Bolster, Warren


Protean self-taught American surf photographer from Oahu, Hawaii; a top name in the field from the 1970s to the mid-'00s, best known for his water-shot images. Bolster was born (1947) in Washington, D.C., the adopted son of a ranking American Foreign Service diplomat, and spent much of his childhood overseas. His family moved to Sydney, Australia, in 1963, and Bolster began surfing at Bondi Beach; in 1967 he moved to Cocoa Beach, Florida, and soon earned a reputation as one of the state's top competitive surfers.

Bolster moved to San Diego, California, in 1970, and two years later—using a new waterproof camera housing for the first time and shooting his first roll of color film—he produced a Surfing magazine cover shot; later that year he was listed on the Surfing masthead. Bolster switched to Surfer in 1975, where he remained a staff photographer until 1992. In 1976 and 1977 he also worked as Surfer's associate editor; from 1975 to 1978 he was the editor of Skateboarder; by 2000 he'd written more than 30 articles for the American surf press.

Bolster was constantly on the lookout for new angles, shooting from helicopters and often using a board-mounted camera to get spectacular in-the-tube photos from behind the rider, or noseriding photos from in front. In 2000, the Surfer's Journal published "The 50% Solution," a 10-page portfolio of Bolster's recent work, with each color-saturated wide-angle image shot half above and half below the ocean surface.

Masters of Photography: Warren Bolster, a lavish 250-page retrospective photo book, was published by the Surfer's Journal in 2002. The Legacy of Warren Bolster: Master of Skateboard Photography was published in 2005. Portfolios of Bolster's work ran in Sports Illustrated (1977) and Oceans (1981), among other magazines. His photos have also been used in a number of illustrated surfing books, including  Surfing: The Ultimate Pleasure (1984), The Perfect Day (2001), and The History of Surfing (2010). He was elected to the East Coast Surf Legends Hall of Fame in 2000.

In interviews and profiles, Bolster had been forthcoming about his alcohol and drug problems. Futhermore, by the early '00s, after years of high-impact work in the surf zone, his back, neck and joints were giving him problems. Bolster committed suicide in 2006; he was 59 years old.

In 2013, Bolster was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame.