RIP John Severson
It is with a heavy heart that we announce John Severson, Founder of SURFER Magazine and patriarch of modern surf media, passed away Friday evening in his sleep. He was 83 years old.
Born in December of 1933 in Los Angeles, Severson began surfing at age 13 after his family moved to San Clemente. He released his first film, Surf, while serving in the U.S. Army in Honolulu. Severson would join Bruce Brown, Bud Browne, and Greg Noll as surfing’s original filmmakers in the late ’50s and early ’60s, touring productions like Surf Fever, Big Wednesday, and Going My Wave up and down the California coastline.
It was Severson’s promotional artwork for his films (a highly-talented visual artist, Severson received an M.A. in art education from Long Beach State College in 1956) that led to his foray in surf publishing. He designed a 36-page magazine composed of surf photos, cartoons, sketches, and more to advertise the release of Surf Fever in 1960. He would call it The Surfer, later becoming the Surfer Quarterly in 1961. The success of the magazine eventually allowed Severson to bring on staff members that included cartoonist Rick Griffin, photographer Ron Stoner, and editors Drew Kampion and Steve Pezman—the veritable Mount Rushmore of surf media, with Severson himself as the architect. “Before John Severson, there was no ‘surf media,’ no ‘surf industry’ and no ‘surf culture’—at least not in the way we understand it today,” SURFER editor Sam George wrote in 1999.
“In this crowded world,” Severson wrote in the very first issue of SURFER, “the surfer can still seek and find the perfect day, the perfect wave, and be alone with the surf and his thoughts.” The legacy he inspired with that pursuit—to seek and find the perfect wave—will forever live on.