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John Severson’s Memorial Was Today

A letter of appreciation to the founder of Surfer Magazine. 

news // Jun 10, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

For the last couple weeks the weather in Dana Point has been dreary, with south winds and a damp, lingering fog. But today the sun came out. And under this bluebird day, a “perfect day” as John Severson might put it, a group of his friends got together at Doheny to remember the man that started surf media as we know it. 

“I wished I’d said thank you to him more,” remembered one of the old timers. 

And in that vein, while Severson will forever be the man that founded Surfer Magazine, his legacy reaches far greater than a half century of surf mags. He gave all of us who write about or photograph surfing something to do with our lives. He gave surfers from Miki Dora to Gerry Lopez to Kelly Slater and Andy Irons a forum to showcase their talents. He gave a backwater industry a place to advertise. That’s not to say this stuff wasn’t all happening before Severson came around, it most certainly was, but he put it all together in a cornucopia of creativity that became the benchmark for defining the act of wave-riding. 

Ron Stoner and Rick Griffin were among his earliest accolades. Surfing hasn’t seen a duo like them since. Ron laid the foundation for everyone from Art Brewer to Morgan Massen. Griffin, his artwork ushered in the psychedelic era. Surfing got cosmic, the Shortboard Revolution came and went, and now Ando’s doing big airs with supreme style. 

In the crowd at Severson’s memorial, today were editors, publishers, photographers, writers, artists and many other forms of cohort. They’ve all shaped our perception of surfing in their own unique ways. 

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“Can you imagine if he’d made Tom Morey the publisher!” joked former Surfer publisher and Surfer’s Journal founder Steve Pezman.

“Hey!” Morey barked back.

“No offense, Tom, you’re just not really a bookkeeper,” grinned Pez. 

There’s a lot of hyperbole in surfing…a lot. But to say Severson changed the paradigm is fairly accurate. He’d never cop to it. But, he took a huge amount of satisfaction in simply seeing other people explore their creativity, be it writing, photography, art, film, etc. He never asked for thanks or praise or attention. He was happy to paint his little masterpieces on Maui and live simply. Our surf world blossomed around him.

When I was in high school in the early ‘90s I remember seeing that iconic photo of Severson sitting at a picnic table with his surfboard and typewriter. His VW van open in the background. That became the template for my life. I still more or less work that way—thank god for laptops and hotspots. I’m guessing it became the template for a lot of our lives. From Chas Smith to Zach Weisberg, we’re all reluctantly cut from the same cloth. It’s the same bolt of fabric as Pezman, and Matt Warshaw, and Sam George, and Sean Doherty and all the other surf scribes that have documented our sport over the decades. Without Severson pecking out that first issue of Surfer at a picnic table at the beach, we’d either be writing tech manuals or a bunch of unemployed vagrants….probably the latter.

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So thank you, John. Thank you for everything you did for us and everything you gave us. Thank you to all my friends and peers that have ever published a surf story. Thank you to all the publishers that allow us to keep the scam going. Thank you to the advertisers I’ve upset. There aren’t many of us that write about surfing on the daily, so before it’s too late and I’m on the wrong side of the dirt, I just wanted to say thanks for making life so colourful. 

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