LeRoy Grannis

The surfing community suffered a great loss this February when surfer and renowned photographer, Leroy Grannis, passed away at age 93 from natural causes. A Hermosa Beach local, Grannis was inducted into both the Surfing Walk of Fame and the International Surfing Hall of Fame and went on to co-found International Surfing, now known as SURFING MAGAZINE.

1969, LeRoy Grannis surfing Hermosa Beach with his Calypso amphibious camera, invented by another aquatic legend– Jacques Cousteau. Photo by John Grannis.

In the early 1960s in Hermosa Beach, California, surfer and amateur photographer LeRoy Grannis (1917-2011) began documenting the surf scene along the Southern California coast. In retrospect what he captured were surfing’s golden years and the evolution from a DIY culture of surfers making their own boards, surf zines and films to mainstream media’s adoption of a new American heroic figure: the surf god. With his pluck and cool insouciance, the surfer defined the new modern archetype and Hollywood and the advertising industry fell hard, producing big-budget films and using iconic surf imagery to help sell cars, vacations, and fashions to a nation of new mass consumers.

Midget Farrelly Surfing Shore Break, Makaha, 1968

Flyboy, Hermosa Beach, 1964

LeRoy Grannis recorded with his camera lens the entire surfing lifestyle in California and Hawaii in the 1960s and 1970s: the tanned surfers, the beach crowds, the surf fashions, the skaters, the surf contests, the surf graphics, even the cars, the architecture, and the landscape. Grannis became one of the most important documentarians of his time, capturing an era and a lifestyle that defined a shifting American identity in the modern period of the 20th century: a halcyon time between the Beat Generation of the late 50s and the yet to be formed Hippie counter-culture of the late 60s and early 70s.

Dive Makaha

LeRoy Grannis started out not as a professional or trained artist– but as a hobbyist. He didn’t even begin his epic career until the ripe age of 42 yrs old. With the onset of WWII, many of the young men in California enlisted (including Grannis), and surfing went quiet for awhile. After the war, Grannis returned to Hermosa Beach, took a job with Pacific Bell, and settled down. He surfed on-and-off, but otherwise became absorbed in the demands of a full time job, wife, and four children. In 1959 he was diagnosed with a stress related ulcer and his doctor recommended he take up something relaxing– that’s where fate stepped in. Surf photography was a natural– he lived a few blocks from the beach, knew the sport, and his son had begun to surf. At the time there were more than a few young surfers in Hermosa who wanted to see themselves in action– so with an East German 35mm camera he began chronicling the flourishing surf scene in Southern California. What he recorded is the surf scene exploding in a riot of Technicolor. California in the 1960s was the place where the “new” was always happening– it held a mythical place in our imaginations as the land of endless sun, surf, and possibilities.

Surfer, Hawaii 1960

1969, Sunset Beach, Duke Classic finalists

Skater 1960

Bikini Girl 1962

Beach Photo California 1960′s

Crowd Scene Hermosa Beach 1963

On June 25th 2011 there was a paddle out memorial for LeRoy Grannis at his home break Hermosa Beach. Over a hundred of Southern California’s finest surfers and watermen paddled out to honor Leroy Grannis. R.I.P