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John Severson invented the font on the cover of his book; “Surf Fever” is a now-iconic typeface that originally graced promotional posters for Severson’s films.
All images from John Severson's Surf.
Among the great sportsmen pictured in Severson’s book is Greg Noll, identifiable by his trademark black-and-white “jailhouse stripe” surf shorts. Here he is in 1964, watching the Banzai Pipeline, a deadly Hawaiian spot where he became the first surfer to ride a giant wave breaking on the outside reef.
California native Severson--in beachy wear at the office--lays out an image of Surfer. The magazine began in 1960 as something to sell during Severson’s movie nights, where audiences paid $1.25 to see footage of the group of SoCal wave riders that Tom Wolfe immortalized as the “Pump House Gang” in a famous 1968 essay.
Legendary surfboard shaper Pat Curren and friend John Elwell check out the break at Yokohama Bay in 1958. This out-of-the-way beach, the northernmost on Oahu’s North Shore, is still a mecca for riders skillful--and foolish--enough to brave its ginormous winter swells.
How do you get shots of action when it’s happening so far out on a reef? Get on a board yourself. Here Severson takes to the water with a board-mounted camera encased in a waterproof housing. He was shooting his final film, the 90-minute-long Pacific Vibrations, which was the first movie to juxtapose an ecological message with tasty waves.
Severson’s book calls Seal Beach Locals, his 1956 oil-on-Masonite work shown here, the first surf culture painting. The artist, a lifelong surfer, majored in art at California State University, Long Beach. He spent his days surfing Huntington Pier and painting in a graduate workshop where he was influenced by Gauguin, Picasso and Abstract Expressionism.
In the annals of surf legends, the one name you need to know is John Severson. It’s a wonder Severson, who started Surfer magazine, ever had time to actually paddle out, since he was endlessly painting waves, photographing his fellow riders and making movies of competitions that he’d show in garages across Southern California.
Now 80 and living in Maui, the father of surf culture has collected it all in one book, John Severson’s Surf. See our favorite images here--and meet the author on September 24 at Arcana Books on the Arts.
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