In The Mix A New Era For Dropknee Bodyboarding

In: In The Mix by doclach 0 Comments Sun 22nd Jul '12
Tags: Shane Griffiths , Por Images , Dropknee Magazine
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A New Era For Dropknee Bodyboarding

by Jessica O'Reilly

Shane Griffiths is probably not a well-known name among the current generation of bodyboarders. It's probably safe to say he's a veteran of the sport, riding the sponge for over 20 years and claiming three Australian titles in the process back in the 1990s. He gave away the sport completely after moving from the seaside village of Shellharbour, NSW to the bright lights of Brisbane to chase a life long dream of becoming a Marine Scientist, well a dream that emerged after his interest in bodyboard had waned in the early 2000s when juggling university commitments. But with change comes opportunity. When Shane's employer moved locations he moved to far northern NSW and got back into bodyboarding 100%. Being older and debatably wiser, Shane has decided to give back to the sport that gave him so much by founding the world's first 100% dropknee bodyboarding print magazine called "Dropknee Magazine". I caught up with Shane to talk about the magazine and the ebb and flow of the bodyboarding over the past 20 years.

Tell us about the new magazine
The magazine is called "Dropknee Magazine" and it's an international print magazine that is dedicated 100% to dropknee bodyboarding. It will showcase the best DK shots and stories from around the world. It'll also have other cool pieces in there like product reviews on new and vintage DK-related products, music reviews and things like that. Initially, we'll be doing two issues per year. There has been such overwhelming support for the mag so far, so we're getting a lot of great material. It's all coming together really quickly so we aim to have the first issue out in November.

Why is there a need for yet another bodyboarding magazine, let alone a niche such as DK?
The short answer is that there isn't near enough coverage of DK in the current media outlets, and it's been this way for a very long time. DK has been around since the very beginning when Jack "The Ripper" Lindholm invented the stance and charged Pipe in the late 1970s. In the 1990s everyone seemed to DK, at least part time. Everyone who was at the top of the sport seemed to DK pretty well, Ben Holland, Matt Riley, Steve Mackenzie, Kainoa McGee, Jay Reale, Todd de Graffe, the list goes on. Now you see very few good 100% DK riders and few versatile riders, with the exception of maybe Dave Hubbard, Sacha Specker, and Damien King, and those guys pretty much represent the older generation anyway. I see very few teenagers doing it well these days too. DK seems to have gone through various phases of popularity, starting with the days of Roach who really brought DK into the mainstream through the Enough Said video, then it peaked again with Fu Man Chu, and I think to a lesser extent more recently with the Lackey Project, but I think by then the magazines had long lost interest in running DK shots as there was probably the perception that it was on the decline.

Is DK really on the decline? Plenty of people out there say it's thriving.
Seriously? Well if it's thriving, I'd hate to see what it was like in the tough times! I personally feel that DK is at its lowest point in history. I don't see any riders making big dollars from DK alone, well at least enough to support themselves on the IBA tour. Most guys that follow the pro DK tour are versatile riders like Dubb, Kingy, Hardy etc who are primarily supported on the tour as prone riders and they just enter the DK division for a bit of extra cash. So I don't think anyone can honestly say DK is thriving. Maybe DK is dying, maybe it isn't. What I do know is that there are a lot of DK riders out there that just don't get the exposure they deserve. For example, I recently went to the IBA contest at Port Macquarie and a total unknown to me, Forster's Tom Donnelly, tore the field apart. Why haven't we seen guys like him before? He didn't just pick up a bodyboard a month before the event and decide to DK. He's obviously been around a long time as it takes a long time to get even reasonably good at DK. We have three major international bodyboarding magazines based in Australia and two of those are based in Tom's home state of NSW, so why hasn't he ever been in those magazines? And there are dozens of guys out there like Tom. So if these guys don't get adequate exposure, sponsors won't back them, and they can't afford to travel, shoot photos or chase the pro tour. Ultimately, this results in the stagnation of the profile of dropknee to the state we see today. It's hardly surprising that bodyboard companies have pulled back on the DK side of their products over the years, so this cycle just becomes perpetually toxic. DK just needs way more exposure for it to grow. Egos, greed and shortsightedness need to be put aside for the greater good. That's why this magazine is needed.

Is the print media solely to blame for what you're saying has been a decline in the popularity of DK?
Definitely not, there is a range of factors in play. But I would say that the way that the mainstream magazines portray the current state of bodyboarding heavily influences the groms, and probably casual participants who might just pick up a magazine once a year to see where it's at. If all you continually see is prone riding then of course that's going to characterise the sport. And just to clarify, DK is still "popular", it just doesn't get equal recognition. I should say that the issue with riders not getting the required exposure to attract sponsors to support a legitimate career as a bodyboarder also happened with prone riding in the not so distant past. Companies failed to provide decent funding for riders and contests. Back then I attributed that to how the various industry and bodyboarding managing bodies developed the sport. I spent about 10 years from a young teenager chasing the dream of becoming a pro bodyboarder in the peak of bodyboarding's popularity. For so many years it was such a disorganised monster that was always touted as the "fasting growing sport in the world". I remember back when it was even considered as a demonstration sport for the Olympics. What happened to that level of recognition of the sport? I stopped bodyboarding for 10 years for work-related reasons, and now I've come back with fresh eyes and I can see very little has changed. Sure guys are busting new and bigger moves, but the top riders are still struggling to make a living; like they always have. Unfortunately, it seems like bodyboarding has been the fastest stagnating sport in the world and has probably suffered from too many people trying to take too many pieces of a pie that hadn't even finished baking. Luckily the IBA has recently been able to really breathe new life into the sport, but not without a lot of hard work, by exposing the sport to the masses. Let's hope that continues. DK is there in the mix, but it's clear that the IBA priority is prone riding with more events and bigger prize purses.

What inspired you to launch a 100% DK mag?
Sorry but I probably already sound like a grumpy old man! Probably all of the above has been my inspiration. I guess with age comes maturity and rationality and you can see things for what they really are. Right now I see a thriving prone component of bodyboarding that has benefitted from high volume exposure in videos, web, magazines. There is no reason why DK can't raise its profile in parallel and increase the diversity of the sport again. It just needs someone to get off there butt and get their hands dirty. A few people have done a lot for DK over the past decade, like Clayton Pickworth running DK Sessions and recently Chris Taloa creating the peer-review contest format of DK Wars. But there just seems to be something that is holding DK back, and I think it's the lack of a dedicated medium by which the best of DK can be showcased to enhance the recruitment of young DK riders by seeing the older guys rip, but also just get the current generation stoked again on what good DK riding is all about. I kept thinking 'Why hasn't there ever been a dedicated DK mag?'. Talk to any DK rider and the complaint is the same, lack of exposure in the mainstream mags. I guess you can't blame the mags for doing what they do. They're a business that has to sell a product the customer wants. And right now the customer wants prone riding with big tow-in pits and 10,000 shots of back flips. But look back to the 1990s and even the early 2000s when DK riders would commonly score a cover shot and the content would be more like 50/50. So why does the face of bodyboarding look so different today? Fundamentally, nothing has changed in the sport when you go to the average beach and take a look. DK is still a functional and respected part of bodyboarding. There's still guys out there doing it. It's just that the magazines, for one reason or another, have progressively reduced the DK content below a point of a critical mass that allows the general bodyboard population (particularly young guys) to be stoked on DK and provide the required motivation to try it and pursue it. So in a way I guess the major magazines unknowingly developed some ugly type of DK/prone "Them and Us" dichotomy. It's not healthy for the sport and it needs to change.

But isn't a 100% DK magazine going to increase the DK/prone divide?
Not at all. It's just going help balance the picture. Look at surfing, you have dedicated magazines for short boards, long boards and now SUPs. It's the same deal here. If the mainstream mags genuinely believe what they've been doing provides an impartial view of bodyboarding today, then let them live that fantasy. The reality is there's more to the sport than tow-ins and backflips and Dropknee Magazine will supplement the mainstream mags with all the great things that they are missing about bodyboarding. It's no doubt difficult for the other commercial magazines to cover everything in the sport, so I guess they can be forgiven for publishing content that is guaranteed to 'feed the meter' to keep the machine going.

But every magazine needs to generate revenue to keep going. How is your magazine going to be different?
Dropknee Magazine is different in that it doesn't have a lot of the same pressures as the commercial mags. Although it's going to have the same high print quality of the other magazines, we don't have the big overheads, we're only doing two issues per year, and we don't employ staff. I'm the main driver of this thing and I have the passion to make it work. Sure we need advertisers to help pay for printing, distribution and contributors etc, but I have a full time job so I don't need pay myself a salary from the magazine to keep a roof over my head. My time is free and I choose to donate that time to the mag. I don't want to exploit the sport that has given me so much enjoyment in my life. It's my time to give back. As long as the magazine doesn't lose money, it'll continue indefinitely. There has to be more give and less take in the bodyboarding industry. You only have to look at the sport's history to see where too much 'take' gets you. As long as this magazine project is zero-sum game I think everyone will benefit.

Given the global financial climate and all of the obvious pitfalls and politics in getting a new magazine started, what was it that made you go ahead?
Over the past 15 years I've been kicking around in punk rock bands and many bands complain about the lack of punk gigs or the fact that it's political an more about who you know and not how good you are as a band. At one gig someone gave me some really good advice, "If you're not happy with the current scene, either help change it, or create your own scene". I think many people over the years have put pressure on mags to include more DK, and that approach obviously failed dismally. So I took the "creating a new scene" option. Well I guess I'm not really creating anything new haha. DK has been around for decades and so have magazines. But I'm taking the risks no one else wanted to take to build something the sport can benefit from, but without the objective of financial gains. I'm doing it for the love of the sport. There was just a point where I looked at the sport and just felt appalled at what it has become, or really what it had failed to become. How can't this sport be as big as surfing is? I nearly feel embarrassed that so many people with such vested interests in the industry as a whole have left DK to erode like a rusty ship. Considering there's never been a move to create a DK mag, it wasn't likely that anyone was going to do it in the foreseeable future. I though I could join everyone else and complain about the problem or be part of the solution.

Was there much involved with getting the magazine off the ground?
When I looked into what's behind starting a magazine I quickly realised it ain't rocket science. Sure there are some administrative and legal hoops to jump through, which took patience to navigate through. But really, it simply takes some time to do the grunt work to get it legs and the rest should take care of itself if there is a demand for it. And there certainly is a demand. I canvassed a lot of DK riders in developing the magazine idea and I have never been met with such positivity and stoke that someone was actually thinking about the idea. I think the fact that I'm an active DK rider myself helped a lot to garner support as other guys know that I have first hand experience with the challenges DK riders face. The only negative feedback was the prospect of getting advertising since most companies appear to invest little energy into DK. And I guess this is because of the stigma that has somehow been attached to DK over the years. Well I thought that it's about time all this should change. If there is such overwhelming demand for the magazine worldwide, there would be demand for DK products, and those companies that have a diversified their range to include DK suddenly have access to an additional audience to sell their products to. And that is critical in today's difficult financial climate. Change needs to start somewhere, and it starts here, and it starts now.

And what if the magazine fails? What will happen to DK then?
If all this falls in a steaming mess, at least I can say I gave it my best shot when no one in the sport's history was ever willing to give it a go. But with the already strong support from the DK riders and photographers of the world there is a really good chance that this mag will live on and provide a united voice for DK and build it to where it was at least in the 1990s, which can only be beneficial for the sport and the industry. I guess if it does fail, maybe the mainstream mags will actually take note and realise DK is not such a small component of bodyboarding and that they're not whinging for no reason. But at this point, it looks like it'll be difficult for the mag to fail.

Will this mag be online, print or both?
This mag is print hard copy only, but will be available for purchase online and in stores. However, the mag will definitely not be a digital production that will eventually disappear into the digital ether! Remember when you thought a 'floppy disk' was the ultimate in computer storage? How many floppy disks did you use last week? None I bet. Haha! You can't even buy a computer to read them these days. Why would someone put so much effort into a digital magazine that has such a limited life? Just look at Vimeo. There are guys out there spending months shooting footage, then months of editing to produce a tight 5 minute clip, only for it to be viewed for a week or two and then completely forgotten as it gets buried by a dozen other clips all vying for their 5 seconds of Facebook fame. It seems that there is nothing tangible in our lives anymore. If your hard drive dies, it's like your life is over. There is just something about picking up a magazine and thumbing through it, the feel of the paper, the reality of a hard copy. You will have that mag forever.

Ok Shane thanks for filling us in on the new magazine. Best of luck with it. Any parting words?
No problem, thanks for the opportunity. Last words? A quick plug I guess. Photo and editorial submissions are still be open for Issue 1 but close soon, so get behind this magazine. You don't have to be a big name rider, sponsored or anything. If you rip and have high quality shots to prove it, we want you in our magazine. This mag is built by DK riders for DK riders so I hope you enjoy what's to come.
Shane Griffiths - Editor Dropknee Magazine 

Photo Credit: JoR images

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