Foam Symmetry Redux

An interview with Gavin Joule by Glenn Sakamoto

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With outstanding photography, museum-quality printing and a unique sensibility, Foam Symmetry easily stood out amongst the other surf periodicals on the newsstand. Then after nineteen issues, the magazine suddenly disappeared. We spoke with the new editor Gavin Joule, about the mystery and the rebirth of this beloved magazine.


What happened to the original Foam Symmetry?

Justin Bevan, who started Foam Symmetry magazine in Australia, decided about two years ago to close the magazine after a stellar run of 19 issues. Everyone, including me, was really disappointed that it happened. I was an avid reader/collector so I really didn’t know the ins-and-outs of why. Suffice to say, we were all pretty bummed.

How did you get involved?

My involvement came about purely by chance. I used to get copies of the magazine from a surf shop where by chance I bumped into the now publisher. He mentioned that he’d love to bring Foam Symmetry back and had been in talks with Justin to see how that could happen.   

Being a graphic designer (and a massive fan of the magazine), I told him, “I’d love to be involved, however that could work.” After a few months of discussions, I came on board. Who knew opportunities could fall into one’s lap like that?

Later, it became apparent Justin didn’t want to start it up again so he transferred the rights and his blessings to us. And so it began. After 18 months of hard work, we finally have Foam Symmetry Issue #20 dropping around the world.

How can a print magazine survive against the popularity of social media?

Two years ago was probably peak Instagram in my mind. People thought print was dead in the water. I’m not sure folks could see a path beyond social media back then. My feeling was that independent print still had a real future if done right. If one could create something beautiful with a strong identity that served a niche, then one could make a success out of it.

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Tell us more…

For example, if you changed the whole dynamic from a newsstand/advertising model to a more subscription/independent retailer focus, my belief is that you can get it to fly. The old idea was that circulation numbers were key to generating advertising income and therefore financial success was dying on it’s arse. With a new model I think special interest print can thrive, and in particular Foam Symmetry which already had such a great aesthetic and loyal audience.

What can we expect to see that is the same? What will be different?

I don’t think there would have been any point starting up again if we didn’t have any continuity from the magazine’s roots. Most people are keen that issue #20 might sit on their shelves next to #19 and they would be able to continue their collection. There are many like-minded and equally obsessive folks out there.

I’m historically a print designer so I was adamant we should continue down the path of the highest quality we could achieve – killer content, amazing printing and speciality paper is the key. I hope to continue the quality and even surpass people’s expectations.

The end result would be to show the content in the best light possible. It would come from the world’s best photographers, writers and illustrators with that Foam Symmetry angle. As surfing goes more mainstream and with the Olympics undoubtedly having a big impact, it’s becomes even more important to show what other surfing alternatives that are out there.

There are so many creative individuals that don’t travel that easy road who have had no voice since Foam Symmetry closed and we want to champion them. So in that respect it will be business as usual. The exciting thing is we kind of don’t know what will be different, only that we want to show whatever it is in the way only Foam Symmetry can.

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Who are some of the contributors?

Our main focus was getting a great interview for #20 and the relaunch. The stars aligned when we met Shawn Stüssy in southwest France. We pursued him relentlessly around the globe until he acquiesced and finally said yes to an interview. We talked to him about his early, mostly unreported, exploits in the surf industry. Along with the amazing photography from Morgan Maassen and JP Van Swae, it made for a real stand out feature for #20.

Other contributors were incredibly generous with their time and talent. We have amazing content from Woody Gooch, Matthew Wigglesworth, Marlee Owen, Brigid Lally, Scott Massey, Sam Glazebrook, Thomas Lodin and Mark Leary. We are literally nothing without them, so a big thank you to all of them for believing.

Tell us about the process of making a magazine from concept to press. What are the challenges involved?

Well from a creative perspective, ‘content’ is pretty much king. Actually from every perspective, really. Without great content any amount of creative embroidery isn’t going to win any hearts or minds or sell magazines. Understanding your audience is key. I think it’s about taking them on a visual journey, very much like a movie. You need to have changes of pace, color, scale – everything that will make them want to keep turning the page and enjoying the process.

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Detail is important – the way you crop an image, the way the type reads, hand lettering, knowing when to let an image just be, negative space is very important, too. Follow some rules, break a few, and always keep that punk aesthetic. All of these small creative decisions most won’t notice but will make for a rewarding time. God is in the details or ‘Retail IS detail,’ as my old boss used to say. Ultimately it’s about producing the best surf magazine I possibly can. A dream job (no pressure, of course).

The design and production process is the same as it’s been for decades except for the size of the team. What was once a soccer team or two is now just me which obviously has its own pressures. The biggest challenge is global logistics. The usual avenues either no longer work or are not economically feasible for such a small magazine. That’s where a lot of our energy goes. We are literally learning step-by-step.

What’s so important about having an actual print magazine to read?

There is something about print, seeing an image on a double page spread, the smell of the fresh ink, the way it has soaked into a beautiful paper that you just can’t replicate with pixels. A printed magazine is a tangible and tactile object and over time serves to be almost a diary entry for a part of your life. I still have old copies of The Face and Zoom that take me right back to a time and a place; like a scratch you remember making on your favourite Bowie album – it all becomes part of your memories. Digital doesn’t do that. Magazines have a longevity and I think that’s why people collect them.

Foam Symmetry  Editor, Gavin Joule

Foam Symmetry Editor, Gavin Joule

Also, Foam Symmetry is akin to a global family surf album. It’ll be nice in a few years remembering ‘What was I thinking buying that board’ and ‘Jeez doesn’t Andy Nieblas look young in that shot?’ Try doing that with Instagram. I can’t even locate a shot I saw yesterday.

How can we get a hold of a copy of the new Foam Symmetry?

Ordering a quarterly subscription is the easiest. Check our website. It should also be available in your local surf shop – pester your local crew if they don’t stock us. We ship worldwide. We appreciate your support!


To order your copy of the new Foam Symmetry, Issue No. 20 or to subscribe, click here.