Grannis, LeRoy


Gruff-voiced photographer from Hermosa Beach, California; best known for the lucid, unadorned, well-composed surfing images he took during the 1960s; also a cofounder in 1964 of Surfing magazine. Grannis was born (1917) and raised in Hermosa, began surfing in 1931, and was one of the state's top wave-riders in the '30s and '40s; more than a half-dozen photographs of Grannis are featured in Doc Ball's 1946 book California Surfriders. Grannis and Ball were both charter members in 1935 of the Palos Verdes Surf Club.

Grannis was working as a Pacific Bell switchboard installer in 1959 (he was also a reservist in the Air Force; he retired as a major in 1977) when he was diagnosed with stress-related ulcers, and advised by his doctor to take up a relaxing hobby. He bought a 35-millimeter camera and a 400-millimeter lens, spent two months learning how to use the equipment, built a darkroom in his garage, and in September of 1960 had eight black-and-white images published in Reef surf magazine. The tall, hawk-faced photographer went on to contribute shots to Surfer and Surf Guide, became the general manager and head photographer of Surfing Illustrated in 1962, then cofounded International Surfing (today's Surfing) in 1964, along with editor Dick Graham.

Grannis had little to do with the day-to-day mechanics of publishing, and for the most part remained behind the camera. He shot from the water at times, but preferred a straight-on angle from the beach; his best work— much of it in black and white, often shot at Malibu or Hermosa—seemed to have a unique blending of light and shadow. "There was a texture about Grannis' shots," fellow photographer Brad Barrett later wrote, "that for me took them into another realm." Others felt the same way. Grannis polled ahead of Californians Don James and Ron Stoner to win the still photography division of 1966 International Surfing Hall of Fame award; in 1967 he finished runner-up to James.

Grannis worked almost exclusively in Southern California and Hawaii, and quit shooting professionally in 1971. "I didn't like the way the magazines were going," he later said. "They were making heroes out of druggies and guys with big mouths, so I bailed out."

Apart from his photography, Grannis wrote surf articles throughout the '60s, was a charter member of the 1961-formed United States Surfing Association, and was a top competitor in the seniors division of the United States Surfing Championships, placing fourth in 1968 and second in 1971.

Grannis was featured in a Life magazine article about older surfers in 1990, and also appeared that year in a Nike ad campaign. In 1991 he was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame; in 1999 he was featured in the PBS-aired documentary Surfing for Life about senior surfers, and was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame. Grannis was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 by the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association.

Photo: Grannis—Surfing's Golden Age, 1960–1969, a 224-page photo book, was published by the Surfer's Journal in 1998. Bigger and more sumpteous yet, LeRoy Grannis: Surf Photographry of the 1960s and 1970s, was published by Taschen in 2006. Grannis also contributed to more than a dozen other illustrated books, including Where the Surfers Are (1968), A Pictorial History of Surfing (1970),  The Next Wave (1991), Stoked: A History of Surf Culture (1997),  The Perfect Day (2001), and The History of Surfing (2010).

Grannis died of natural causes in 2011, at age 93.