For many, thumbing through the pages of a Stormrider Surf Guides was almost like a rite of passage. Back in the day, you'd hear rumours of far-flung, mystical locales – whip open the cover of said surf bible and check it out, the conditions, the images. It was its own sense of exploration and hearing the tales of places you've never surfed before were enthralling – much the same as they are now.
Now, those legends have just released the World Stormrider Surf Guide the first time the team has collated all their data and surfaced it in a definitive all-in-one anthology; taking the three previous World guides and condensing it into this XL version. And it is packed with what you need to know about beachies, reefbreaks, pointbreaks from across the globe. If you've never picked up a Stormrider guide, think of the series as the excellent Lonely Planet books, but for surfers.
And it is truly a labour of love that has been in the works, in some form, for the past 32-years. Included in the book is more than 4,000 spots, 600 or more photos and 375,000 words to get your teeth into. Buy HERE.
And just as the book releases, we chat to Ollie Fitzjones – one of the men behind the entire operation about travelling to jot down anything about those breaks (there was no Google Earth then...), the anthology and what you can expect when picking the book up. Dive in.
Tell us a bit about the Stormrider Guides? How did they come about?
In 1986, inspired by the surfing video Playgrounds in Paradise, me and a mate left on a two-year, round-the-world surf and work trip. We started in Bali, Nusa Lembongan and then visited Nias, the Hinako Islands, Lombok, Oz, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Tahiti, Moorea and Huahine, before heading back via Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania and the Canaries.
Then, when back at home in the UK to work and earn money for another trip, I was sitting in a traffic jam in London taking a friend to a job Interview and he suggested I should write a world surf guide. I thought it was a great idea and that night I started straight away (that was in May, 1989). I had used surf guide books in Sydney and New Zealand and also Lonely Planet guides for travels across Asia, so my main thinking at that stage was to combine a surf guide and a travel guide into one.
The original plan of making a world surf guide didn’t last very long, as it became obvious quite quickly that it was just too big and too hard. But during that planning stage, the fact that Europe seemed to have amazing surf, yet no one really knew much about it, made me change tack and start work on a European guide instead.
The original plan of making a world surf guide didn’t last very long, as it became obvious quite quickly that it was just too big and too hard
After failing to get a publisher interested, I decided to go it alone and self-publish. The next two years were spent working on building sites earning money and travelling across Europe in a VW camper, trawling the coasts and gathering information from dozens of locals, who have became the backbone of what the Stormrider Guides are today. It’s impossible to travel to a place and get to grips with the surf in a short time and local knowledge is the only way to get a good overview.
In those years the Stormrider guide team was formed and the publishing side has remained a core team of three, with lots of help from a long cast of others. Dan Haylock joined the company as creative director in 1993 while completing his degree in Graphic Information Design at Falmouth College of Arts. Bruce Sutherland, a well-travelled Ozzie surfer living and working in London, joined soon after and became the main book editor after Kiwi Tim Rainger moved on.
The original Stormrider Guide Europe came out in 1992, followed by 2nd and 3rd editions in 1995 and 1998 and then the idea of a World guide came back onto the table. Ardent surf traveller Antony “Yep” Colas had helped us for a few years on the Europe guide and he brought up the idea of making "Around the World in 80 surf zones guide”.
We quickly agreed a partnership to produce it together and in 2001 the World Stormrider Surf Guide was finally born. The book covered 80 of the best-known surf areas in the world, but that still left huge gaps, so we then produced another couple of volumes covering reasonably well-known and then lesser-know areas to finally complete The World Stormrider Guide trilogy in 2008. Prior to taking on the World, we produced some other guides. A North America surf guide with Drew Kampion as guest editor and snowboard guides to Europe and North America.
How long has it taken to compile all that information into one anthology?
I guess you could say since 1989 but the actual World Stormrider Guide project really started with Antony in 1998 with the “Around the world in 80 surf zones” idea. This new XL edition has taken moe than four years. We’ve used the three volumes of the existing World Guide series as the base along with the work on our various continental guides.
We checked every zone for mistakes and spot changes and added a few new zones. We’ve hunted far and wide for the best possible descriptive and beautiful photos and redrawn all the maps (there was no Google Earth to check details when we started). It could have been done quicker, but we are a very small team and life has a habit of getting in the way and taking time away from the project.
Tell us about the process of collating this World guide?
We put together a skeleton of a region and then get local surfers to help us flesh it out. Every area we cover had a local checker and then once we have a decent first draft, we try and send it out to other locals and travellers to check and double check what we have is ok.
We also had the good fortune to do a number of book research trips to unusual places like Pakistan, Svalbard, Yakutat, The Black Sea, Iran, Yemen, Maluku islands, India and many others.
A huge amount of time and effort is spent on sensitive spots. We leave many spots off the map to be found by the ones that are prepared to look
We know there will always be a small group of surfers that don’t like what we do and wish that the surf world had stayed in pre-internet days and that people should take up something like golf and not surfing. But surfing and traveling seem to go hand-in-hand and very few locals can claim they only surf their home beach and most will jump at the chance to surf exotic, far-off locations or a beach down the road where they aren’t really local.
The reality is the world population has grown 40 per cent since we started making surf guides and they have as much right to go surf a spot as anyone else. "I was here first" just doesn't work when you have over 7 billion people on the planet. Surfing has now embedded itself in mainstream culture, attracting loads of new devotees who get as stoked as you were on your first wave.
If anything, guides like ours help to spread the crowd to other beaches, rather than concentrating them at the famous breaks. Saying that, our books are just a starting point, with dozens of possibilities between most spots on the map and we do try and respect local secret spots.
A huge amount of time and effort is spent on sensitive spots. We leave many spots off the map to be found by the ones that are prepared to look. We also hope the books encourage people to travel to less-crowded zones. Places like West Africa where there’s so many great empty waves going off right now and young surf populations that are desperate to meet travelling surfers and learn about life in the surf world. In this day and age, why go surf ultra-crowded Morocco when a few hours south you have empty tropical right points, or further south still, epic deserted lefts with a country desperate for some tourist dollars.
For those who have other Stormrider guides, what’s the draw to buying this one?
There is so much online info out there now that a surfer can easily plan his travels online without spending any money. Saying that though, it’s hard work trawling the internet finding the info you need and sorting the wheat from the chaff.
User-generated info is great if it’s true, but there is a lot of rubbish, mis-direction and false info out there, written by anonymous people who just may have an agenda. We do the hard work for you, collating the facts and try our best to present it in a user-friendly way.
Also, there is something so much more satisfying flicking through the pages of a beautiful, large-format analogue book in these days of digital overload where the screen has become our overlord. Photos are a huge part of this project. It’s fair to say that this book easily contains the greatest global selection of surf photos the world has ever seen in print. We estimate there are 4,000 plus spots mentioned, 600 plus photos and 375,000 plus words to pore over.
It’s also incredibly good value since the trilogy cost £75 and now you don’t have to keep swapping between books to get the whole story for any given coastline
The book also inspires surf travel stories….sitting with a few beers and a copy of the guide amongst a group of friends, chatting about where you’ve been and what crazy things happened to you along the way. I’ve seen it a hundred times…open up the book and the conversation starts to flow…the adventures, the advice, the plans …the book becomes a catalyst for all that stuff.
With the advent of Google Earth and self-professed adventurers, do you think there’s any mystique left in surfing? Have we tapped out all there is?
No way! Not even close. Although surfers like to think they are special, most of us are no different to regular people and we just follow the crowd. This book does try to cover most parts of our known surf world but many off-the-beaten-track areas of coast will be summed up in a sentence in the introduction and low consistency coasts may have no info at all.
Plus the actual breaks that we do cover on the map are just a selection of the better-known, easy access spots. A lot of the surf travellers we know use The Stormrider Guides to find the gaps and go explore them. It’s true that in one way, it is harder to go on a wild surf adventure in 2018 than it was in 1988 but it is all still out there. We could give you a list as long as your arm of places to explore where you’ll most likely find no other surfers and high quality waves, but where’s the fun in that. You are better off buying this book and reading between the lines…. of swell!
Like what you see? Add this essential anthology to your library by going HERE
Cover image of Spain's, and possibly the world's, favourite rivermouth wave Mundaka, by Nickle Baut.