Surfing's golden age

By Steve Barilotti. Excerpt from the book "LeRoy Grannis, Surf Photography"

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Raised a block from the ocean in Hermosa Beach, Grannis began surfing at age fourteen on a borrowed redwood plank that weighed close to a hundred pounds. It was there, bobbing in the gentle swells beneath the Hermosa Beach Pier, that he met fellow surfers Lewis "Hoppy" Swarts, another Hermosa beach native, and John "Doc" Ball, an affable University of Southern California dental student who was ten years older than Grannis. The three became lifelong friends.

In the years following the war, Grannis surfed sporadically, but became increasingly absorbed in the demands of his job and raising four children. In late 1959 he was diagnosed with a stress-related stomach ulcer, and his doctor recommended a relaxing pastime. Surf photography appeared a logical choice, as Grannis lived a few blocks from the ocean and his teenage son Frank had recently begun surfing. By June 1960 Grannis had built a darkroom in his garage and developed a few rudimentary photos, their style influenced by Doc Ball.

That summer, with an East German 35mm camera, he began shooting 22nd Street in Hermosa Beach, a stretch of undistinguished South Bay beach break that attracted a crew of young surfers eager to show off for his lens. The undisputed leader of the 22nd Street gang was Dewey Weber, who at twenty-three had already starred in several surf films and had just opened his own surfboard shop in nearby Venice Beach. The small (five-foot-three) but powerful Weber surfed aggressively and pushed the rest of the crew, which included Henry Ford, Freddie Pfahler, and Mike Zuetell, to perform their best. By the end of 1960 Grannis had shot and developed more than twentyfive hundred frames.

Grannis's darkroom was the closest thing to a one-hour photo lab in the South Bay, and at a time when surf magazines came out bimonthly, surfers were ravenous for current shots of themselves. "Sometimes I'd go right from shooting at 22nd Street to the darkroom, and before I knew it there'd be half a dozen guys waiting to see what I'd shot,"Grannis recalls. "And then I'd get them in the darkroom and the body heat would become terrible. There were a couple of kids, Tom and Don Craig, who lived nearby who would go through my trash to see if I threw anything away that they wanted." From his house it was only a forty-minute drive up the then two-lane Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu, an obscure point break when Grannis surfed it in the thirties, which by 1960 was world-famous.
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Pipeline, c. 1965
Jacobs Surfboards Advertising Shoot, Hermosa Beach, 1963