John had a huge friendly ever-present smile, but he was a shark, maybe the biggest surf media shark ever, it’s how he did what he did for that amazing 12-year run. Velvet glove, iron fist, John didn’t invent it, but it applied it better than anyone in surf.

“Severson was a surf media shark!”

Matt Warshaw obits on surf culture pioneer John Severson, dead at eighty-three.

On Friday, the surf media pioneer John Severson affixed his angel wings and soared to heaven, perhaps bumping into BeachGrit’s Michael Kocher in the queue.

Now, Severson, who was eighty three, really was something. A hell of an artist, a swinging filmmaker and a businessman who turned the childish act of balancing on a surfboard into a fabulously profitable enterprise via the magazine Surfer.

Obits on the old man are everywhere. But no one can articulate a fellow surfer’s legacy better than surf historian Matt Warshaw.

Let’s begin.

BeachGrit: Here’s a story you’ll like. I was visiting the office of The Surfer’s Journal, being shown around the joint by its editor when I was introduced to the owner. Oh, Mr Severson, I cried. What a pleasure it is to meet you. You’re the voice, the creator of surf media. Of course, as you know, it wasn’t Severson but Steve Pezman. So who the hell was John Severson and why does he matter?

Warshaw: You made Steve Pezman’s day. A hot young gun making a fool of himself, and the idea that he (Pez) could be mistaken for the great Sevo. Steve’s a big gentle honey bear, but he’s got some bastard deep inside, and he can be as insecure as the rest of us, so that’s a double win for him.

 In 1968 when the psychedelic train pulled into town, John, who was 35, ancient, climbed onboard, rang the bell, and drove the fucking thing.

BeachGrit: Fuck, wait a minute, that’s a lazy open-ended question. I might’ve just said, how about you write an obit for free? Okay. You know him? What kind of man was he?

Warshaw:John was first and foremost an artist. Sort of like Andrew Kidman or Thomas Campbell, where the first thought every morning is to pick up a camera or a brush or a pencil and just start making something. The big difference between Severson and all those guys is that he was also a business genius. SURFER was a hit from issue #1. He spun off all kinds of things, posters, shirts, books, even mugs, and he just never seemed to put a foot wrong when making a deal. And then finally, and most spectacularly, in 1968 when the psychedelic train pulled into town, John, who was 35, ancient, climbed onboard, rang the bell, and drove the fucking thing.

BeachGrit: God he could draw, couldn’t he.

Warshaw: The early stuff is fantastic, the later stuff is sentimental shit. John was the Rod Stewart of surf artists.

John Severson
Severson’s North Shore surf car, 1959.

BeachGrit: First question. Severson sure do matter. One of the first surf filmmakers. A massive influence in that regard, yes?

Warshaw:He’s famous for starting SURFER, the “Bible of the Sport” and everything, and that’s what will go on his tombstone. But he was probably a better filmmaker than he was a publisher. Or at least just as good. Pacific Vibrations is his magus opus, and it’s kind of too big a bummer for its own good, what with all the dire environmental messaging and everything. But as a craftsman, I think he was the best, and that includes Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman there.

BeachGrit: And then he started a magazine with the best name ever, The Surfer, which later became Surfer. So he kicked off the whole surf media thing, yeah?

Warshaw:There were a couple shitty little surf magazines just before surfer. Greg Noll did one, and it was fish wrap. SURFER made it stick.

The early stuff is fantastic, the later stuff is sentimental shit. John was the Rod Stewart of surf artists.

BeachGrit: He had this fabulous role call of talent, the artist Rick Griffin, photographer Ron Stoner, write Drew Kampion, and, yeah, Steve Pezman. It wasn’t as if surf media kicked off with some crummy zine. What do you think Severson’s opinion of current surf media would be?

Warshaw:He had the best eye for talent, like nobody before or since. He knew who was great and who was just merely very good, and he also knew how to develop talent. Ron Stoner was promising when he first arrived at SURFER, but John arguably turned him into the Stoner we now revere. John paid Ron, for starters, buffed him out with the best equipment, and most importantly was able to express to Ron—John himself was an excellent photographer—how to move around a lineup, try different angles, experiment. Ron needed that.

BeachGrit:You think he’d be enjoying Surfer, as is, 2017?

Warshaw:John had a huge friendly ever-present smile, but he was a shark, maybe the biggest surf media shark ever, it’s how he did what he did for that amazing 12-year run. Velvet glove, iron fist, John didn’t invent it, but it applied it better than anyone in surf. All that said, at his core John was really upbeat and positive. Loved his work, loved his hobbies, I don’t ever saw much of a distinction between the two. He viewed his life and one continuous art piece, and demanded a lot of himself and others, but also was stood back often and beamed at how it was all turning out. I think he’d find things to enjoy about SURFER today, and I’m sure he’d be thinking, always, of how he could improve it.

“He was a really fucking good surfer, big and small waves. Not above doing the dirty,” says Warshaw.

BeachGrit: Had a bitchin joint at Cottons, yeah? Did he surf into dotage?

Warshaw:He had the best beachfront house at Cottons, back when the Marines were still keeping the place mostly on lockdown. John lived next door to Nixon, and it turned out that the President either had John’s house bugged, or was monitoring all the comings and goings, and John and his family got freaked out enough by all the Secret Service guys, and the weird clicks on the phone, the whole early ‘70s paranoia, that John sold the magazine, handed the publisher keys to Pezman, and moved to Maui. Retired for good at age 36. Surfed and painted right up to the end, I believe.

BeachGrit:How do you think his iconic quote stacks up in 2017: “In this crowded world the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts.”

Warshaw: Isn’t that why we still do it?


Day 5: Laird blows virgin minds!

Popular Science picks up Laird Hamilton vs menstrual-blood-in-the -water debate!

And it is day 5. I’m alone. No sight of laird Hamilton. No sound of menstruation but I know they’re both here. Chumming the waters.

I’ve been adrift now on this story for 120 hours. One hundred and nineteen hours more than any man has ever spent on either Laird Hamilton or menstruation in history.

Thirst claws at my throat.

But what is this? Salvation? My way out? Popular Science just picked up the thread and wrote THE definitive account on the subject!

“We could turn PopSci into PeriodSci for a week and still not have time to debunk every myth related to monthlies. But today we’ve got an exceptionally absurd one to tackle: Does period blood attract sharks, making menstruating individuals (and their unfortunate swimming companions) more vulnerable to vicious shark attacks?”

Etc. Etc.

And this is perfect!

This is the official end of my journey! But what? You’ve never heard of Popular Science? In my junior high school (what is junior high school called in Australia?) Popular Science magazine seemed to a religious text for the boys who had not yet discovered girls. Who still played with Legos.

They would sit in the library and ooh and aah at various alchemy experiments and other stuff. I would stand across the room smirking at them, “reading” Steve Largent’s biography not because I was cool, obvs, but because I was too dumb to understand what alchemy even meant and other stuff.

In any case, these Popular Scientists would go on to be titans of industry, inventing better and better opioids etc. And it makes my heart sing to know the future titans of industry will have also go on to invent even better opioids but, for one brief moment in time, would have sat around a table in the library, vigorously scratching their heads at the wonders of women.

All thanks to Laird Hamilton.


Just in: Worst Surf Photo Ever?

The surf photo can be the cruellest of masters.

Five days ago this website wondered aloud if a BeachGrit reader could win, perhaps very easily, the Indian Open of Surfing. The two-day event, which began on Friday, featured the best surfers on the sub-continent, as well as Maldivian Ismail Miguel.

As Chas Smith wrote:

“Be honest right now. Be way super honest. If you happened to be in Mangalore with a few hours to kill and, inexplicably, your favorite surfboard do you think you could take the Indian Open of Surfing?

Are you racist for feeling that way?

Probably.

But also, I think I could. Chas Smith surf champ!”

Of course, the posit was racist to the bone. Just as eating a delicious fish curry is an act of imperialist cultural appropriation.

Or at least it was until this photo was splashed across India’s Deccan Herald, an English-language paper read by half-a-million people every day.

“Austin from USA displays his skill on waves,” reads the caption.

Oh, I know, we’ve all fallen victim to inflated expectations of a surf photograph. Many years ago, one of my dearest friends came back to our North Shore rental breathless that he’d just been photographed taking off on a ten-foot Sunset peak.

This was pre-digital and a week passed before the photograph was revealed. The sheet of transparency film was ripped out of the paper bag, thrown on a lightbox and…

… the friend, a good enough surfer, was captured in a deep squat, a sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed style, on what appeared to be a still ocean.

Cue whimpering.

I’ve worked in the magazine game long enough to’ve seen bad photos of Jordy Smith and co. (Oddly, never of Dane Reynolds.)

And what I’ve learned is, you have to turn harder than you’ve ever turned, in the most critical part of a wave you’ve ever visited, swish your arms and hips around and then, only then, might you get something that isn’t embarrassing.

As for this,

I wonder,

Did Austin from the USA, read Chas Smith’s story and think, goddammit, I’ll drive those Indians into the dirt and be a one-in-a-billion surfer, the best on the sub-continent?

Maybe he did!

Follow the Indian Open of Surfing here.


Lena Dunham: “I forgive Laird!”

Alt-feminist Lena Dunham stands by her man!

I am now in clearly uncharted waters. Day Four of Laird Hamilton and Menstruation. No one has dared sail this far without turning back and I am alone.

Alone with alt-feminist Lena Dunham!

Common sense would have had her raging against Laird’s proclamation that sharks eat girls who are undergoing uterine rejuvenation. That she would have stomped her feet at a caveman spreading unkind rumors about lady parts but Lena has more balls than The Inertia and don’t care!

“Y’all I know Laird Hamilton shouldn’t have said sharks eat ladies with periods but he did once literally save me from drowning so I forgive!” Dunham posted on Twitter on Friday.

 

Dunham, 31, recounted the 2015 paddleboarding race ordeal in the Hamptons, when she “got off course and [Hamilton] somehow appeared as I was alone and panicking and dragged me to shore!”

A spy at the Hamptons Paddle & Party for Pink charity race told Page Six at the time, “It was a tough paddle … Windy and harder than expected.” Dunham ended up drifting into Mecox Bay.

Hamilton even left Dunham with some motivational words: “Then Laird Hamilton said to me ‘you may have finished last, but you never gave up so in my book you finish first.’”

Let’s read the rest of the Page 6 story here!

And how’s about that.

Before reading this piece I found Laird a goofy clown and Lena totally disgusting. After reading this I find them both heart-warming.

Or am I wrong? Has Day Four blunted my senses?


Ummmmm which side do we take?

Breaking: The Inertia totally pussies out!

New levels of spinelessness achieved!

I wanted to do one full week of coverage on Laird Hamilton telling TMZ that sharks attack because women are menstruating but I only made it for two days. Long enough to be able to write menstruating without having to Google its spelling but not long enough to set any tangible record.

Still, pretty good. But really, more than anything, I have been waiting patiently for The Inertia‘s take on the incident. Venice-adjacent sometime-white water rafting blog has a totally un-ironic lefty streak and I was dying for them to jump in all indignant and shred dear Laird for being a misogynistic creep.

But then again, would they? Laird Hamilton and his hydrofoil/SUP/super food non-dairy creamer represents everything The Inertia holds dear. Would they, instead of castigating their hero blame TMZ for misrepresenting an honest, albeit naive, opinion?

I waited and waited and waited and then just this minute right now found their take on Laird-gate buried deep in their feed. It read:

The World According to Laird: Women Experiencing Menstrual Cycle Could Be Shark Bait

We’re not quite sure where this came from, and TMZ has a reputation for pulling out the worst quotes when its reporters stick mics in people’s faces, but this nugget from Laird Hamilton on how woman experiencing their menstrual cycle are at a greater risk of being bitten by a shark is a head scratcher. Hard to find any evidence to back that up. So we’ll just leave this here.

That’s it and I haven’t been this let down since thieves broke into my family home when I was eleven years old and stole most of the presents from under the Christmas tree.

WHAT SPINELESS FUCKING PUSSIES!

I mean, I knew Zach Weisberg and crew were spineless and I guess I knew they were pussies but COME ON! For once, just once, grow a fucking pair of BALLS. Pick a FUCKING side!

One of you Inertia bastards better explain how you let this story fall so flat or I’m storming the office and NOT bringing any paleo granola bars with me.

You don’t deserve them.

None of you do.