May 1, 2015

Wisdom, they say, is more precious than rubies. And from what we’ve learned, it’s probably harder to find. You spend the first 16 years of your life wishing everybody would stop telling you what to do. You spend the rest of the time wishing they would give you a hint.

So thank the Lord for Huck Magazine. In the last few years, the London-based publication has established itself as a champion for creatives of all kinds, featuring a wealth of activity from around the world and starting a DIY revolution in the process. Now, the bi-monthly magazine has gathered the wisdom it has gleaned from years of interviews, and published it one beautifully-illustrated book. Paddle Against The Flow, which is available here by the way, shares the learned lessons of such luminaries as Ai Wei Wei, Spike Jonze, Douglas Coupland and whole army more of guiding lights. We caught up with editor Andrea Kurland to find out more…

UO: How would you describe Huck to someone who hasn’t seen it?

Andrea: Huck celebrates independence – people that make things happen for themselves, and the vibrant countercultures that they tend to spark. Independence, weirdly, is still something of a radical idea, but we’ve always firmly believed that self-determination is the best route to true fulfilment. That DIY attitude – that you should build something for yourself rather than wait for someone to build it for you – underpins everything we love, from skateboarding and punk to grassroots activism. So we spend most of our time speaking to people about how they carved their own path to independence. Sometimes those people are cultural icons – like Kim Gordon, Larry Clark, Nas and Cat Power – sometimes they’re an unknown artist, or group of activists, giving birth to a new movement on the other side of the world. Their stories inspire us, because they value their independence in the same way we value ours. So we’ve made it our job to share those stories with as many people as we can.

UO: What inspired Huck’s foray into the world of books?

Andrea: When you’re working day in, day out building something that you love, it can be hard to sit back and reflect. So a couple of years ago, we made a conscious effort to flick through our back catalogue and revisit all the stories we’ve shared over the years. We realised that inside every issue, no matter how old, there were all these great moments where the people we were speaking to shared a few pearls of wisdom – some kind of lesson learned, or piece of advice, that you could apply to your own life. They felt completely timeless. And yet here they were, locked away in our archives. That’s the bittersweet reality of making magazines; you find all these stories that you really believe in, and yet you only have two months to get them into people’s hands. But if you design it up real nice, throw in a pretty hardback cover and call it a book, you can suddenly reach loads more people – in loads more places – for a really long time. So a book, in our eyes, was a no-brainer. We just needed the expertise of a great publisher and were lucky enough to find that in Chronicle Books.

UO: How did the idea for Paddle Against The Flow Come About? What inspired the book’s title?

Andrea: The book’s name is inspired by a fun manifesto we published in issue one – written by Huck’s founder, Vince Medeiros – which in turn was inspired by our namesake, Huckleberry Finn: “Ever felt as if you’re paddling against the flow? A ragged and privileged purveyor of the freedom principle, Huck represents the flowering of innocence and rebellion – and the contemporary inevitability of their failure. We’re all Huck Finn now… drifting downstream, we’re clinging to the raft and refusing to be civilised. Can we escape the inevitable? Keep paddling. Just keep paddling…” It’s been our compass since day one. And it still captures the spirit of rebellion that runs throughout the book.

UO: How were the personalities in the book chosen?

Andrea: The personalities featured in the book are just a sampling of all the people we’ve been lucky enough to meet and collaborate with over the years. We’re drawn to them because we admire the way they’ve created a livelihood out of a passion, often challenging accepted notions of success to go their own way. That single thread – the radical idea that you can stray from the pack – is what connects someone like Spike Jonze, a skateboarding outsider who’s now got Hollywood at his feet, to an art-activist like Ai WeiWei. It’s what connects Kim Gordon, ‘the only girl in the band’, to someone like Dave Eggers, who started his own publishing house because he couldn’t get a book deal. That’s the barometer of success we like to use when seeking out anyone featured in Huck: people who challenge the way things are.

UO: You say that Paddle Against The Flow is a ‘Book of Inspired Doers’. Tell us what you mean by ‘Generation DIY’.

Andrea: Generation DIY is the community that surrounds us. We’re drawn together because we’re frustrated, curious and determined in equal measure. We’re frustrated by a very real lack of opportunity – and the fact that our so-called leaders don’t seem to care all that much. We’re curious about everything so we ask loads of challenging questions, or teach ourselves how to do something if we need a new skill. And if we don’t get the right answers, or that elusive ‘big break’, we’re determined enough to do something about it. If we want to be a filmmaker, we’ll make a film. If we want to be a photographer, we’ll go out and shoot. We’ll find a way to make things happen – and usually that means doing it ourselves.

UO: Which piece of advice from the book resonates most for you?

Andrea: “It’s good to make your mistakes when you’re young and not afraid. But you should never be afraid to make mistakes. Life moves at the speed at light. People forget the mistakes. Just keep making.” It’s from photographer Cheryl Dunn. What better way to turn regret into a catalyst for action?

Photographer: Spencer Murphy
UO: If I could provide one piece of wisdom, it would be…

Andrea: “How do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time.” That’s something my dad has always said to me since I was a little girl, anytime I’m overcome with anxiety (which is a lot of the time) or faced with an overwhelming workload. It worked when I had too much homework, and it still works now. Without that little elephant, I wouldn’t be able to do my bit on Huck.

To celebrate the release of Paddle Against The Flow, we’re giving you the chance win an A2 framed print of MIA by Spencer Murphy, A One Year Subscription to Huck Magazine, A copy of Paddle Against the Flow and £200 to spend at Urban Outfitters. This competition is now over.