The Legend of Barlo: From Dropout to Preeminent Surf Journalist

December 13, 2011, Judd

Pezman, Kampion, Warshaw and Barilotti …

Sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?

These names don’t carry the same clout as Slater, Machado, Irons or Curren; but any voracious reader of surf culture will recognize the first four names above. For what Slater, et. al. is to pro surfing, these four are to surf journalism.

One of the best is Surfer’s editor-at-large, Steve Barilotti, who has lived in Cardiff since 1991 and is known affectionately as “Barlo”.

Barlo started surfing when he entered Santa Barbara City College at age 17 and he considers it a bit of a miracle that over 500 of his articles have been published and that he eventually rose to become Surfer Magazine’s senior editor.

“I barely graduated high school,” said Barlo. “I never went. Let’s just say I definitely inhaled.

“Later I think I dropped out of every institution of higher learning in San Diego,” laughs Barlo, who finally finished a BA in Journalism in 1988 at SDSU.

So how did Barlo evolve from aimless inlander to become one of the few people who make their living exclusively writing about surfing?

“I’ve had some unique jobs,” said Barlo, a fourthgeneration Californian who grew up, “to my great disgust,” in Ontario and La Verne, both places not known for their consistent point breaks.

Some of Barlo’s jobs were exotic. Others were soul-killers. Barlo liked being a deck hand in the South Seas’ as well as his sailing instructor gig, but he hated the job that he held for five years, working in the basement of a downtown San Diego title insurance company.

This fluorescent-lit underworld where Barlo scoured land-title records was antithetical to Barlo’s inner surf-nomad, but it would foster solid researching skills, which are evident in his articles and projects, such as the forward he wrote to a $400 coffee-table book on legendary surf photographer and Carlsbad resident LeRoy Grannis.

Barlo is able to make a reader feel like they’ve journeyed with him to Indo, South Africa, Peru, Japan, Newfoundland and other exotic surf breaks he’s written about. In one of his more recent travel assignments, Barlo painted a vivid picture of Madagascar, describing in lurid, but not overbearing details, the flora and fauna, history, culture, politics and nascent surf culture of this island off the southeast African coast.

Barlo, a one-time fashion model who thinks of himself as a geek, remembers his first published article in -surfer, which paid him a hefty sum of $125 (in 1987 money), for a mere 600 words:

“I was on the way to my restaurant job, tying on my waiter’s apron and checking my mail. There was an envelope from Surfer Magazine in it. I was sure it was another rejection letter, but out slipped a check. That was it… I tasted first blood.”

Barlo’s first story was an ironic yarn about struggling out of his wetsuit in the parking lot of a Ralph’s in Mission Beach, exposing his buns, only to have a seemingly-pissed-off woman chase him and his girlfriend down in the parking lot.

“I thought the police would arrest me and I’d be registered as a sex offender,” Barlo recalled with a laugh. Turns out the woman was pointing at his car, frantically yelling at him that he had left his groceries on top of his VW.

Judd Handler is a freelance writer and wellness/lifestyle coach in Encinitas, California. He surfs uncrowded, fun reef breaks; plays instrumental alternate-tuning guitar; goes hiking in the backcountry; and is amazed on a daily basis by just being alive.