Adler, Tom


Designer and publisher of surpassingly elegant photo books on surf culture; based in Santa Barbara, California; best known for his work with blue chip surf photographers such as Don James and Jeff Divine.

Adler was born (1950) and raised in Long Beach, the son of an aerospace engineer father and a stay-at-home mother. He learned to ride waves at age 14 in the mostly closed-out walls of nearby Seal Beach, and by the time he moved north to attend college at UC Santa Barbara (BA, Comparative Lit, '75), he was a dedicated surfer.

Adler was an equally dedicated collector of handcrafted books and photography monographs, an interest that came into play decades later after he befriended Don James, one of surfing's original lensmen. The two were neighbors in Santa Barbara, and bonded while going over James' earliest work (shot with a folding Brownie camera), and talking about how it might best be presented. The result was a small-format, Adler-published black-and-white hardcover book titled Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume: 1936-1942: Don James (1997). The youth and energy of California's early surf culture comes ringing though, but the design was pristine and balanced; a New York Times reviewer said San Onofre to Point Dume was "like looking at flashcards from an American Eden." The book was also written up in the New Yorker, and gallery shows of James' photos were shown in New York and Los Angeles.

Buoyed by the success of the James book, Adler's boutique publishing house has gone on to produce a small run of equally handsome photographic collections, including Dora Lives: The Authorized Story of Miki Dora (2005), Surfing Photographs From the Seventies Taken by Jeff Divine (2007), Surf Contest: Photographs by Ron Church (2009), The Plight of the Torpedo People (2013), and An Uncommon Archive (2016). Adler has also done design work for Quiksilver, Patagonia and Polo.