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John Severson (1933 - 2017)

Getty Images / The LIFE Picture Collection / Photo by Bill Ray

John Severson (1933 - 2017)

John Severson, the founder of Surfer Magazine, has died at the age of 83, according to multiple news sources.

Surfer Magazine announced that Severson died in his sleep Friday, May 26, 2017.

A Southern California native, Severson began surfing at age 13 when his family moved to San Clemente. He was drafted into the Army and assigned to Hawaii. While in Hawaii, he made his first surf movie, which was simply titled “Surf.”

In a video from 2011, Severson said, “I became a beach boy, surfed, got a camera, and started shooting magic movies of us surfing.”

Severson was one of the pioneers of surf movies. His films included “Big Wednesday,” “Surf Safari,” and the 1960 film “Surf Fever.” To promote “Surf Fever,” Severson made a magazine filled with photos and stills from the movie. The magazine proved so popular with the surfing community that Severson decided to create the magazine Surfer.


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He made the popular surfing documentary “Pacific Vibrations” in 1970. The movie featured music from the bands Cream and the Steve Miller Band.

Severson sold Surfer Magazine in 1972. He moved with his wife and two daughters to Maui, where he pursued photography and painting. Severson’s surf paintings are very popular. He also designed hundreds of prints for Kahala's Artist Series Hawaiian shirts.

“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 wrote an introduction in the first issue of Surfer. “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.”

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