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Surf media pioneers

Surf culture

John Severson

The world of surf art and media owes a lot to this man. A jack of all trades. A very skilled filmmaker, publicist, photographer, and a pioneer of the modern surf art scene.

He is perhaps most famous for founding the first ever surf magazine; 'The Surfer', which is still around today, but is now called 'Surfer'. John's publication was a small photo book of surf imagery, which coincided with his recent surf film 'Surf Fever'. At first, only a one-off publication, its success saw it evolve into a bi-monthly magazine.

'The Surfer' made surfing visible to the world, creating a whole new segment to the media, and subsequently opening up new roles and opportunities in the surfing world, like surf photography, widespread advertising and professional surfing.

It was surf movies that John first made his name. And many of his surf movie posters are now collectables.

Without John's vision and creative flair, surf media, surf art and in-deed surf culture, would not be what it is today.

Bud Browne

The creator of the surf movie. Before the Internet, advertising, television, magazines and movies, surfing was more or less invisible to the masses. That all changed in 1953 when Bud Browne released his first surf film entitled 'Hawaiian Surfing Movie'.

It was Bud's initial surf films that inspired a boom of interest in surfing in Hawaii and California, and eventually the world.

Bud was a skilled surfer and terrific waterman. And it was these skills in the water that enabled him to paddle out into the surf and shoot much of his revolutionary footage. In time, he developed a drysuit of his own and a waterproof casing for his camera to aid him in his work.

Bud first took to surfing in 1938, and later started filming surfers, including the great Duke Kahanamoku. Bud earned his keep teaching and lifeguarding. He saved up to buy a camera, and later enrolled in a cinema school and learnt to edit his surf film footage. And in 1953, he was invited to screen his first surf footage at a high school in California. Advertising the films himself, through handmade signs he'd distribute locally. And then charged an admission fee to view his films. And so the surf movie was born.

Bud soon left teaching and traveled the world filming as he went. His early films were only narrated, but later Bud started editing sound into his films, which helped to promote the surf music sound of the time.

Bud's films, now seen around the world were inspiring people all over the world to surf. And through his travels, Bud was the first to film footage in Australia, thus producing the first ever international surf film.

Bud's films inspired others to film surf movies of their own, and soon the surf film genre was booming. Inspiring people to pick up a surfboard and head for the beach. A true inspiration for surf culture.

Bruce Brown

A revolutionary surf filmmaker, a name I'm sure you've all heard, if not, does Endless Summer ring any bells?! Bruce Brown's surf films romanticised the sport and the lifestyle. Ignoring the usual stereotypes associated with other surf movies of the 50s and early 60s, painting surfers in a more positive light.

Bruce studied hard while in the Navy to become top of his class, why? So he could be stationed at a location of his choice, which was Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, so he could surf. While in Hawaii, he started to experiment with film. And on his return to California, after his discharge from the Navy, he met up with the infamous Dale Velzy, who bought Bruce a camera, and paid him to film a promotion for Velzy's surf team.

Bruce's first film was 'Slippery When Wet'. He followed with more similar films, until he grew tired of the ever-increasing predictable genre of surf film, and aimed to create something different. 'The Endless Summer' was the result, in 1964. A film that followed two surfers' journey/quest to follow the summer around the world, surfing as they went, narrated by Bruce himself. The film's success and popularity was phenomenal, with mainland non-surfers as well as surfers.

Ron Stoner

Ron Stoner is widely considered to be one of the original masters of surf photography, cited by many photographers today as a great influence in their work. Stoner led the way during the late 1960s, where he landed many covers of Surfer magazine, shooting numerous iconic photos. His photos were colourful, beautifully framed and really captured the Californian surf & beach culture of the late 60s, in and out of the water.

Sadly Stoner's personal life eventually overtook his career. He was a schizophrenic and battled with a drug problem too. He mysteriously disappeared in the early 70s, filed as a 'missing person' in 1977 and declared dead in 1996.

Ron Stoner didn't invent color surf photography, but he was the first real master of the craft.

Matt Warshaw

Ron Church

Ron Church was one of the pioneering photographers of surfing and surf culture in California and Hawaii during the 1960s, shooting legends from Duke Kahanamoku to Greg Noll. His photos captured the surf culture of the time beautifully, both the action in the water and the wider culture, the people, on the beach, in the parking lots, at the pier… His photographs make up a good deal of the archive of iconic photos from surfing and Californian cultures' history.

Born in 1934, in Denver, Colorado. In the 40s Ron moved to Southern California where he became an accomplished waterman; originally diving, spear fishing, surfing and notably, he was an award-winning underwater photographer… In the 60s Ron adapted this experience to bring a unique and pioneering perspective to surf photography, shooting surfers from within the impact zone.

Tragically Ron died young, at only 39. But his work inspired a new breed of surf photographer, still inspiring modern day surf photographers. His work is captured in two great books; "Surf Contest" and The Surfer's Journal's "California to Hawaii 1960 to 1965".

LeRoy Grannis

The photo signature "Photo: Grannis" is synonymous with the golden age of surfing in the 1960s, both for his water angle shots and his photos of the wider surf culture of California and Hawaii. One of the leading documenters of surfing and surf culture of the time, his photos are iconic of an era lost to time.

LeRoy "Granny" Grannis was born in 1917 in Hermosa Beach, California. He started surfing at an early age but didn't start with photography until 1959, oddly enough at the advice of his doctor as a hobby to relieve stress (brought on by his job at a telephone company). Mentored by his friend and fellow photography great; Doc Ball, LeRoy quickly took to his new trade. But it lasted only a little longer than a decade, when he moved away from shooting surfing in 1971 in light of the growing competition and sprawling surf industry.

LeRoy is also remembered as one of the pioneering photographers for shooting from the water. He would paddle out, perched on his surfboard with his camera 'safely' encased in a wooden box.

He was pivotal in the launch and uprise of magazines like "Surfing Illustrated" and "International Surfing" (now "Surfing" magazine). Among his many honors, he was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame as the number one lensman in 1966, the Surfing Walk of Fame in 1999, his work is exhibited in prestigious Los Angeles and New York galleries, and in 2002, he received SIMA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

If you're interested, there are two great books of his work available titled "Photo: Grannis - Surfing's Golden Age 1960-1969" and "Leroy Grannis: Surf Photography of the 1960s and 1970s".

In 2011, the man the New York Times called the "Godfather of surf photography" passed away at the age of 93.

John Heath "Doc" Ball

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