocaine was definitely a surprise. As was Koby Abberton dressed in a red g-string, patent leather gloves, a cowboy hat, riding a foamie (beginner’s surfboard) on an eight-foot wave in the South Australian desert for our Tow Is, like, So Gay issue was cool. Taking Tiah Eckhardt to a surf contest in Fiji on an island inhabited by just men to do a nude shoot was entertaining, too. We also somehow convinced Julian and Kim from The Presets to dress in product from General Pants and appear as Style Icons in Our People magazine wearing stock from the store without a cent of remuneration at the peak of their fame.
In your life has there been a job yet that you’ve really hated? From the very start? I was a pedophile’s dream before puberty. Started doing a Sunday paper run when I was 10 and then followed with a six day a week run and had a host of friendly ol men who enjoyed a long talk. My work ethic meant I didn’t actually hang round too long. Then onto a milk run and then my parents bought a pub. Had a shot at every role in there at some point. Since then, there have been a few small shots at uni but I’ve been mostly in publishing. Worst job? I don’t really mind any kind of work. There’s always some monotony in everything and if you’re hating it, it’s a catalyst to drive you to do something you like. Â Â
What do you still want to achieve in your career? I’ve got a couple of things we’re working on but I hate – and I’m guilty of it in the past – of saying things and then not doing them. Hopefully they’ll surface by early next year.
What advice would you give to people looking for a career in publishing? Be unafraid of working for free. Most people I know who are in jobs they love, they were more focused on learning than raking together leaves.Â And, I always wanted to prove it wrong but wherever I go, I see people succeeding because they know people. Sorry.
Did you always know that you wanted to go into the publishing industry? I’ve always loved magazines but I’ve always been a woeful writer. I like bringing things together. I love good photo shoots and producing something that represents a period of time and a little piece of history. And, I really like the instantaneous nature of the web, too.
Was there ever a certain person or defining moment that influenced you as a person? The guy I started the biz with: Derek Rielly. He stressed the importance of being world class despite borders or where you’re based. We always tried to create something to international and not to local standards. Still, that doesn’t mean we have created some of the most appalling or provincial things you’ve ever seen. He also enforced my developing distaste of parochialism.
What are the high’s and low’s of your job? Lows? Waking up at four in the morning thinking of all of the things you haven’t done and have been meaning to do kinda bugs. Staff are tough but also rewarding. Persevering til something’s right is a good feeling. And, I love when an idea is lifted and taken far beyond the original thought. Working with Derek, and designers like Shane Sakkeus and Jonathan Zawada and recently with photogs Nick Hudson and Richie Freeman, they’ve always got ideas better than me so it’s cool to ride in their slipstream.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what’s another career path you might have taken?
Hmmm, doing the same thing for decades upon decades frightens me. A new direction has to happen.
What are you working on at the moment? I’m currently on a plane to Hawaii to do some surfing after we just finished the clean-up of our party, Shark Fin Soup. I’m doing the second range of clothes for this Taj collection and punching out a few back-to-back issues of Stab. And, relaunching a new website that combines Stab and Little Weeds. Web designers are the new mechanics, aren’t they?
Looking at the future, what do you hope to be doing 5-10 years down the track? I hope to be alive. I must be drawn to death in the news. I am perplexed by that fact can’t that we all think we’re gonna live till old age. I go in five-year blocks and make decisions accordingly. Say, should I do this right now? Would I do it if I were to die in however many days/months/years? The answer makes it difficult to say no. And, it’s a flawed way to live I know. Five years from now? If I can be writing off clothes and travel on tax then that’s a good thing.
If you could trade places with one person for a day who would it be? And why? Can you imagine what JT sees when he makes love to a woman? That certainly would be awesome to witness that fitness.Â
Biggest inspiration? My dad was a good one. He taught me to take risks. And to work hard. He taught me if you do things because you like them or because you think you can do them better than someone else, then do it. If you do things to make money, you’ll never succeed. I run my business loosely. I overspend when I’m passionate about something. Sometimes we’re flush, sometimes we’re in overdraft. If it all falls over, we’ll be forced to try something else and that’s not such a bad thing, is it?
Sam McIntosh’s career cheat sheet:
1998-2002. Waves magazine.
2002. Started our publishing biz, RollingYouth Press and published two books: Only A Surfer Knows the Feeling and Taj Burrow’s Book of Hot Surfing.
2003. Launched Stab.
2004. Directed two scenes (and got to work alongside the Malloys) in Taj Burrow’s third biopic, Fair Bits!
2005. Launched Stab style.
2007. Started publishing Our People magazine for General Pants.
2008. We did a party called Chlorine that was called the best party ever in the Sun Herald.
2009. Launched Little Weeds website, started the clothing line for Billabong called Taj, a collab range with Taj Burrow.