Tracks magazine


Monthly surf magazine published out of Sydney, Australia; the country's surf media flagship in the 1970s and early '80s. Tracks was founded in 1970 by editor David Elfick, surf journalist John Witzig, and surf moviemaker Alby Falzon as a counterculture alternative to magazines like Surfer and Surfing World.

With its debut issue, Tracks made a clear break from the standard surf mag format, publishing on black-and-white newsprint and using an oversize Rolling Stone-type format, and folded in half. The cover featured a surf shot, but when unfolded it appeared to have a "second" cover, which was a smoke-belching beachfront steel mill. Surfing was Tracks' primary focus, but the text-heavy issues in the early '70s were full of environmental features, anti-Vietnam articles, organic recipes, pull quotes from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and editorials in defense of pot use and Aboriginal rights. Helping to define what would later be known as Australia's "country soul" period, Tracks ran lifestyle photos of flowers, farmhouses, animals, and playing children, and for the most part denounced surfing competition. Waveriding was viewed as something well beyond sport and recreation. "Just by going surfing," 1966 world champion and Tracks correspondent Nat Young wrote, not long after leaving Sydney for the bucolic fields of North Coast New South Wales, "we're supporting the revolution."

Tracks shifted tone in 1974 with the hiring of arch wit Phil Jarratt, one of surfing's finest and funniest writers. Tracks paid close attention to the rise of professional surfing, and jettisoned much of its nonsurfing editorial platform. Editor Jarratt wrote a kneeboard column titled "Cripple's Corner," and Queensland's soon-to-be world champion Wayne Bartholomew surfed in the nude for a 1976 cover story. A new and hugely popular Tracks feature was Captain Goodvibes, a boorish cartoon surf-pig superhero. Tracks' circulation by mid-decade was 40,000, larger by far than any previous Australian surf publication. The magazine's reputation held steady under the editorial stewardship of Paul Holmes, followed by Nick Carroll (both of whom went on to edit American surf magazines). Articles continued in the Jarratt style: smart, funny, and more often than not snide. As Carroll later put it, Tracks "truly defined the Australian surf mag."

By the late '80s, Tracks was being challenged by 1985-founded Australia's Surfing Life and the 1987- founded Waves, both eager to probe the raunchier limits of sophomoric surf-related humor. The new material caught on; by the time Tracks editor Tim Baker left in 1991 to work for Australia's Surfing Life, the older magazine was a deflated, if not defeated, power. Publishing giant Emap bought Tracks' parent company in 1997, at which point the 28-year-old surf magazine was recast in standard magazine format; by 2002, circulation was back up to 40,000.

In the new century, Tracks had once again became Australia's best-selling surf mag. Sharp graphic design and a lighthearted editorial tone, supplied by editor-in-chief Luke Kennedy, characterized Tracks in the 2010s. The magazine jubilantly celebrated its 40th anniversary in its October 2010 by proclaiming Tom Carroll, a suitably Aussie-centric choice, to be the "greatest surfer of all time." The mag's 500th issue was printed in 2012.

Nextmedia Pty Ltd bought Tracks from Emap in 2007. Circulation, as of 2013, remained near 40,000. Tracks has long referred to itself as "the Surfer's Bible," a weighty and somewhat-less-than-original tag, as Surfer has been called "the Bible of surfing" since the 1960s.