The photo signature “Photo: Grannis” is synonymous with the golden age of surfing in the 1960s, for both his pioneering water angle shots and his photos of the wider surf culture of California and Hawaii. One of the leading documenters of surfing and surf culture of the time, his photos are iconic of an era lost to time.

1960s California surf beach scene
San Onofre, California, 1963

LeRoy “Granny” Grannis was born in 1917 in Hermosa Beach, California. He started surfing at an early age, surfing in the 1930s in Malibu, California when 6 guys out was surfing was considered crowded! Amazingly, he didn’t start with photography until he was 46 years old — oddly enough at the advice of his doctor, as a hobby to relieve stress (brought on by his job at a telephone company). Mentored by his friend and fellow photography great, John “Doc” Ball, LeRoy quickly took to his new trade. But it lasted only a little longer than a decade when he moved away from shooting surfing in 1971 in light of the growing competition and sprawling surf industry.

LeRoy was one of the pioneering photographers for shooting from the water. He would paddle out, perched on his surfboard with his camera ‘safely’ encased in a wooden box — a far cry from the camera housings water photographers use today.

LeRoy "Granny" Grannis
Painting of surf photographer, LeRoy Grannis by artist, Phil Roberts
Painting of LeRoy Grannis by Phil Roberts

He was pivotal in the launch and uprise of magazines like Surfing Illustrated and International Surfing (later known as Surfing magazine). Among his many honours, he was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame as the number one lensman in 1966, the Surfing Walk of Fame in 1999, his work is exhibited in prestigious galleries in Los Angeles and New York, and in 2002, he received SIMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2011, the man the New York Times called the “Godfather of Surf Photography” passed away at the age of 93.

The Vault

The video below is a great piece on LeRoy Grannis by his son, John Grannis. John takes you through never before seen shots of Miki Dora and Grannis’ fine-art Hawaii photo archives. He also shows some of the photography equipment LeRoy used in the 1960s.

Surfer Magazine: LeRoy Grannis’ Photo Vault. Source

Personally, I’ve never called LeRoy Grannis anything other than LeRoy. It’s not that I didn’t like him being called Granny, but I always felt an especially close bond with him during the almost 50 years of our friendship. LeRoy was my mentor, and when it came to taking photos of surfing, he shared his vast knowledge freely and without expecting anything in return. I’ve never known a kinder, gentler man. Like so many “artists”, LeRoy had a passion for his work, and the surfing world is richer today because of his dedication and passion. LeRoy has left behind a treasure trove of surfing images for which each and every one of us should be thankful.

Steve Wilkings, Photographer
Leroy Grannis: Surf Photography of the 1960s and 1970s book
Leroy Grannis: Surf Photography of the 1960s and 1970s
Miki Dora tap
The infamous ‘Miki Dora tap’
Greg Noll (black and white shorts), Sunset Beach, Hawaii, 1966
Water shot of surfer
Dewey Weber
Dewey Weber, Hermosa Beach, California, 1966
Greg Noll Surfboards
Greg Noll Surfboards, Hermosa Beach, California, 1963
Rory Russell (surfer) at Pipeline, Hawaii, 1972
Rory Russell, Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii, 1972
Sunset Beach, Hawaii, 1968
Huntington Beach, California, 1963
Big wave surfers
Greg Noll (left), Waimea Bay, Oahu, Hawaii, 1966
Surfers and a woodie (car)
Makaha, Oahu, Hawaii, 1962

There are two great books of LeRoy’s work available:

Prints are available at M+B Photo.

More features

Sign up for our newsletter