Always click on the LEGENDARY SURFERS icon to return to this homepage. LEGENDARY SURFERS
A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By  Malcolm Gault-Williams

This Chapter Updated:  15 February 2005
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LEROY "Granny" GRANNIS

Surfer and Surf Photographer

LeRoy Grannis self-portrait courtesy of Swell.com.

Aloha and welcome to this chapter in the LEGENDARY SURFERS series!

Man on deck, this time 'round, is legendary lensman LeRoy "Granny" Grannis, one of the few California surfers to transition from active surfing in the 1930's to continued active participation in the sport through the 1960's and on into present day.



Enjoy LeRoy's story and spread the stoke!


Contents

  • NORM HALE
  • JOHN "DOC" BALL
  • JOHN "DOC" BALL
  • HOPPY SWARTS
  • EARLY SURF CLUBS
  • PALOS VERDES SURFING CLUB
  • SURFIN' THE LATE '30S
  • WAR & FAMILY
  • AFTER THE WAR
  • SURF PHOTOG
  • ISLANDS, 1ST TIME
  • "PHOTOS BY GRANNIS"
  • WINDS OF CHANGE
  • TODAY
  • TECHNICAL NOTES

  • LeRoy Frank Grannis was born on August 12, 1917, at home in Hermosa Beach, less than a block from the beach. Hermosa was a small town, back then, with a population of approximately 3,500 residents. Since the big hospital was a good deal away, many people just had their babies at home. Back then, what used to be called El Camino Real - the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH for short - was a dirt road.



    1920's

    By the time LeRoy was five, he was going with his dad on early morning swims. "I've been around the ocean ever since I was born," he told me. "When I was born, we lived a half block from the Strand in Hermosa Beach, on 10th Street.

    "My earliest recollection of the ocean is when I was 5 or 6 years old. My dad used to get up early and go down and jump in the ocean in the summertime. I went along with him. I learned to bodysurf. Eventually, I got into belly boards."



    Norm Hale

    At age 14, LeRoy began his long sojourn in the world of stand-up surfing. "When I was 14, I became acquainted with the surfers in Hermosa through Norman Hale, my next door neighbor. He was also a good friend of Doc Ball's."

    "Norman's mother had a restaurant on the beachfront called Ma Brown's, which was where the surfers hung out. Doc hung out at the restaurant, too, and met her son and they became good friends. Doc's son Norman is named after Norman Hale. Norm got brain cancer and died at an early age."

    "My dad bought me this slab of pine which was about 24-inches wide and 6-feet long and 2-inches deep," Granny continued, pegging the year as 1931, "and I shaped it with a drawknife. I rode some waves on my knees before I decided I needed something bigger. Since Norm was riding paddleboards and solid boards at the time, he loaned me some to ride."

    The teenage Grannis had shaped at least one body board (3-4 feet long, 16-inches wide) and made a stab at shaping his first surfboard. It became readily apparent that this was not to be one of his strong points. So, he ditched his own shapes to borrow Norm Hale's boards.



    John "Doc" Ball

    It was through Norman Hale that LeRoy met John Ball, then a dental student at the University of Southern California. A Grannis/Ball match-up soon took hold and their friendship has lasted more than 60 years, to present day.

    After graduating from USC Dental College in 1933,

    John "Doc" Ball
    set-up his dental practice in Los Angeles in early 1934, continued to surf with his buddies in the South Bay, and began to photograph the emerging California surfing lifestyle.



    Hoppy Swarts

    "In late '32," LeRoy recounted, "I had to move from Redondo to University High School. In 1933, I came back to Redondo and that's when I met Hop. I moved in with my mother. My folks were divorced… My sister knew Hop's sister and we eventually met through them. He wasn't surfing at the time, but found out the rest of us were and jumped into it and eventually became a real fine surfer."

    Granny and Hoppy began surfing at Palos Verdes Cove, driving in borrowed cars to get there.



    Early Surf Clubs

    [The Depression]

    "kept us kinda limited in certain ways," Doc told me once, in an interview with him, "but we had surfin' to take care of everything. Long as there's waves, why, you didn't have to pay for those. All we had to do was buy the gas to get there."

    I asked Granny what his take was on the Great Depression and its affect on surfing. "Well, I don't know how it affected us," he replied. "It made us appreciate money when we were older, cuz we never had any during the Depression. I would go for weeks without a penny in my pocket. I went to high school stone broke most of the time. You'd take a lunch with you, of course, so you could eat. There just wasn't any money available. Those that had steady jobs were the kings."

    A year after he got going in his dental practice, Doc got together with Adie Bayer to found the Palos Verdes Surfing Club.

    The PVSC was second only to the Corona del Mar Surf Board Club. Because it organized the first annual Pacific Coast Surfing Championship in 1928 and boasted the Father of Modern Surfing Duke Kahanamoku as a member at one point, the Corona del Mar Surf Board Club is generally considered to be the first surf club to organize on the Mainland, "the largest club of this kind in America," according to The Santa Ana Daily Register, July 31, 1928.

    Chuck "A Luck" Ehlers claimed the honor for the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club, saying that it was the first, in 1934, when "the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club was formed. They had about 18 members. The old ones plus LeRoy's [younger, by 7 years] brother Don Grannis, Ted Davies, and others."

    I tried to pin Doc down on this one. How he remembers it is that Johnny Kerwin got the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club going "a little after we formed. Palos Verdes was one of the first ones that organized. After that was Hermosa and then Manhattan and then Santa Monica. From there on it went up the coast and kept going after that."

    "Well, he was a member of the Hermosa Club," Granny told me, particularly addressing the dates Chuck-A-Luck put on things in a Surfer's Journal article. "Chuck's all wet on his dates and things. Strictly a figment of his imagination. He was on the scene, there's no doubt about it, and a lot of things happened [as he described], but not at the times he stated.

    "He started at the same time [as I did]. It was quite a group of them in Manhattan, who surfed Manhattan Pier."

    Other surfers Granny especially remembers from back that time were not only Doc and Norm Hale, but also a "Japanese fella, whose name I forget."

    "In 1935, a whole bunch of us from Redondo High started surfing together," LeRoy recalled, adding: "One of the things that got the surfing groups going in the late '30s: we started playing paddle polo at the Plunge, out there by USC. The competition was pretty keen."



    Palos Verdes Surfing Club

    John "Doc" Ball was typically modest in his comparison of his Palos Verdes Surfing Club to other surf clubs of the era. The fact was that the Palos Verdes Surfing Club was more sophisticated and organized than any of the other clubs early on. It's organization would be impressive even compared to today's standards. Importantly, Doc's photography played a large part in establishing the PVSC as the dominant surf club of the 1930s.

    In 1936, a year after the club formed, both LeRoy and Hoppy were inducted into the PVSC. "Myself and Hop [Hoppy Swarts] were the only two that joined the club [PVSC] [from the Redondo High group]. The rest of 'em scattered out between Hermosa and Manhattan (our school took in all of Hermosa and Manhattan)."

    "We were really a friendly group," Grannis said of the Palos Verdes crew. "We met every Wednesday night… Doc had a dental office on the corner of Santa Barbara and Vermont [streets]; over the theatre, there… That was an all-white neighborhood at the time… He had a spare room and we converted that to a clubhouse. We had pictures - each one of us - with our boards, hanging on the wall… Every weekend, if there was surf, we were out surfing either Hermosa Pier or Palos Verdes Cove.

    "See, the Cove wasn't any good in the summertime, cuz it only takes a north swell. Then, of course, in the late '30s, we all started going down to San Onofre in the summertime."



    Surfin' The Late '30s

    One of the standout surfs Granny remembers of the 1930s was his first trip to Malibu ten years after

    Tom Blake
    and Sam Reid first surfed the place in 1926. "In May 1936," Granny surfed Malibu with Hoppy and Bud Morrissey, who had an "in" at the Malibu Colony. "Pete [Peterson] was riding Malibu in those days, then Gard Chapin and more and more Palos Verdes [Surfing Club] people."

    "Flood Control - right where the Queen Mary is, now - that was a great south swell spot. That was before the breakwater was built across San Pedro Harbor."

    Surfing continued to gain in popularity, as demonstrated by not only surfing photographs making it into newspapers, but articles about surfing, as well.

    "This is Big Surf," wrote and photographically documented Doc of March 13, 1937.

    Pete Peterson
    "of Santa Monica" is identified riding the "wave of the day." Also featured: LeRoy Grannis and Jean Depue.

    "Pete Peterson - he was one of the big ones who could really paddle," Doc recalled. "He was expert at taking gals up on his shoulders and everything and riding. He was one of the big surfers in those days… He was a big wave rider. He used to be able to cut across a wave almost like they do, now; get in the tunnel and get out; just an extraordinary surf hound. That's what we thought."

    No less stoked was LeRoy "Granny" Grannis, aka "Scrobble Noggin" "That was one of Doc's sayings," declared Grannis. "I don't knows how he came up with it. I was 'Granny' all along. But that was Doc's special name [for me]. I became 'Granny' in the second grade."

    "He'd get shook up every once in a while," explained Doc about LeRoy's nickname of Scrobble Noggin, "and he'd get an ornery look on his face [at those times]."

    That winter swell of 1937-38 cranked out good sized surf. January 7, 1938 was "The day when the newsreel boys came down to shoot the damage done by the big seas packed up and left when we came out with our surfboards," wrote Doc Ball. Surfers he identified with photographic proof to back it up: "Tulie" Clark, Hal Pearson, Al Holland, Adie Bayer and Leroy Grannis.

    In a section entitled "Palos Verdes Surfing Club at the Long Beach Surfing Contest" Doc Ball wrote that at this contest, the Hawaiians even sent over a team. PVSC members, left to right were: [Gene] Hornbeck, Reynolds, Humphreys, [Fenton] Scholes, Huber, [Al] Pearson, [Johnny] Gates, Alsten, [E.J.] Oshier, [Adie] Bayer, [Jean] Depue, Allen, [Hoppy] Swarts, Grannis, Pierce, [Al] Landes, [Tulie] Clark.

    Tulie Clark was "Hot and cold," Granny remembered. "He'd work and get out of shape, periodically. Most of the time, he was right up there and is in great shape, even today."

    I asked Granny about Peanuts Larsen. "Larsen was a good surfer," Granny granted, "but a scammer. He wasn't too well liked."

    Granny's brother Don might have been in with them, but he was seven years younger than his brother and was a lot like many younger brothers toward their older brother. "He hung out with the Hermosa bunch," LeRoy explained. "He and

    [Dale] Velzy
    were real close friends. He was a lifeguard…"

    Ocean relay races provided the impetus for surf club contests and these were "very popular" in the later half of the 1930s, Granny recalls. "[During and] after the war, that kind of died out."

    Tandem events provided a way for men to bond with women. "Well," Granny explained, "everybody had a board that you could tandem with, cuz they were so long and buoyant." In 1938, LeRoy met his wife-to-be, Katie Tracy. She was an inland girl, but they met at Hermosa Pier, then went on to courtship with a strong tandem emphasis. A year and a half later, they were married.

    In late September 1939, 15 to 20-foot Chubasco waves rolled in at Malibu. A number of guys went out that day, Fenton Scholes and Granny being the last ones to get out. Fenton lost his board and both came in on Granny's… "New Year's '40 and '41 - there was huge surf," Granny recalled, "20 to 25-foot rollers."



    War & Family

    At age 23, Granny got a job as a laborer at Standard Oil in El Segundo and worked his way up to boilermaker. In his free time, he continued to surf until

    World War II
    blew the entire California surfing scene apart.

    "We were down at the beach on December 7 of 1941," Granny vividly remembers much in the same way later generations of surfers remember where he or she was when President Kennedy was assasinated, when we first landed on the moon, or when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. "A whole bunch of us down there, right next to Hermosa Pier. I don't what we were doing; playing volleyball or something. All of a sudden - somebody had a radio - and we heard over the radio that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and we all looked at each other and we knew that nothing would ever be the same. Eventually, just about all of us ended up in one branch [of the armed forces] or another."

    In 1943, while his brother Don patrolled Malibu as a Marine, Granny joined the Army Air Force and trained to be a pilot. Toward the end of the war, he became a flight instructor. After the war, he toyed with becoming a commercial pilot, but opted to go back to Standard Oil. He then went to work for Pacific Bell Telephone, where he worked in management for 31 years before retiring in 1977.

    Meanwhile, Granny and Katie had a family on their hands, which meant that surfing and hanging out at the beach became less of a priority than raising four kids.

    After The War

    "Immediately,"

    after World War II
    was won, "my first week back [September 1945], I went to Malibu. We were walking along the beach and looked out and saw probably around 12 guys out. I turned to the guy [I was with and said], 'Jeez, the place is ruined.'

    "Before the war, you'd call somebody before you went to Malibu because you didn't want to surf alone… What we considered to be a crowd, back then, would be a beautiful day, today."

    "Our old club members got together," after the war, Granny said. "We all got together again. We all got married and we all had to have jobs. About once a month, we'd get together and have a poker party or something like that. A lot of the guys joined the San Onofre Surf Club [in the 1950s] and that became our common meeting point after that, for most of us - in the summertime, anyway."

    Even though he now surfed the South Bay and San Onofre only on occasion and was, in essence, on sabbatical from surfing, LeRoy remained well known amongst SoCal surfers. As late as 1948, most all Southern California surfers still knew or knew of each other and surfboards were still pretty much of the redwood & balsa variety.

    A case in point of how Granny was remembered by others even after the war was

    Greg Noll.
    In his autobiography Da Bull, Noll recalled, "When I first started surfing… there was Matt Kivlin and Joe Quigg riding redwoods at Malibu. Doc Ball and the guys at the Palos Verdes Surfboard Club. Velzy, Leroy Grannis, Ted Kerwin, the Edgar brothers at Hermosa and Manhattan.

    Lorrin Harrison,
    Burrhead and the guys at San Onofre. A few guys down in La Jolla. The entire surfing population consisted of maybe a couple hundred guys, most of them riding redwood boards, paddleboards and balsa/redwoods."

    Another example of LeRoy's status and regard is how he was looked at by waterman

    Mike Doyle
    in the mid-1950s. Doyle wrote in his autobiography, Morning Glass:

    "One of the older surfers down at Manhattan Pier told me about a book called California Surfriders by Doc Ball. It focused on surfing in the 1930s and '40s… I took Doc Ball's book home and studied each picture for an hour at a time, scrutinizing each grain in the black-and-white photos, the way the water flowed over the board, the way the wave was breaking -- every detail -- until I could feel what it was like trimming across a wall of water. I studied each of the surfers' styles, their hand movements, the way their feet were placed on the boards, and I came to understand that each surfer in that era Hoppy Swarts, LeRoy Grannis, Pete Peterson -- had his own individual style.

    "I saw that the surfers in the book had a wonderful camaraderie that I didn't have in my own life. They were healthy and joyful, and they enjoyed being with each other. I could see a community spirit there that I wanted to be a part of."

    Surf Photog

    "Once I got the kids' teeth straightened," Granny declared, "and got that burden off my back, I was able to quit working weekends as a carpenter and start putting in more time in the water, again."

    Granny's return from his surfing "sabbatical" took place at the beginning of the foam board era. His foray into surf photography developed soon afterward, beginning in 1960. Doc Ball tells the story of the continuity between what he was doing in the 1930s and '40s and what Granny later did in the 1960s:

    "My surf photography began in 1935," Doc Ball told Brad Barrett for the foreward to Granny's modern pictorial coffee table classic Photo: Grannis, "when I beheld the Los Angeles Times Sunday paper. Their Rotogravure Section was filled with enlargements of photos by Tom Blake called 'Riders of the Sunset Seas,' surf pix taken at Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Territory of Hawai'i. It got me started photographing surfing in California. Some time after, my surfing buddy, LeRoy Grannis got stoked on surf pix, and began taking surf photos. He took over when I slowed down, and went big time! He is now international and increasing in surf photo production, like a TNT blast. We are still in contact and, I gotta say, he's a blessing to me, like no other surf photog."

    At age 42, LeRoy took up surf photography as a hobby in

    1960,
    at the suggestion of his doctor. He'd developed an ulcer due to stress at his day job. His doctor figured a hobby would get Granny's mind off the tension at work.

    "I thought," Granny told me, "well, Doc's gone [up north and retired] and I don't know too many guys taking pictures of surfers, so I decided to jump into it. I built a third garage and made half of it into a darkroom and started shooting the kids at 22nd Street and Hermosa; sold 'em 8 by 10's for a buck a piece to get a little money back."

    So, Granny took his doctor up on his suggestion, also buying a 35mm camera and a 400mm lens to get the job done.

    "I actually started in late '59," LeRoy clarified, "but I didn't have any decent equipment. In the spring of 1960 I decided to build a darkroom and get some better equipment. I bought an East German 35mm camera and a 400mm Meyer lens (I had been using a 50mm lens). The lens was all right, it did the job, but it had a flaw that left dark spots at the bottom of the images. I was primarily shooting black-and-white and selling 8x10s to the kids at 22nd Street for a buck a piece to pay for supplies, and then I just went on from there."

    It was in June of 1960 that Granny added another garage to his Hermosa Beach home and built the darkroom inside it. His first shots were taken at 22nd Street, in Hermosa Beach, but it wasn't until July that he had anything really notable. That second month of his shooting, he caught a decent day at Sequit (aka Arroyo Secos -- Secos, for short -- or Leo Carrillo) and again on July 12th. That day, he got some a good shot of Dewey Weber on the nose and one of skier Ed Schuyler powering through some whitewater. These two photographs, along with a half dozen others from both Sequit and 22nd Street were published in the September 1960 issue of Reef Magazine.

    "They bought six or eight of them," LeRoy remembered, "and paid me five bucks a piece. I was in hog heaven." Stated another way, Granny told me, "About that time, this little Reef magazine started. I sold them some pictures for five bucks a piece and thought I was in hog heaven. Then, a little later, Surfer got started."

    Although short-lived as a publication, Reef Magazine was the second surf magazine to come on line, after The Surfer.

    His first year shooting, Granny pumped out 2,500 frames of black-and-white.

    Of the surf photographers at that time, Granny listed: "Don James, John Severson, Ron Church, Ron Stoner, the Brown's [Bud Browne and Bruce Brown]. There weren't too many of us and there weren't too many places to peddle our wares, either... The '60s were fun cuz there weren't that many of us in it [surf photography]… We were sort of a fraternity."

    In 1961, John Severson's The Surfer went from an annual to a quarterly and then, a year and a half later, to a bi-monthly. Granny's photographs started showing up in Hal Jacobs ads, then in the "Photos from the Readers" and "Toes on the Nose" sections. By

    1962,
    there were South Bay articles and other spots complete with photographs from LeRoy Grannis.

    "Walt Phillips came up to me in '62 and wanted to start a magazine," Granny said, "which we did, called Surfing Illustrated. We got out a couple of issues, but we weren't too well organized and I was working full time [with the telephone company]. So, money got to be a problem… So, Walt sold it or did something with it and then went to work for the people who bought it."

    Working with Panatomic-X, a very slow, fine grain, low contrast film that he pushed up to the speed of Plus-X (which most surf photographers used for surfing photography), Granny's pictures were not only published in The Surfer and Reef, but also Surfing Illustrated, Surf Guide and other early-to-middle 1960s surf mags.

    In developing his film, LeRoy developed Panatomic-X pushed with Acufine developer and double weight Agfa paper.

    At about this time, Granny and Hoppy were also working with kids in the Boy Scouts program. One of their favorite things to do was lead Explorer Scout troops on surfari to Malibu and Sequit.

    Islands, 1st Time

    In

    1961,
    Granny went to the Islands for the first time. "In '61, I started going to Hawaii every winter cuz my wife's sister lives over there. So, I combined the visits with surf photography. I went to Hawaii every December from '61 to '66." In attempting to shoot Sunset, he first shot from a surfboard, hand-holding a Pentax with a 200mm Takumar lens wrapped in a plastic bag. "When a sneaker set broke in the channel," wrote Brad Barrett, "he almost lost the rig and decided maybe the plastic bag idea wasn't such a good one."

    In

    1964,
    LeRoy built a 9"x9"x12" wooden box with suction cups on the corners and a waterproof cover. Mounting this on his surfboard, Granny shot from the water and was able to change rolls of film without having to return to the beach. He shot Sunset, Waimea Bay and Makaha this way.

    Granny also came back home to Hermosa Beach, California winter surf and the first United States Invitational at Oceanside Pier. The Oceanside contest was a rarity: good surf with offshore winds. Standouts included Mark Martinson and Corky Carroll battling for first slot in the junior men's division.

    "Photos By Grannis"

    During this time, Granny was jumping around between surf mags. At the beginning of 1964, he was still on the roster at Surfer, but by summer he'd joined Petersen's Surfing Magazine. The July issue of that mag declared that "Photos by Grannis' has become a household phrase all over the surfing world." Even so, Petersen's Surfing Magazine bit the dust a couple of issues later. LeRoy was not left high and dry. By late that year, he'd teamed up with Dick Graham, who he'd worked with at Petersen's Surfing Magazine. They created its successor in International Surfing.

    Also, before the year was out, Surfing Illustrated printed some Granny photos from its inaugural issue of 1962. Surf Guide also ran some Grannis photos of Mickey Dora.

    By 1965, LeRoy Grannis was holding down three jobs: Pacific Bell executive, magazine editor, and surf photographer. International Surfing had quickly become the second most popular surfing magazine, behind Surfer. Surf Guide was in decline and Surfing Illustrated was barely making it.

    Most of Granny's photos from this period were shots taken at surfing contests:

  • February - Oceanside Invitational
  • September - Malibu Invitational
  • December - 1st Annual Duke Kahanamoku Invitational
  • December - 13th Annual Makaha International Surfing Championships
  • LeRoy would follow this pattern of shooting primarily contest shots for the remainder of the decade.

    Even with all his was doing, Granny continued to manage his 4th "job," as organizer of the WSA. "I was a cofounder of the Western Surfing Association in the late '50s. Hoppy Swarts had seen the Makaha contest and wanted to start something on the mainland, so we did…"

    Granny's only rival, at this point, was Ron Stoner, the sole staff photographer at Surfer. The two of them were seen at all the surf contests and were publishing similar photographs in competing surf magazines. Stoner shot color. Granny usually shot black and white.

    It is curious to note that the June 1965 edition of International Surfing contained a half page article, with photographs, of a "New French Gadget." It was the first surf leash, invented by a Frenchman named Durcudoy. Editor Dick Graham wrote, "Personally I'd rather take a swim than have my leg snapped off. If anyone feels like testing this trick, be sure and stay in small surf (under one foot), and never try more than one spinner." His dismissal of the leash, obviously, lacked the requisite vision.

    During

    1966,
    Granny's production numbers dropped, probably because of the many hats he was wearing at the time. International Surfing held its own version of the Surfer Poll. At the First Annual International Surfing Hall of Fame, LeRoy was voted number one surf photographer, with Dr. Don James coming in second, and Ron Stoner third.

    At the beginning of 1967, Granny went back to the Islands to shoot. December 1966's Duke had been cancelled due to poor surf at Makaha. It was rescheduled for February 1967. Granny was there, as well as the end of the year

    Duke Kahanamoku
    Invitational, held at Sunset Beach.

    Granny shot less film in 1968 than in previous years. International Surfing was sold and his duties as editor increased. "Between traveling from Hermosa Beach to the IS offices in Reseda," wrote Brad Barrett in Photo: Grannis, published in 1998, "and continuing his evening shift at the phone company on Vermont Avenue there wasn't much coastal time left in the day."

    In the June 1968 issue of International Surfing, the first issue under new ownership, LeRoy wrote his most controversial editorial. It was a reaction to the anti-competition feelings that were growing at that time. Granny condemned the "rash of sick articles knocking competition by surfing has-beens… and frustrated would-be editors." He argued that "without competition, the desire to excel would not be evident."

    "Well," he responded when I asked him about the editorial approximately 30 years after it was printed, "being involved in competition - not only as a competitor, but helping help Swarts putting on contests - I thought it was helping the sport. That was before it became professional. This was strictly amateur. I enjoyed getting together with my fellow surfers of my age group to compete because they came from up and down the coast and that was the only chance I had to get together and surf with them. So, I got a little upset with some of the attitudes that just thought that competition was NOT the way to go.

    "Now that they've got professional competition, I'm with 'em," LeRoy adds, laughing. "Oh, I guess professional competition is OK. It certainly made the magazines go that direction 100%. You very seldom see anything other than about competitive surfers anymore; at least in Surfer and Surfing magazines…"

    Winds of Change

    Granny's time was freed-up a little, at International Surfing, in 1969 when he switched over as Director of Photography and left the editorship to Toby Annenberg.

    The end of that year marked one of the greatest swells in recorded history and Granny was on-site, shooting.

    "What we went through in December '69," Skip Frye recalled, "was 'The Big Swell.' This swell was defined as one of the biggest in more than a generation (it was the biggest swell since I've been surfing). It was a double era swell and in a way marked the transition from the whole Sixties longboard thing to the shortboard era. It was kind of a wash through, and we were playing a whole different ball game afterwards. December '69, the end of the Sixties, was a total change in eras, a changing of the sport, a changing of the guard, and it was marked by the biggest swell maybe in recorded history."

    "I tried to get involved" with shortboards, Granny told me. "I went down to a 7'2"; went into the Huntington Beach contest and couldn't catch a wave and decided, well, 7-2 isn't for me, so I went back to 8-4.

    "I saw it [the shortboard revolution] wipe out several businesses… It was a rough period to go thru for a lot of the manufacturers and, of course, a lot of us that didn't have the ability to handle short boards had to make up our minds it wasn't for us…

    "The one nice thing about what the shortboard has done is let younger kids get into it. They don't have to worry about handling a 30 or 40-pound board. They can get out there when they're 6 or 7 years-old and start surfing. That's a big advantage. The younger you are getting into surfing, the easier it is to pick it up."

    As time went on, further changes took place. In 1974, inspired by friend Jim Mahoney, Granny got into photographing hang gliding and this took much of his time during the 1970s. In 1981, his photographic attention was drawn to wind surfing. 1984 marks the year LeRoy ended his active surf photographic period, highlighted by what Granny considers his most well-known surf photo his 1960s bottom turn of Johnny Fain's at Malibu.

    Today

    Today, Granny still shoots, although "not aggressively." I asked LeRoy about the renewed interest of surfers toward his photography and his contributions. Granny was typically modest, sprinkling his response with his own sense of dry humor:

    "I'm buying some new hat sizes," he answered. "It's wonderful. It's something I never expected. I just think the fact that I've grown to be 80 years old and I'm still around and kicking… that's helped get the 'legends' stuff started."

    "Think that did it?" I asked.

    "It sure helps."

    What about a summation on the good and the bad of surfing today?

    "What bothers me is that the two top magazines are pushing professionalism. These young kids get the idea they want to be professionals and let everything else go - including their education. That's the wrong way to go… I've seen a lot of kids go down the drain trying to become professionals."

    LeRoy and I - mid-1990s

    LeRoy and I, after enjoying a Bud Browne
    showing of "Surfing The 1950s" in San Clemente, mid-1990s.

    pebble divider

    Technical Notes

    Granny's early cameras and lenses included:
  • Land Camera #1 - 1960 - East German 35mm single lens reflex with stock 50mm lens and 400mm Meyer Gorlitz telephoto.
  • Land Camera #2 - 1961 - Pentax S with stock 50mm and 28mm lenses; also a 650mm Century telephoto lens.
  • Additional Lens - 1963 - 1000mm Century telephoto.
  • Water Camera #1 - 1963 - Calypso, a Jacques Cousteau-invented 35mm underwater camera equipped with a wide angle 35mm lends.
  • Land Camera #3 - 1963 - Praktisix, German 2 ¼.
  • Lens Adaptations - 1963 - His two telephoto lens were adapted for use with both his Pentax and Praktisix.
  • Over the course of the 1960s, Granny bought 45, 80 and 180mm lenses for the Praktisix. The 180mm Zeiss Jena was used with his wooden box camera. Later, when Praktisix upgraded, he replaced it with a new Pentaconsix.

    In 1965, LeRoy's Calypso was stolen from his son Frank. He replaced it with a new Nikonos, which was essentially the same camera as the Calypso, only manufactured by Nikon.

    At the outset, Granny bought black and white film in 100-foot bulk rolls and loaded his own cassettes. He primarily used Kodak Panatomic-X (32 ASA) and pushed it to 125 ASA in Acufine developer. He experimented with other fine-grain films such as Adox and Ilford but always came back to the Panatomic. Sometimes he shot Plus-X and Tri-X film, rated at their normal speeds of 125 ASA and 400 ASA. He processed his black and white film himself, in his homemade darkroom, and also made his own prints, first using various Kodak products and later switching to Agfa.

    For his color shots, he used 35mm Kodachrome II (25 ASA) until Kodak came out with Kodachrome 64 in 1974. All his 2 ¼ transparencies were shot on Ektachrome (64 ASA).

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    Credits

    • Interview with LeRoy, 26 June 1999
    • "Photo: Grannis -- Surfing's Golden Age, 1960-1969," edited by Brad Barrett, (c)1998.
    • Lynch, Gary. "Biographical Sketch of Dr. John Heath Ball," 2 February 1989
    • Interview with Doc Ball, 10 January 1998
    • Santa Ana Register, 31 July 1928
    • Lynch, Gary and Gault-Williams, Malcolm. "Tom Blake: The Uncommon Journey of a Pioneer Waterman," © 2001
    • Noll, Greg. "Da Bull," p. 93.
    • Doyle, Mike. "Morning Glass," (c)1993, pp. 26-27.
    • Photo images coutesy of LeRoy and Swell.com.

    Shooting The Eddie

    Related Resources



    TOM BLAKE: The Journey of A Pioneer Waterman

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