THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF LEROY GRANNIS | LEGENDARY LIVER & CHRONICLER OF CALIFORNIA SURF CULTURE

From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

LeRoy Grannis, considered by many to be the premier photographer of California’s thriving surf culture in the 60’s and 70’s, 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.  That was back in 1959– prime time to document America entering the golden age of surf mania, and capture it with a keen eye and insight that only a true surfer could possess.  They say sometimes you fall into a golden situation and make the most of it– I would say Grannis did that, and then some.

LeRoy “Granny” Grannis was born in Hermosa Beach in 1917, and raised a few blocks from the ocean.  He began surfing at the age of fourteen, and was one of the first generation of mainlanders to pick up the ancient Hawaiian sport.  He started out on body boards, then graduated to riding the massive eleven-foot redwood boards that weighed up to one hundred pounds.  It was with his friends, Lewis “Hoppy” Swarts and John “Doc” Ball, that he became one of surfing’s first true devotees.  Even the Great Depression did not slow the cash-strapped surfing trio down– they built their own boards, sewed their own trunks, and pooled their limited funds for trips to catch the bigger waves at Malibu or San Onofre.  It was Ball, himself a self-trained photographer, who would later introduce Grannis to the art.

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.  LeRoy Grannis will go down as one of the men who helped create this mythos, and left us with some of the greatest photos I have personally  ever seen.

Eli M. Getson

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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1960s, Hawaii Surfer. –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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1965, Greg Noll Factory, Hermosa Beach. A pair of Australian surfers drove this classic Westfalia Kombi throughout Europe before shipping it over to pay homage to the surf mecca.  –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.  via

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1970, Midget Farrelly, Pupukea.  –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.  via

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1969, Sunset Beach, Duke Classic finalists. –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis. All rights reserved. via

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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1967, Aikau Family, Sunset Beach. Myra, Mama, and Sol Aikau watching Eddie compete in the third Duke Classic. Eddie won the contest in 1977, and died three months later.  –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved. via

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1965, Huntington Beach Pier.  –Photograph by ©LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved. via

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–Photograph by ©LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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1968, Margo Godfrey-Oberg, Makaha. via

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–Photograph by ©LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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1967, Malibu.  When Grannis returned with a friend to Malibu shortly after World War II, they found a crowd of twelve people surfing. “That’s it,” he said. “This place is ruined.” –Photograph by ©LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved. via

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–Photograph by ©LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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1975, Makaha.  –Photograph by ©LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved. via

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–Photograph by ©LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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Hap Jacobs, Hermosa Beach, 1963. Surf legend Hap Jacobs handcrafts one of his prized surf boards. Today, a mint-condition Jacobs from this era can fetch thousands of dollars at auction.  –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.  via

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1964, Mike Hynson, Hermosa.  The brash and stylish San Diego surfer went on to costar in the 1966 documentary, The Endless Summer.  –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.  via

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1963, Chris Cattel, Huntington Beach.  –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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1965, Hermosa Beach, CA, Donald Takayama & Bettina Brenna.  –Photograph by ©LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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1964, Dive, Makaha.  –Photograph by ©LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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Legendary surfer Dewey Weber.  –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved. via

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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1965, Johnny Fain, Miki Dora, Malibu, CA.  The infamous Dora “tap.”  Dora’s most famous prank was releasing a jar of live moths during a surf movie premiere.  –Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.  via

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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

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18 thoughts on “THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF LEROY GRANNIS | LEGENDARY LIVER & CHRONICLER OF CALIFORNIA SURF CULTURE

  1. There are so many great images from surfing in the 60′s and Leroy Grannis made many of them. The color stuff is just beautiful. I personally love this era – but sad to say, when I visited Malibu earlier this year it didn’t kind of have the same vibe. I guess I got my timing wrong, and missed it by about 50 years…

  2. Great post JP, and somewhat similar in that I only picked up the camera at 46, a year ago.
    Incredible images, I love `em all, but that’s a great shot of Dewey.

    Thanks

    Murph

  3. very nice!!
    Just cant say enough about how much I enjoy 50′s, 60′s surf culture!’ as a displaced so-cal beach kid growing up in the NW the best we could do was listen to Jan And Dean records and make skateboards out of 2×4′s and old skate wheels..oh, and watch “Beach Blanket Bingo” style movies!

  4. beautiful photos (and story) as always.

    one of the best collections (that seems to ONLY get better) on the whole www.

    Song to go along with today’s photos:

  5. Nice to know there were gals on surf and skateboards back then too…nice li’l video at the end!

  6. Not a surfer, but lived in beautiful San Diego for 15 years and loved the beaches and surfer vibe…there’s just something about that California aura! Can’t wait to return.

  7. In 2003 when I was working for Velzy we were talking about Granny. Knowing I was a photographer by day Velzy offered to call Granny and set up a meeting. About two days later I was sitting in Granny’s kitchen pouring over 3-ring binders full of slides. His cataracts was pretty bad so when I pointed out an image I was interested in hearing about he would grab a magnifying glass, peer into the slide and tell a story about that day. One amazing day. I left a few hours later completely floored. Grannis leads the pack of the most influential surf photographers of all time. Granny along with Doc Ball, Dr Don James and later Jeff Stoner captured our heroes during the golden age of surfing. Great post JP.

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