Bright, acerbic Australian surf journalist and photographer from Sydney; cofounder of Tracks magazine in 1970, but best known for "We're Tops Now," his 1967 Surfer article that celebrated the new generation of Aussie surfers while gleefully bashing the Californians.
Witzig was born (1944) in Sydney, raised near Palm Beach, began surfing in the late '50s, and started writing articles for Australia's Surfing World magazine in 1963. The following year he was a judge for the debut World Surfing Championships, held in Sydney, and two years later got his first taste of surf world controversy by writing much of the July-August "New Era" issue of Surfing World, in which the magazine seemed to dismiss 1964 world champion Midget Farrelly in favor of younger Australians Nat Young and Bob McTavish.
When Young rode to victory in the 1966 World Championships—beating California favorite David Nuuhiwa and rendering the Nuuhiwa-led noseriding style of surfing obsolete—Witzig was justifiably upset at how the American surf press seemed to downplay the result. California surfers in particular, Witzig advised in his instantly notorious "We're Tops Now" article, needed to take off "the rose-colored spectacles" and come to grips with the fact that "everything the pedestal of California surfing is being built upon means nothing!" Witzig was shrill but correct: Young and the Australians had in fact changed the course of surfing, and the American's were avoiding the topic. "We're on top," he summed up, "and will continue to dominate." Witzig's statement remains true, arguably, to this day.
Paul Witzig, John's older brother, would document the next phase of Australian surfing in his 1969 movie Evolution. John Witzig meanwhile went on to edit Surf International magazine from 1967 to 1969, then cofounded the counterculture surf tabloid Tracks in 1970, along with surf filmmaker Alby Falzon and editor David Elfick. Witzig continued over the years to write articles for Tracks, Surfer, and other surf periodicals, but never again struck a nerve as he did with "We're Tops Now."
John Witzig: Surfing Photographs from the 1960s and '70s was published in 2007. John Witzig: These are (mostly) photographs you've never seen before was published in 2011; A Golden Age: Surfing's Revolutionary 1960s and '70s was published in 2013. Witzig's work was prominently featured in "Arcadia," an exhibit that ran in Australia's National Portrait Gallery in Canberra in 2014.