John Severson

John Severson

John Severson was born in Pasadena, California in 1933, and moved with his family to San Clemente at the age of 13.  He immediately took up surfing, painting and photographing the waves of southern Orange County.

Severson went on to complete undergraduate and masters degrees in art education from Chico State and Cal State Long Beach.  The paintings he produced during this time have been considered by many to be the origin of surf art.

 In 1956, John found himself in the military, stationed in Honolulu, and assigned to the army surf team.  No doubt he could have been handed a worse assignment!  He released his first surf movie - simply called Surf - in 1958, joining such icons as Bud Browne, Greg Noll and Bruce Brown as some of surfing’s first filmmakers.  After returning to California in 1959, he produced two more films, the second of which he named Surf Fever. To promote this 1960 release, Severson put together a 36-page magazine called The Surfer. It included black and white photos, some of his artwork, a fiction article, and a handful of ads.  And Surfer Magazine was born…

By 1971, the magazine’s circulation had grown to over 100,000 readers.  But its success came at the sacrifice of surfing and painting, two things John loved most.  Seeking a simpler life, Severson sold Surfer and moved with his family to Maui.  As John himself said, “I wanted to live an easier life – not as a starving artist, but as a semi-starving artist.  Sometimes plans like that don’t work out, but this one did.” 

Author/editor Sam George summarized it well…”Before John Severson, there was no surf media, no surf industry, and no surf culture.”  Thank you, John.  You did so much to define the surf lifestyle through film, art, photography and the printed word.

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