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Interview with Zach Weisberg of The Inertia

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Zach Weisberg, former editor of Surfer Magazine, now helms The Inertia which has become the Internet's surf media democracy where pro surfers and Joe surfers share their voices. The Inertia has unveiled a series of surfing documentaries that promise to entertain and thrill surfers and non-surfers alike. I had the chance to interview Zach and ask him about his vision for the site and the concept that began with Sine Qua Non.

The Inertia is involved in a series of surf documentaries. The first is called Sine Qua Non. It examines the psychology behind big wave surfing.What role did the site play in terms of developing Sine Qua Non? How did it come about? What are some future subjects in the series?

The documentary series is an initiative that was conceived by The Inertia and will be executed through several short films over the course of the next year. We plan to tell the best stories in surfing. Period. The emphasis is on great storytelling, where anyone with a beating heart can relate to the subject at hand – not just surfers.

And the series fits very well with what we do. Thus far, our emphasis has been on the written word and gorgeous images, and film is such a powerful medium to communicate ideas. It’s only natural that we extend the brand and our ability to reach people through film.

With regard to the role The Inertia played, we conceived the idea, sketched out a tentative run sheet of episodes and themes, and organized all of the interviews, partners, and contributors. For the first episode, we partnered with Richard Yelland, an award-winning filmmaker who directed Nike’s 12 Miles North, to produce the film, and we’ll definitely be working with him again in the future. He’s a really talented and genuine person, and we managed to put this whole film together in about a month. It was a whirlwind.

I don’t want to give away too much for the upcoming episodes, but the next piece we’re working on is with Kelly Slater. We’ll see how it develops.

Big wave surfing is taking a front seat with the release of Chasing Mavericks. Do you think this will be the movie that gets surfing “right”?

I watched an advance screening of Chasing Mavericks, and I liked it. There was certainly some obligatory, awkward surf-speak and a few cringe-worthy lines, but it seemed to me that the film’s purpose was to honor the life and story of Jay Moriarity while showcasing some gorgeous surf imagery. In that, I think it succeeds. Honestly, I think it’s kind of funny how concerned we can get about authentic portrayals of surfing in major motion pictures. It will always be a challenge to achieve “authenticity” – with any sport or subculture in filmmaking. Films require simplification, and as long as the portrayal isn’t so off base or obnoxious that it’s distracting, it’s okay. I say keep trying. It’s fun to watch. For the record, I love Point Break and North Shore.

You have said that you plan to expand The Inertia's focus to include other extreme sports. Why did you start with surfing when other sports might have been more profitable?

We’ve started in surfing, because my career began in the surf world as an editor at Surfer Magazine; it’s where I feel most knowledgeable, and it’s my greatest passion. It also happens to be a great market size to test the viability of a concept. The addition of new action sports communities will really hinge on finding the right people to build those communities.

The Inertia is unique in surfing in that its content comes from various contributors. It’s kind of like a surfing Daily Beast rather than following the model of the traditional surf mag format. What drove you to follow that model? Is this something that you think we’ll be seeing as a trend in surf media?

Honestly, the idea was to democratize the narrative of surfing. I wanted to empower surfers to define the culture for themselves and include as many perspectives as possible. From Kelly Slater to the CEO of the Surfrider Foundation to kids in college to artists in Australia, The Inertia is a platform for talented, passionate people to share their work with the global surf community, and I think that opens new doors for our culture. That diversity keeps things interesting and invites stimulating dialog. It’s simple. People put their name and their face next to something they believe in. There’s no pretense. Which can be hard to find in a culture fixated on the idea of cool. In that respect, it’s refreshing.

And I think it’s begun to influence other outlets in different ways. It’s difficult to completely ignore new ways of doing things, so we could certainly see different iterations of this concept elsewhere. For now, I just want to keep sharing new ideas, working with inspiring people like Greg Long, Richard Yelland, our staff and contributors, and evolving.

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