Leroy Grannis was born in Hermosa Beach, CA in 1917 and started surfing at the age of 14. He was one of the first Californians to pick up this classic Hawaiian sport by creating homemade body boards before graduating to his own massive hand-carved redwood surfboards. Grannis, along with friends, Lewis “Hoppy” Swarts and John “Doc” Ball, were a few of surfing’s first true fanatics outside of the islands. It was Ball, a self-trained photographer, who would later introduce Grannis to the art.
After World War II, Grannis returned to Hermosa Beach, where he took a job with the phone company. In 1959, he was diagnosed with a stress-related ulcer and his doctor suggested taking up a relaxing hobby. Living just blocks from the ocean and being a surfer himself, it was natural for Grannis to pick up a camera at age 42 and start documenting the flourishing California surf scene of the 1960s. Grannis was being hailed as one of the only few photographers able to capture the true essence of this culture that was spreading up the California coast. His work quickly appeared in magazines, including Surfer and Surfing Illustrated.
“Knowing surfing makes a good surf photographer,” explained Grannis. “I’ve seen good professional photographers arrive at the beach with the best equipment money can buy, but they didn’t know anything about surfing. They would shoot dozens of rolls of film, but they couldn’t come up with as good shots as those who were actually surfers!”
Leroy Grannis’ photographs are considered the greatest representations of California’s “Golden Age of Surfing” during the early 1960s. I’ve always loved these images and view them as timeless works of art and artifacts of American history. The styles and colors of the surfboards, swim trunks, classic cars, and even the film used, are so vibrant. In addition to just being super cool to look at, these photographs chronicle a time when California was a place filled with wild new ideas and beautiful women. Young men on the other side of the country could only romanticize about what was going on out there with the help of images like these. Fifty years later, we can still sit back and look at Grannis’ work, imagining what it was like to be a teenager in Southern California during the 1960s.