Soulful and articulate writer/editor from Ventura, California; coauthor of 1963's Surfing Guide to Southern California, and the mid-'60s editor of Surf Guide magazine. Cleary was born (1938) in Los Angeles, raised near Pasadena, began surfing in 1953 at age 15, and received a premed B.A. from UCLA in 1962.
During and after college, Cleary wrote a first draft for Surfing Guide, a detailed spot-by-spot guidebook, and the first publication of its kind for surfers. He then handed the project off to coauthor David Stern, and left for France; returning home, he was surprised to find that letters he'd mailed back to friends in the L.A. area had been gathered and printed as an article in the recently founded Surf Guide magazine, published in Santa Monica.
Cleary wrote more Surf Guide articles in 1963, and near the end of the year became the editor, a post he held until the magazine's demise in 1965. While never more than gently subversive, Cleary was the first ranking surf magazine writer to downplay competition and instead view surfing as something of a counterculture pursuit. "We're interested," Cleary wrote, "in the surfing mood, as well as surfing action; not just what's on the surface of the wave, but what lies beneath it."
Cleary was hired by Surfer in late 1965, where he spent three years as associate editor, while freelancing youth culture articles to Time and Life magazines. Surfing: All the Young Wave Hunters, his surf history book, was published in 1967 by New American Library. In the 1970s, Cleary wrote for Playboy and other adult magazines.
Cleary died of Parkinson's disease in 2002, at age 64. He was married three times and had three children.