Keck, Tom


Enduring, low-key photographer from Del Mar, California; best known for his work in Hawaii and California during the early- and mid-1960s, but a producer of high-quality surf images for decades to follow. Keck was born (1937) and raised in Coronado, a beachfront suburb of San Diego. He learned to bodysurf at age 11, and ride a board at age 14. Keck later worked as a San Diego County lifeguard.

While attending Hawaii's Brigham Young University in the late 1950s, Keck and best friend Tom Carlin were filmed by Bruce Brown for Brown's upcoming movie Barefoot Adventure (1960), in which the two students were introduced as "two Mormon missionary surfers"—Keck and Carlin were both in their missionary uniforms, drinking beer.

After taking a photography class at BYU, Keck began to shoot his surfing pals—some of whom were among San Diego's best—riding the North Shore. Back in California, Keck was informally mentored by surf photography pioneer LeRoy Grannis as well as SURFER founder John Severson. SURFER was the first magazine to print Keck's photos, in the early '60s. Over the decades, his work has been featured in Surfing, Surfer's Journal, Surfing Illustrated, Glide, Surfing World and Pacific Longboarder, among other titles. Time magazine and the Los Angeles Times have also published Keck's photos.

Keck lived in Hawaii on and off for most of the 1960s. In the '70s and '80s, back in California, he shot video for the local ABC affiliate in San Diego, and also had his own photography studio. During the winter of 1978, while out on assignment covering ongoing storm damage at the famous Del Mar horse racing track, Keck's house flooded and destroyed nearly all of his surf photo negatives and transparencies.

"Tom Keck: Exposed," a retrospective of Keck's work, opened at the California Surf Museum in 2006.