RIP LeRoy "Granny" Grannis, surf photography pioneer

leroy-grannis.jpg Iconic images by Gannis: Mike Doyle surfing Waimea in 1967 and "Midget" Farrelly surfing Shore Break, Makaha 1968. Gannis was a master of using light to convey emotion.

LeRoy Grannis, who along with "Doc" Ball helped revolutionize the field of surf photography, has died. He also co-founded what's now Surfing Magazine. A lifelong surfer himself, Grannis didn't take up photography until 1959, when he was 42. That was the year surfing hit mainstream consciousness through the film Gidget.

Grannis' amazing black and white photos really give a sense of surf's rapid shift from subculture to mainstream as Gidget and Beach Boys mania took hold. If you love beautiful photo books, the retrospective Leroy Grannis: Surf Photography of the 1960s and 1970s is one of those crazy-expensive Taschen books that really shows his work beautifully. (LA Times obit)


  1. My favorites of his were Dewey Weber just torquing that cutback on that monster longboard, Gery Lopez straight-legging the bottom turn at Pipe, and all the Makaha backwash photos. Maybe the latter most all. They always reminded me of what you should really be doing in the ocean… having fun.

  2. Grannis used a 2-1/4×2-1/4 twin-lens reflex, hence the square format of his shots, as opposed to most photographers who used 35mm cameras.

    He did not found Surfing magazine; Dick Graham was the founder. In 1965, he and another individual named Dennis (forgot last name) worked at the magazine in Canoga Park. Grannis was an interim editor.

    He was a nice guy and a pioneer documenting surfing. Most of his photos were of surfers surfing rather than the culture that surrounded the sport.

  3. I was working for Leroy Grannis’ publisher at the time “LeRoy Grannis, Surf Photography” was being put together and released. At one point I was lucky enough to be able to sort through a whole bunch of prints of his work, which are just amazing. I’m no photography expert at all, but there is something about the tone and color of his shots, that you can immediately identify as have being shot by Leroy Grannis. Going through a big stack of his work was tactile and mesmerizing, and something I won’t ever forget.

    One cool thing a lot of people might not know, is he was basically the first guy to take surfing pictures in the water, as opposed to the shore. He was a photography hacker, and built his own water proof camera case so he could shoot when he was actually out in the waves. I think this is a big reason why his photos really stand out from everything else. They were shot in the middle of the action.

    [Andrea James mentioned that there is a “crazy expensive” photo book of his work, which is true. That was an oversized, signed limited edition version with a print. It is damn expensive (but gorgeous!) Luckily, for the rest of us of limited means, there is also a very inexpensive re-print of the same book, which is worth owning if you enjoy surf photography.]

    Leroy was a talented photographer, a hell of a nice guy and a gentleman. The world will definitely be a little more empty without him, but he left us some photos that people will enjoy for a long time.

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