Just came across this buried on my hard drive. Had forgotten entirely I ever did this interview. It was meant to be published in the fourth issue of my watersports magazine The Surfwriter’s Quarterly back in the summer of 1996.
That issue and this interview never saw the light of day. The magazine was distributed nationally with a good response. We just didn’t have the advertising support we needed to keep it going.
It’s a typical chilly winter evening in Ventura as we sit down by the side of the fire to chat. Beneath a colorful seascape by the artist Andre Derain, Phil sits contemplatively, reflecting on a similar night nearly two years ago when the idea for TSQ had kept him from sleep. During that evening and into that night, the idea crystallized into the form of a flyer for a writing contest which he felt would serve as the basis for a new publication wherein the true voices of surfing and the sea would be heard and thereby reestablish surfing and the beach lifestyle as the purely spiritual and soulful experience it once had been, and still in some remote geographic places, and in the far corners of our collective souls, still exists. Simply put, a publication of expression, voices, and fusion, as stated in the Introduction of the Premier Issue. Like the fire before us, Phil felt that surfing soul needed a bit of stoking.
Phil hand delivered the flyer to seventy-five surf shops in Southern and Central California, mailed some to friends in Santa Cruz and Northern Cal., then waited as patiently as possible to see what the response would be. It took about three weeks for the first submissions to trickle in, and then, soon after, came the flood.
In the next moment, almost simultaneously, Phil reached for the fire poker and opened spaces for the fire to breathe as his fiance Gretchen came in from the kitchen with three hot cups of coffee. Phil was back again, in his totality, here in the present. Gretchen claimed her place between the two of us and we began to chat…
B.F. What events led to the inspiration and development of The Surfwriter’s Quarterly?
P.W. Around 1989 I had begun to dislike the image of “The Surfer” so I started to distance myself from surfing as a whole. After a while I realized that I was placing too much emphasis on the collective image of surfers and not enough on my personal connection to the experience. I had distanced myself from something I loved so as not to be identified with the stereotype.
B.F. Who has been your biggest inspiration?
P.W. (Contemplates seriously) Mike Doyle, because he once said, Don’t waste your time thinking about what you want to do. If you feel strongly enough about going somewhere or doing something, go there, and figure out the rest later.
B.F. What goals did you set out to achieve in the beginning?
P.W. A more well rounded representation of surf ing and the beach lifestyle.
B.F. Do you feel you’ve achieved that goal?
P.W. Yes, but the magazine is an open forum and there is always room for input.
B.F. Where were your thoughts two years ago?
P.W. I had just finished school and was considering becoming a teacher.
B.F. And now?
P.W. Gretchen and I are getting married soon, considering adoption, and teaching our three-year-old, Lauren, to surf.
B.F. What message if any are you hoping to get out there to people?
P.W. Everyone is welcome.
B.F. What do you do with your free time these days?
P.W. Free time? (Gretchen backs this up) I’m working two jobs in addition to working on the magazine.
B.F. How has your life changed in the past year and a half?
P.W. I’ve found true focus in my life and a family.
B.F. Did you ever think you would just give up?
P.W. Everyone needs to reserve an out clause for themselves.
B.F. What kept you motivated?
P.W. Gretchen, my friends, my family and the readers! (Gretchen adds that Phil wanted to just give up one night when the next morning a letter came from a reader that stoked the fire.)
B.F. What’s a typical day in the life of Phil Wikel?
P.W. Up at 7:00AM, have coffee, sit at my desk and sketch out the daily plan for the magazine. Then I take Gretchen to work, go back to the office/home to with Lauren and work on the mag until 12:30PM. Then I take Lauren to school, check the surf and go out if it’s good. After that I go to work at the Ventura Concert Theater as an Assistant in the Promotion Department. At 6:00PM I pick up Gretchen and Lauren. Then, I either go back to the theater to do more promo work, or tend bar, or watch Lauren while Gretchen is out house cleaning. In the evenings we watch an occasional documentary film, have dinner, play with Lauren, make more phone calls, do more magazine planning, in bed by midnight.
B.F. Who is your favorite writer or what writers have inspired you most?
P.W. There are five; Joseph Conrad, Dylan Thomas,Herman Melville, Dan Millman, and Ernest Hemingway.
P.W. Simply put, Conrad for his understanding of the ocean and the human spirit, Thomas for his love of language, Melville for similar reasons as Conrad, Millman for his simplicity, and Hemingway for his ability to say so much with so few words.
B.F. What is your favorite book?
P.W. (After long contemplation) Red and Black by Stendahl.
P.W. Because Stendahl was a fanatic about the truth.
(To lighten things up I asked the following:)
B.F. What is your favorite film?
P.W. Recently, Before Sunrise, and Fearless.
P.W. Before Sunrise for its realism, and Fearless for its representation of the strength of an empowered individual.
B.F. What is your favorite Surf Movie?
P.W. Endless Summer
P.W. Because it was about fun and simplicity and devoid of ego.
B.F. Where did you go on the first surfing trip you ever took?
P.W. San Onofre, Easter break ‘84.
B.F. Where did you go on your latest surfing trip?
P.W. Cabo San Lucas with Gretchen and some friends.
B.F. Any surf trips planned for the near future?
P.W. Cabo in July. Mexico is our home away from home.
B.F. Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
P.W. Publishing TSQ, surfing with my family, and growing old gracefully.
(My focus turns to Gretchen)
B.F. How did you guys meet?
G. . I was working for a Title Insurance Company and Phil was working for a Courier Company on summer break. Phil thought I was married so he never asked me out. Then a year later we finally went to lunch. Somehow we kept crossing paths. (They both disagree with this entire answer.)
B.F. How do you fit into this? (This gets deep)
P.W. Very nicely. (smiles)
G. . Emotional support when everything gets crazy. WE’RE A TEAM!
B.F. As a woman, what would you add to this publication?
G. . While I’m very happy with the Women’s Forum, I hope we can get more women involved with the magazine and with
surfing. Right now the guys have, well, almost a monopoly on the surfing scene.
B.F. If you could freeze one moment in time in the past year and half what would it be?
G. . Two weeks ago, there was so much positive news about the magazine that Phil called me at work three times in 15 minutes. Finally he drove to my office to show me all the great material that was coming in. His excitement was very contagious.
B.F. Who is your biggest inspiration?
G. Lauren Bacall, whom my daughter is named after.
G. . She has grown old so beautifully. I don’t mean her looks necessarily, she has carried herself gracefully for all these years and she doesn’t have to scream for respect from men she’s earned it. She’s a lady.
B.F. Where do you hope to be in 10 years?
G. I would like to be surfing with my kids, celebrating our 10th Wedding Anniversary, and to be an inspiration to my children.
B.F. In closing, any thank you’s?
P&G. (Heavy concentration) Our friends, our families, all the people we’ve had the privilege of meeting that we would have never met otherwise, and people who still believe in people.
B.F. Finish this sentence: The ocean for us means…