“Before John Severson, there was no ‘surf media,’ no ‘surf industry,’ no ‘surf culture’ – not at least in the way we understand it today.’”.
This kind of superlative accolade (the above from surf writer Sam George) is no overly enthusiastic front – it’s a fairly accurate description of the legacy inspired by John Severson, the founder and first editor-in-chief of SURFER magazine. Sent to Hawaii in 1956 as for US military service, Severson soon found himself on the army surf team (he had experience on the California coast prior to his drafting). Here, the beauty of the sport as a veritable art form inspired him to draw, paint and later film his wave-sharing army cohorts. Citing Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia as an influence, Severson focused his surf footage on the formal splendour of the body in motion.
Upon experiencing the positive reception these films had on their audiences, Severson produced a small booklet called The Surfer, which he sold at the premieres of his 1960 film Surf Fever. Once again, its 5000 copies were immediately scooped up and Severson turned his attention to a new magazine, SURFER. The rest is written history, (literally), as SURFER magazine became the first to ably and frequently document a growing wave culture. This year, Severson will publish a new book, also titled SURFER, featuring paintings and images from his personal archives. 032c recently spoke to the editor about the role he’s played in surf media over the years – you can find the interview here.