Surfer, the short story of John Severson



In every aspect of life we find some visionaries that were able to look way ahead than others, able to create something considered inconceivable up until then: in the surfing world, this role has been fulfilled by John Severson. A book launched in September published by Damiani enables us to retrace the biography of this surfer – class 1933 – who managed to turn a compulsory relocation to Hawaii when he was still with the US Army into the creation of the surf-mania myth.

He started out as a painter, selling his artwork on the beach in the 1950s, then he moved on to professional photography and videomaking – the 1978 movie ‘Big Wednesday’ borrows its title from a short film shot by Severson in the Sixties – and eventually he became the publisher of legendary magazine SURFER, the first to promote surfing on a global level, giving it worldwide visibility. That’s why people say that before John Severson, surf media, surf industry and surf culture didn’t exist: he was the pioneer that in the Sixties, last century, got it all started.

It was not about money, as John explains: “I was looking first of all to do something so special and beautiful that I would have felt compelled to share it with others”: possibly the best motivation one could ever have in any aspect of life. John today lives in Hawaii, he sold the magazine in the early Seventies and he then chose to just enjoy life. But lets not think of him only as a slightly naive romantic surfer of the 1960s.

No, John knew right from the start which wave his life should have followed: “Before marrying Louise, she asked me whether I had a 10-year plan, to which I replied I did. I would have worked for ten years in the surfing world, saved some money and then just quitted everything so to be able to spend the rest of our lives in the midst of adventure, just travelling and painting. I wanted a simpler life, not as a starving painter, but almost! Often plans such as this one don’t work, but in this case it did!.

Yes John, I would say it definitely did!