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X Marks the Spot

It made perfect sense to learn about Super X Media Combine via a chance encounter with Takuji Masuda, the force behind the magazine Super X Media, at a Malibu café after a day surfing County Line. After all, Super X, a trilingual (English, Japanese, French) experimental magazine that’s part art project/part surfer’s journal/part subculture zine, has much to do with connectivity and serendipity. Example: I’d just finished telling my friends about lunching in the past — in this very spot — with Craig Stecyk, one of Super X’s contributors, only to turn around and see Tak, as he’s affectionately known in the surf world, munching a salmon salad right behind us. I asked Tak about the long-rumored Super X book. He said it was done and in stores — actually, in one store as it turns out. Hennessey & Ingalls is currently the only distributor of the limited-edition, $200 coffee-table book. That’s how it’s always worked with Super X: If you know, you know. If you don’t, you better ask somebody.

Since the mid-’90s, Super X — a weird and wonderful but extremely-on-the-down-low project of Masuda’s, with steady contributions from Glen E. Friedman, Stecyk, famed surf photographer Art Brewer and others — has relied on word of mouth, URLs, and the globe-trotting of its tribe of artists and athletes for dissemination. Super X began with the age-old question: How does a bright, humble young man continue to travel the world surfing and still do something meaningful that transcends the often layabout world of professional surfers (there’s a lot of downtime between swells)? Masuda was that man, at the time staring out at the ocean from the campus of Pepperdine University, trying to juggle being the number-5 rated longboarder in the world while pursuing a master’s degree in business. The ocean won that debate. But when Masuda realized that the number-one longboarder in the world, Joel Tudor, was “10 times better than I was,” he decided to put his energies into doing something that both honored and engaged his “masters” in the bohemian community of artists, surfers, skaters, musicians and snowboarders.

After dropping out of school in 1996, Masuda wrangled a fellowship with the International University of Japan’s Center for Global Communications and began pursuing a thesis about how technological advances empower youth. At the time, “people were freaking out about the possibilities of the Internet and hyper-connectivity,” he says. With some financial backing from one of Masuda’s surfing sponsors and the advent of Mac’s Powerbook, Super X became the case study for his thesis. And something else as well.

“I was trying to have ultimate freedom, which is the surfer’s manifest. In the past surfers would disappear and disconnect. Now we’re not disconnected anymore,” says Masuda. “I was traveling the world surfing and putting together the magazine all on the laptop. I was in France, Spain and Fiji before we went into print. I was going over proofs in Tavara.”

It’s not a stretch to say Masuda created one of the first virtual communities and affinity groups for denizens of a certain subculture with Super X. As photojournalistic expeditions and travel journals from Cuba or Biarritz or postwar Sarajevo reached his laptop, Masuda would put them up online — disseminating art and information and spreading the idea of a more profound connection than geography among those sympathetic to surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding and outsider art.

Super X was also a bit of a traveling road show — sponsoring artist residencies (Barry McGee and Stecyk in Tokyo), surfing lessons, music seminars and other various and sundry cultural exchanges.

“We tried to teach as many people as possible and learn as much as possible,” says Masuda. “The idea was to show our choices and alternatives.”

Once a year, Masuda would collect the year’s harvest — everything from hot-rodding in the desert with Billy Gibbons and Boyd Carrington to Doug Aitken’s theoretical art projects (I can never fathom them) — and distribute a printed version that became Super X the magazine, available, of course, in limited supply and only if you happened to be at the right place at the right time.

If you missed out the first time around, now you can get all eight issues of Super X in one place with Combine. Despite its esoteric nature, the hallmarks of Super X have always been great art, great art direction and cool, if somewhat Dadaist, journalism. The book more than holds up these traditions. Though the thesis may have been hyper-connectivity and progressive culture, Super X Media Combine is, in the end, a time capsule and, by definition, nostalgic — which explains both its emotional pull and the difficulty in pigeonholing it.

“I don’t know what you end up with,” says Masuda. “It’s like surfing. It’s always, yeah, that was good, but you should have been here yesterday.”

Only a few hundred copies remain, so better hurry before yesterday passes you by.

Super X Media Combine | By Takuji Masuda | First Point Productions | 356 pages, | $200 hardcover