John Severson, the iconic figure of surfing media, has died at age 83. His 1961 film Big Wednesday is arguably the greatest of the early surf films, part of a lifetime of innovations in surf media.
Severson bought a used movie camera and started shooting in black and white before being drafted. He was then shipped off to Hawaii and ordered by the military to surf as part of the Army Surf Team. That's where he really honed his skills as a filmmaker. His idea for a surfing magazine was immediately successful. Via Surfer:
It was Severson’s promotional artwork for his films (a highly-talented visual artist, Severson received an M.A. in art education from Long Beach State College in 1956) that led to his foray in surf publishing. He designed a 36-page magazine composed of surf photos, cartoons, sketches, and more to advertise the release of Surf Fever in 1960. He would call it The Surfer, later becoming the Surfer Quarterly in 1961. The success of the magazine eventually allowed Severson to bring on staff members that included cartoonist Rick Griffin, photographer Ron Stoner, and editors Drew Kampion and Steve Pezman—the veritable Mount Rushmore of surf media, with Severson himself as the architect. “Before John Severson, there was no ‘surf media,’ no ‘surf industry’ and no ‘surf culture’—at least not in the way we understand it today,” SURFER editor Sam George wrote in 1999.
Severson's 1961 classic Big Wednesday was the inspiration for the 1978 camp classic Big Wednesday.
• 2011 SURFER Poll Lifetime Achievement: John Severson (YouTube / Surfer)
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