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, taking America—and the world—by storm. Surfing became not just a sport, but a way of life, and the culture that surrounded it was 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 Gidget era of the early 1960s.
This collection, drawn from Grannis’s personal archives, showcases an impressive selection of surf photographs—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. Equally notable is his work covering an 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.