Legend John Severson’s new book set to become surf scripture

Book cover: John Severson's SURF
Book cover: John Severson’s SURF

He started Surfer mag. He made Surf Fever, and created the now iconic font that graced its first promotional posters. His pantings and illustrations have been called the original surf art. And he’s spent more than 50 years trying to keep things real in the world of wave riders. How much more could John Severson possibly give to the surf scene?

At least one more book, apparently.

Vintage surf pic from John Severson's SURF
Vintage surf pic from John Severson’s SURF

One of the biggest, baddest grandaddies of them all, Severson has just launched his new book, simply titled John Severson’s SURF, this month. Spanning Severson’s decades in the scene, and including tons of his surf artwork and photos, the book is both a dedication to and memoir from one of the single most important people the sport has ever known. And in that respect, it’s bound to become required reading for anyone who’s passionate about surfing.

Severson started surfing all the way back in the mid 1950s, when, after being drafted by the army and stationed in Oahu, he was ordered to join the Army surf team. After that, he soon went on to pursue the sport of his own free will.

John Severson & Leo Bestgen doing a layout for Surfer Mag
John Severson & Leo Bestgen doing a layout for Surfer Mag

By 1961, he’d already put out the classic movie ‘Surf Fever,’ and was routinely writing, illustrating and doing photography for a magazine he’d started to promote the film. Then called The Surfer, the magazine lost the “The” somewhere along the way, and is now known only as Surfer, the first and foremost in surf publishing.

Despite how well Severson managed to do for himself, though, he never let the success turn him square. He’s big on keeping the surf scene genuine, having at one point called out the Beach Boys for their “shameless appropriation” of the culture. That’s not because he’s a hater, or anything. Quite the contrary – Severson keeps it real because he loves surf.

A John Severson Surf painting from 1956
A John Severson Surf painting from 1956

“As for the art,” he has said, “I don’t paint for critics and always felt that to do that was not getting closer to your heart or, in my case, my love of the ocean. I live my life on my own terms and paint with a passion for something that is quite incredible on this planet. Waves.”

If you want to get a deeper look at Severson’s more than 50 years of surf film, photography, art and publishing, look out for John Severson’s SURF, out now from Damiani Press/Puka Puka.

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