Capturing the perfect wave
Tapping into the archives of America’s most important surf photographer of the ’60s and ’70s
At a time when surfing is more popular than ever, it’s fitting to look back at the years that brought the sport into the mainstream. Developed by Hawaiian islanders over five centuries ago, surfing began to peak on the mainland in the 1950s—becoming not just a sport, but a way of life, admired and exported across the globe. One of the key image-makers from that period is LeRoy Grannis, a surfer since 1931, who began photographing the scene in California and Hawaii in the longboard era of the early 1960s.
This edition showcases Grannis’s most vibrant work—from the bliss of catching the perfect wave at San Onofre to dramatic wipeouts at Oahu’s famed North Shore. An innovator in the field, Grannis suction-cupped a waterproof box to his board, enabling him to change film in the water and stay closer to the action than other photographers of the time. He also covered the emerging surf lifestyle, from surfer stomps and hoards of fans at surf contests to board-laden woody station wagons along the Pacific Coast Highway. It is in these iconic images that a sport still in its adolescence embodied the free-spirited nature of an era—a time before shortboards and celebrity endorsements, when surfing was at its bronzed best.
Over the past decade working as Surfer magazine’s globe-roaming editor at large, photojournalist Steve Barilotti has made it his business to document the sport, art, and lore of surfing. He has also written for The Perfect Day and books by renowned surf photographers Art Brewer and Ted Grambeau.
Cultural anthropologist and graphic design historian Jim Heimann is Executive Editor for TASCHEN America, and author of numerous books on architecture, pop culture, and the history of the West Coast, Los Angeles, and Hollywood. His unrivaled private collection of ephemera has been featured in museum exhibitions around the world and dozens of books.
Leroy Grannis’s initial foray into surfing began at age 14, but it wasn’t until the age of 42 that he picked up a camera and made a career out of it. Under doctor’s orders to take up a hobby, Grannis built a darkroom in his garage and began shooting surfers at Hermosa Beach, and Photo: Grannis quickly became a hallmark of the California surf scene of the 1960s. Grannis is considered one of the most important documentarians of the sport, and was inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame in 1966. He died on February 3, 2011.