Severson built a media empire in the fledgling surf scene of post-war California
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 29 May, 2017 - Surfer magazine founder and the man often credited with inventing surf media, John Severson, passed away in his sleep this week at age 83.
Severson began recording surfing on film and making shorts, joining the likes of Bruce Brown and Greg Noll in the fledgling field of surf films. It was only when he designed an elaborate program for his film “Surf Fever” that he called “The Surfer,” did the idea take root to start a surf publication with any regularity.
“The Surfer wound up looking like a scruffy but earnest art school project, beginning with its horizontal format, grainy cover shot, and hand-lettered logotype,” former Surfer editor and Encyclopedia of Surfing author Matt Warshaw wrote. “Doodled surf figures glide around the margins. Captions are often set vertically. Lots of real estate on any given page is left unprinted and white. Most of the features are nothing more than photo groupings with explanatory titles—“Toes on Nose,” “Rincon,” “Waimea Bay”—and brief captions. No competition reports. No editorials, travel stories, interviews, or equipment features.”
As popularity of the magazine grew the publication expanded and hired staff. Throughout the years Surfer Mag grew and welcomed some of the best names in photography and writing. Matt Warshaw, Steve Hawk, Jeff Divine and Art Brewer all held jobs at Surfer and for years, pre-internet, the mag was the voice of all things surfing in America.
Severson got the idea to pursue a publication because of the changing leisure culture in post-war California.
“We came out of the war into an unstable economy and strikes, but California missed a lot of that,” Severson told Surfer Magazine in a 2014 interview. “Leisure time opened up. There were more jobs, and the economy was more up than down. It was easier to get a cheap car, and technology was changing things. The attitude was looser and more playful.”