SURFER Journal presents a uncommon glimpse into the beginnings of the game
In 1960 John Severson published the first edition of “The Surfer”. The 36 pages were a compilation of photos he took while filming Surf Fever, his own illustrations, some editorials, and some advertisements. Flyer with the announcement “The surfer is coming!” the windows of surf shops were glued. Former SURFER Magazine editor Steve Pezman told the Los Angeles Times, “I stole the flyer from the surf shop wall right away, and that’s how hungry we were[surfers] goods for printed validation. “Surfers lined up to buy copies.
Many surfers’ earliest memories of SURFER are being a friend and flipping through with friends. Somebody brought the latest edition to school and tried to pull it out of their backpack without being torn to pieces by a pack of fellow froths. Squeezed around the magazine, the pages turned, guessing where the spots in the photos were shouted out, and why they were right or wrong. Analyze, absorb, and criticize every aspect of the magazine before cutting out top-notch photos to be pasted onto a surf collage on a bedroom wall – a SURFER Magazine reading tradition that seems to transcend decades.
As we got older, we flipped through a magazine for our favorite authors, storytellers, and photographers. We searched for photos and stories of exotic waves to trigger our own travel missions. We searched for footage of our favorite surfers. We looked for the connection in the words of thoughtful essayists. It’s hard to remember in our digital age, but we’ve even flipped the pages to check for the latest surfing news.
Over the years, the stories, photos, art direction and ads in SURFER have become little time capsules for our surfing life. To celebrate these moments and to capture a bit of nostalgia, we are revisiting our video series “The SURFER Archives”, in which we looked through the earliest editions of the canon that is the SURFER archive and created corresponding videos. SURFER ceased publication in October, but that doesn’t mean that foamers have to stop flipping through its many iconic pages. Take a stroll through nostalgia with us and enjoy.
[Ed’s Note: The above intro was originally written by Ben Waldron, published in 2018, and adapted to reflect SURFER’s recent changes.]
SURFER Volume 2, Issue 1
After the success of John Severson’s first issue of The Surfer in 1960, which sold over 5,000 copies, he decided to appear quarterly for the following year. That brings us to the second issue of SURFER: Spring, 1961.
The second edition of SURFER was still primarily a solo exhibition of Severson’s photos, writings, and artwork. It’s easy to romanticize surfing as a whole over the past few decades, but in this issue Severson complains of overcrowded casts and the homogenization of surfing culture as early as the early 60s. Ironically, much of the content in this issue is location-based with a hand-drawn map of Santa Cruz’s surf spots and photo features on Rincon and Swami.
A “guest cartoonist” comic was embedded in Severson’s mixed media content. That was 16 year old Rick Griffin. The naturally talented artist’s style later evolved into one of the most famous psychedelics of the 1960s. Griffin designed the original Rolling Stone magazine logo, a Grateful Dead album cover, and more. His comic for this issue, “The Gremies,” pokes fun at surfers’ enthusiasm for the great Hawaiian surf and then quickly pulls back when he sees them in person.
[Read more about SURFER Volume 2, Issue 1 from Ben Waldron, here.]
SURFER Volume 2, Issue 2
The third issue of The Surfer (SURFERMagazine’s original title) was published in the summer of 1961. Founder John Severson shot the cover picture of Reynolds Yater, stating that he took “the hard-to-reach picture” just before Yater was run over him.
After just two issues published, Severson already knew his audience loved to deconstruct his magazine for the photos. Severson has a huge double page spread in this issue that is sarcastically referred to as “suitable for tearing out and glazing on your board, wall, or you”.
Throughout this issue, Severson does not hold back from offering an honest assessment of contemporary surfing culture. At the time, beaches were shut down and / or considered for closure because of the disrespectful behavior of Severson, whom Severson referred to as “Gremlins” and “Ho-Daddies” – the equivalent of Kooks and Barneys. He offers these “surfers” a satirical checklist of bad behaviors who lack the talent to gain “their strong need for approval”. Among the suggestions for “destroying” and “undressing in public” mixed up “turn bottle caps and make indecent remarks while surfing films”. The latter was particularly annoying for Severson because the growing negative reputation of surfers overall made it difficult for him to find venues to show his surf films.
In an article on Peru, Severson gives a great insight into how he discovered exotic waves to travel to. While surfers today are able to search for potential source magnets using Google Maps, Severson used a more analogous approach to surf discovery. He reports that he spent hours in his university library searching encyclopedias for photos of waves taken by photographers in an accident. “I usually had to be content with distant shots of surf lines behind some rural herds on the coast from somewhere,” he writes on page three.
[Read more about SURFER Volume 2, Issue 2 from Ben Waldron, here.]
SURFER Volume 2, Issue 3
The Fall 1961 issue of The Surfer (original title of SURFER magazine) includes coverage of the southern swell of summer and a preview of the Hawaiian winter. Severson’s title recording of Ricky Grigg in Waimea Bay during the “biggest surf of the year” indicates his anticipation for the warm water and the strong waves of the island.
Severson delegates an editorial to Ron Perrot for an article on Australia and Gini Kinz for a story about a girl learning to surf.
Letters to the editor appear from around the world sharing their enthusiasm for surfing and their admiration for Severson’s publication. Severson prints a rejection letter from an audience unwilling to show his films, describing the behavior of those he clearly defines as “Gremlins” and “Ho-Daddies” in the introduction to this issue.
[Read more about SURFER Volume 2, Issue 3 from Ben Waldron, here.]
SURFER Volume 2, Issue 4
In the fifth issue of SURFER magazine, founder and publisher John Severson continues his campaign to “promote the sport”. In his Editor’s Note, Severson warns that surfing could be banned throughout the state of California if conditions don’t change. He urges his readers to join the United States Surfing Association and enacts it as an insurance policy that keeps surfing safe.
In one of the functions, San Onofre surfers are asked to define their break. Some seasoned locals claim there were better waves in the 1930s, while others claim the surf was always the same. Based on the photos in the feature, it looks like San O hasn’t changed much since ’61
Letters to the editor came from all over the world, including inland areas. “It is a pleasure to read a publication that is so well informed about such an elementary sport that it supports the future respect in which surfing can take place,” writes Kenneth Deardorf of St. Lois, Missouri.
Below the copy and the growing number of surfboard and shop ads is an announcement for the SURFER cartoon contest with the theme “The Surf Car”. Judging by originality and cleverness, it is easy to imagine Severson and SURFER cartoonist Rick Griffin flocking to all India-colored, surfboard-clad rat rods (winners will be published in the next issue).
[Read more about SURFER Volume 2, Issue 4 from Ben Waldron, here.]
SURFER Volume 3, Issue 1
“Surfing is full of characters, fads and fantasies and is perhaps the most colorful sport since the bare-handed Greek bullfighting,” writes John Severson in the editor’s note opening the 6th issue of SURFER Magazine. Speaking of colorful, this is the first issue with a color photo. Ricky Grigg rolls into a pipeline stunner on the cover.
In 1962, the Disneyfication of surfing through wave pools is prophesied. On the subject of surfing as a viral trend, Severson writes: “Help is on the way. Artificial wave machines are being built … as are powered surfboards. Further somewhere between Anaheim and Buena Park-SURFYLAND! EVERYTHING YOU CAN RIDE FOR 1 USD, ALL SIZES AND SHAPES! KEEP IT WHILE ITS HOT! “
There is a pipeline feature where Mike Hynson and a host of other brave surfers charge the world’s deadliest wave on the day’s individual fin logs. Most of them run out of the tube or wipe out. Photos of the latter are provided with Severson’s signature ironic voice. “He only managed to almost kill himself,” and “Mike made good progress until the entire Pacific collapsed on him.”
SURFER’s international reach also began to grow, with functions in Australia and France, exotic destinations at the time.
[Read more about SURFER Volume 3, Issue 1 from Ben Waldron, here.]
SURFER Volume 3, Issue 2
When SURFER Magazine (then The Surfer) was published The second edition of their third volume, in the summer of ’62, was greeted by a growing surf obsessed audience who, however, are not yet familiar with the vast amount of navigable waves around the world.
The “Letters to the Editor” section contains mostly croaky letters from Waveriders praising the expanded editorial content (12 new pages in the previous edition!), And some remarks lamenting the nature of the burgeoning crowds that – aside from the dated Colloquial language (“Gremmies” – would complain ”and“ Ho-dads ”) read like a complaint about our current surfdom state.
Since there was still a lot of terrain (known and unknown), Vol. 3 Issue 2 contains a detailed illustrated map of the surf spots in South Bay, a brief introduction to North Steyne, and a feature in Maui that explains the uncrowded lineups and the various settings including a prime “Malibu-like” (huh?) point of Honolua Bay.
[Read more about SURFER Volume 3, Issue 2 from Matt Shaw, here.]
SURFER Volume 3, Issue 3
Here are a few little things: Which famous surf star got the cover of the August-September 1962 issue of The Surfer? Was it Australia’s Midget Farrely? Miklos “Da Cat” Dora? The very photogenic Mike Hynson?
In fact, all of the real-life surfers of the boom of the early ’60s were hand-trimmed in favor of the then 18-year-old Staff cartoonist’s fictional (albeit fairly popular) surf star Murphy, who landed the coveted cover On The Way To Dry Hair Leave You a green crayola tube.
Volume 3, Issue 3 of The Surfer is a good indication of the burgeoning cultural phenomenon that Murphy was, as compared to Murphy and his creator Rick Griffin, who is devoted to a fair amount of ink in a portrait alongside a brief profile of the artist the shaggy, bearded hippie icon who would soon be known to the whole world, relatively buttoned up.
[Read more about SURFER Volume 3, Issue 3 from Matt Shaw, here.]
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