© 2012 California Surf Museum
SURFING LEGENDS - LeRoy Grannis
LeRoy Grannis One of the Original Surf Photographers
LeRoy (Granny) Grannis has been both a surfer and photographer since before the use of fiberglass and plastic foam in
surfboards. LeRoy entered the rank of professional photographers in 1959, when his pictures appeared in the first surf
magazines. LeRoy was also co-editor of International Surfing which first appeared in December 1964. LeRoy always
insists on top quality pictures and states that there is always room for any photographer who does top quality work.
Grannis says, "Knowing surfing makes a good surf photographer, and here's why. 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 him, but they couldn't come up with as good shots as those who were actually
LeRoy likes to give credit for his success in photography to "Doc" Ball, the man who pioneered surf pictures. Doc is one
of LeRoy’ s best friends. He remembers Doc paddling out at Paddleboard Cove, Palos Verdes, with a brass and wood
box housing an old-fashioned press camera. He had to open a trap door in front to take the picture, then quickly snap
the door closed to keep out the water. LeRoy chuckled as he remembered that Doc had such a slow shutter speed that
he would have to lead the surf-riders like a duck hunter - if he didn't, the surfers would be beyond him and out of focus
before he could stop the action.
LeRoy suggests to take good pictures you need to have a good surfing background, have good equipment, use the
largest size of film possible, shoot from the water when possible, watch lighting conditions (don't shoot in the late
afternoon on the West Coast), buy used equipment to save money, and develop your own film to insure quality
Surfing still retains its mystical qualities for Granny as he surfs Tamarack Beach a few days a week, usually about 8
a.m. Granny says, "I'll keep surfing as long as I can, that's for sure!" At age 75, Granny said "I still enjoy surfing. I'll be
driving by the beach, and I'll get this feeling of anticipation. Sometimes I'll have to stop myself from pulling over and
(Excerpted from Surfer Magazine and Surfing Illustrated)
Longtime Hermosa Beach resident
LeRoy Grannis died Feb. 3. Grannis
was a legendary surf photographer.
(photo by John Grannis)
Rabbit Kekai and LeRoy Grannis
Legends Day 2009
Palos Verdes Surf Club members Tulie
Clark, Fenton Scholes, Dick Minie,
John Grannis and Leroy Grannis. The
original club members were all 91
when this photo was taken last year
during their weekly Tuesday lunch at
Hennessey’s Tavern in Redondo
Beach. Tulie passed away this past
May and Leroy in February. Photo by
LeRoy Grannis, a noted photographer whose widely printed images captured
and popularized the surf culture of California as it exploded in the 1960s and
'70s, has died. He was 93.
Grannis, who also co-founded what is now Surfing magazine, died Thursday of
natural causes at a Torrance nursing facility, said his son John.
"There's surfing royalty, and he was one of the kings," his son said. "He
inspired so many big-name photographers that consider him their mentor."
His photographs "caught surfing at a critical juncture between cult and culture,"
wrote Steve Barilotti in the introduction to "LeRoy Grannis: Surf Photography of
the 1960s and 1970s," a $400 limited-edition 2006 book.
While his photos of grass shacks and woody station wagons evoke nostalgia,
Grannis "was documenting surfing's rapid evolution into an iconic lifestyle,"
Barilotti wrote. "His photos captured the real thing, providing a bridge between
the world of Beach Boy lyrics and the reality of the Southern California beach
The Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach, which added Grannis in 1999,
saluted him for creating "many of the 1960s' most enduring surfing images."
He freeze-framed fresh-scrubbed surfers riding longboards without leashes but
also swung his camera around to record the evolving surf culture in California
and Hawaii. For every "Greg Noll About to Eat It, Waimea Bay (Oahu), 1966"
there was a scene-setter such as the "Aussie Surf Wagon" in Hermosa Beach
plastered with such slogans as "The Young Wave Hunters" and "Malibu or
In a 2006 review of the limited-edition book, The Times said Grannis "helped to
innovate a style of art. … The book has the effect of a time capsule, bringing
back an era that continues to resonate for us in shades of Technicolor and
black and white. "
Evan Slater, then the editor of Surfing magazine, told the San Diego Union-
Tribune in 2006 that Grannis was "a surfer first, but he was also one of the first
surfers to realize our sport needed to be documented properly" as he became
"a key founding father of surf media and surf photography."
Although he often shot from shore with a long lens, Grannis in 1963 bought a
Calypso underwater camera, invented by oceanographer Jacques Cousteau,
and waded into the water.
A year later, Grannis started developing a waterproof camera housing that
attached to the nose of a surfboard, which allowed him to stay closer to the
action and avoid returning to shore to change film.
His photographs became known for their intimacy, nuance and emotionalism.
Much of his best work was in black and white and seemed to have a unique
blending of light and shadow, according to "The Encyclopedia of Surfing"
(2003) by Matt Warshaw.
Grannis differentiated himself from other surf photographers of his era by
making pictures that had "a texture about them that was somehow palpable,
even in published form," Brad Barrett wrote in "Photo: Grannis," a 1998
collection of his seminal work from the 1960s.
Although Grannis started surfing as a teen, he came to surf photography at 42
in 1959, a family man under doctor's orders to find a relaxing hobby to escape
the stress from his job with the telephone company.
"I started chasing good surf, and what was a hobby became a lot more,"
Grannis told The Times in 2005.
"Surfing was becoming immensely popular. … And the 'Gidget' movie had
struck a chord," he said. "Suddenly everyone wanted to surf, or at least look
Encouraged by his good friend, pioneering surf photographer John Heath "Doc"
Ball, Grannis bought an inexpensive 35-millimeter East German camera and
built a darkroom in his garage. He started out selling photos for $1 apiece to
Hermosa Beach surfers starved for images of themselves.
His first professional photographs were purchased for $5 apiece in 1960 by
Reef, an early but short-lived surf magazine. During the decade, his photos
would run in every major surfing publication.
In 1962, he became head photographer of Surfing Illustrated, and two years
later co-founded International Surfing, now known as Surfing magazine.
Most of the year, he shot along the Southern California coast, but every
December from 1961 to 1966 he went to Hawaii, often shooting at Oahu's
famed North Shore.
Tired of increased competition for the perfect angle and annoyed by media
coverage of surfing, Grannis walked away from professional surf photography
"I didn't like the way the magazines were going. They were making heroes out
of druggies and guys with big mouths, so I bailed out," Grannis told the London
Daily Telegraph in 2003.
He also blamed the introduction of short boards around 1968 for contributing to
the changing surf culture. Lighter, less-wieldy boards made it easier for young,
sometimes smart-alecky kids to get involved, he said.
Grannis was born Aug. 12, 1917, at his parents' home less than a block from
the Hermosa Beach surf. In second grade, he earned a nickname that stuck:
Morning swims with his father at age 5 gave way to surfing by the time Grannis
was 14. He carved his first surfboard out of a 6-foot slab of pine.
In 1931, he got on a board for the first time.
"There were probably only 200 or so surfers in California then, and everyone
knew each other," Grannis told The Times in 2005. "There was none of this
provincialism. There were more than enough waves for everyone."
In 1936, he became a member of the nascent Palos Verdes Surf Club, the first
significant group of its type. Weekly meetings were held in a spare room in
Ball's dental office.
A courtship with Grannis' future wife, Katie, began with a tandem surf ride in
1938, and they married a year later.
At 23, he was a day laborer for Standard Oil in El Segundo and worked his way
up to boilermaker. By pulling night shifts, he found time to surf, and in the
1930s and '40s was one of the state's top wave riders, the surfing encyclopedia
World War II scattered his surfing crowd as almost everyone joined the service.
He enlisted in the Army Air Forces, trained as a pilot and became a flight
Within weeks of the war's end in 1945, Grannis was walking along the beach in
Malibu when he saw a dozen surfers and pronounced the place "ruined."
"Before the war, you'd call somebody because you didn't want to surf alone,"
Grannis told Surfer's Journal in 1999. "What we considered to be a crowd, back
then, would be a beautiful day today."
He signed on to install switchboards for Pacific Bell Telephone before becoming
a manager, staying with the company for three decades as he and his wife
raised four children. After retiring from the phone company in the late 1970s, he
moved to Carlsbad.
In his 50s, he took up hang-gliding and was briefly a photographer for Hang
Gliding magazine. Several broken bones, including a badly fractured leg,
caused him to turn to windsurfing in his 60s. He participated in and
photographed the sport until the late 1980s.
In "Surfing for Life," a 1999 documentary about elderly surfers, Grannis
reminisced about the strong bonds of that early 20th century dawn patrol.
"All the fellas that I surfed with back in the '30s that are still alive, we're still in
contact with each other," Grannis said when he was about 82. "And whenever
possible, we get together and surf together."
He caught his last wave in 2001.
Katie, his wife of 69 years, died in 2008.
Besides his son John of Hermosa Beach, Grannis is survived by three other
children, Nancy of Sonora, Calif.; Kit of Carlsbad; and Frank of Burien, Wash.;
six grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and one great-great-
A paddle-out memorial is being planned for Palos Verdes Cove in June.
Jane Schmauss and LeRoy Grannis