top of page

On Producing 'Maps to Nowhere': Q&A with Surfline VP of Operations and Media Johnny Marcon

Jordan P. Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling

Want weekly exclusive brand storytelling content like this direct to your inbox? Subscribe to the Brand Storytelling Newsletter.

Great surfing content in any form, from Five Summer Stories to Barbarian Days, has at its heart the simultaneous purity of spirit and ceaseless commitment necessary for pursuing great surf. That same energy at the intersection of surf and adventure can be found in the series from Surfline and O’Neill ‘Maps to Nowhere’, which recently returned for a second season. Featuring crews assembled by surf adventurer and writer Matt Rode, each episode of the series captures the unrelenting spirit of adventure as these surfers catch what has become increasingly rare in the modern era: waves that are both perfect and empty.

In a sea of content from adventure and apparel brands, it’s hard to stand out. But 'Maps to Nowhere' captures a bit of the magic that lives at the heart of surf adventure, reflecting back the romantic qualities that so appeal to audiences and made surfing massively popular in the US in the first place. To learn more about how this series came to be and what makes it stand out in the lineup of other brand series and films, BrandStorytelling caught up with Johnny Marcon, VP of Operations and Media at Surfline, to discuss:

Those that know Surfline are familiar with it being a premiere resource for forecasts and surf reports as well as editorial coverage, but those on the margins may not know about Surfline’s forays into story-driven content. For the uninitiated, can you talk a little bit about Surfline and its relationship with content creation?

Yes, Surfline’s core business is built around surf cameras and forecasting. These two services (accessed through our consumer subscription business) have become indispensable parts of the modern surfing experience. That being said, we believe content plays an important role in furthering our connection with passionate surfers, no matter how invaluable the core utilitarian service is. Due to the nature of our core product experience, content actually gives us the ability to substantiate the value of our products by demonstrating that we are present when great waves happen – because we knew they were coming! We tell stories that are closely tied to great surf, because of both the direct and indirect ways these stories back up our claims to being the best surf forecasting service in the world. There’s a secondary component to all of this as well, which is that our core product experiences are highly utilitarian, and we want to find ways to build a more emotional connection with our audience. Content is the best and most consistent way for us to do this.


What was the spark that kicked off season 1 of Maps to Nowhere, and who did it begin with - Surfline, O’Neill, or host Matt Rode? 

The idea was first sparked in early partnership discussions between Surfline and O’Neill about doing something new and fresh in the content space. The Surfline team presented the initial concept that became Maps, starting with an idea that’s existed in surfing since basically the beginning of time: the search for perfect, uncrowded waves. In many ways, Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer (made in 1966) was made with the same premise, and there have been countless surf content projects that have endeavored to do the same thing in the decades since. We felt confident that Surfline in particular might be able to do something fresh and unique because of one key competency – our unique ability to forecast surf anywhere around the world. We figured that if we combined our forecast expertise with the experience of a great host/guide (Matt) we might be able to do something special. I’m stoked to say that I think we’ve achieved that.


What does your collaboration with O’Neill look like from a production perspective? 

Surfline runs the production almost entirely. We have an amazing in-house Director of Video, Graham Nash, who oversees the project from start to finish. That being said, each trip requires close collaboration between Surfline and O’Neill to identify athletes and coordinate all their travel. Every athlete you see in Maps to Nowhere is sponsored by O’Neill, which is where the partnership really centers. We’ve developed a concept that we feel is compelling and will drive a ton of visibility and enthusiasm, and then we’re integrating O’Neill’s athletes, apparel, and surf products natively throughout the storytelling. O’Neill has fronted the entire production budget as a part of a corporate partnership, but Surfline manages and covers the tactical production costs within the context of that budget. It ends up being a win-win for both sides.


What were Surfline’s expectations and goals in releasing season 1 and how did the results measure up? 

We knew pretty early on that it was going to be the biggest video-based undertaking in Surfline’s history. The production itself was not without its speed bumps, but once we had one or two trips under our belt we knew there was some really unique potential with the series. The quantitative results (views, comments, etc.) exceeded our expectations by a few increments, but the general reception in the surf world really surprised us. The positive feedback was overwhelming, from almost all angles of the surf community and industry.


Season 2 promises new waves and fresh faces - what else can viewers expect when they tune in to watch Season 2? 

In season 1, Matt took us mostly to places that he had been before. This allowed him not only to host the episode, but also to act as the production guide. Season 2 is distinct in that every location is new to both Matt and our team. We were legitimately venturing into the unknown, in some cases based on very limited information, and we scored in each instance. I will add that season 1 had a very male-dominated athlete roster, and I’m proud to say we’ve got a female athlete on every trip in season 2. This was key for me as this series has a very universal appeal, so we want as many viewers as possible to feel like they are seeing themselves represented in the content (still not perfect, but we’re improving).

There is an ephemeral quality that sets this series apart from other surf films and series produced by surf, apparel, and outdoor adventure companies; something to do with the earnestness with which the subjects pursue these breaks. What would you say is happening behind the scenes - in the office or on location - that contributes to that mercurial quality? 

Surfing, and particularly the surf industry, is a very complex space. There are a lot of legacy dynamics that cause brands, athletes, and media companies to really keep their guard up in an effort to “be the cool kid”. We’ve taken a different approach with Maps and just focused on a core spiritual truth that every surfer can relate to: surfing perfect, uncrowded waves (especially with your friends!) is the best. We are trying to remind the viewer of that in whatever way we can (and it’s pretty easy since the surfers themselves are feeling and proclaiming exactly that on their own throughout the series).


What advice would you offer brands looking to partner with publishers (or vice versa) to empower them to work collaboratively and tell stories that speak to their values?

Find a concept and storyline that speaks to the true experiences of your target audience(s). Focus on telling the best story that showcases that truth, and then work on integrating your business goals thereafter. Viewers won’t respond, and often won’t even engage, if they feel that you’re presenting them with a commercial. And when in doubt, go to tropical locations with a beautiful setting! I kid (kind of).


You can watch Maps to Nowhere, Season 2 on YouTube. Visit Surfline to learn more.


About Johnny Marcon:

Johnny is Vice President of Operations & Media at Surfline. Originally from Orange County, he spent his college years in Santa Barbara before returning home to southern California to work at Surfline. He currently oversees all the internal operations, brand, content and advertising efforts of the company. He’s a lifelong surfer and feels grateful every day to be able to work on something that he loves.


Recent Posts
Follow Us
  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • YouTube Social  Icon
bottom of page