Today I want to continue with my series “The most interesting surfers”.
These are profiles of people I’ve met in the tens of millions of years that I’ve been involved with surfing and who, for one reason or another, have found more interesting than most. These were people who were great to sit down with and have a conversation that wasn’t about current surfing events.
The late dr. Timothy Leary once told me, “We’re all surfers riding different waves. Ocean waves, cosmic waves, radio waves…” and he listed a whole lot more, ending with “permanent waves”. People I found most interesting always had a lot more to say than “I got a big one yesterday,” that kind of thing.
John Severson was one of those guys.
For those of you who don’t know John or are too young to remember, this is the guy who first published SURFER magazine in 1960. He was a leading surf film producer and an incredible artist.
He was a guy who had all the makings of a chat about surfing all day if that’s what you were looking for. But the guy was way deeper than that.
I first met John in the early 1960’s at one of his film screenings at Laguna Beach High School. I had submitted an image for the “Photos from Readers” section of SURFER, which he ran. That night I won the door prize, a poster I think, and when I went up to get it he remembered my name and we chatted for a while after the film.
He urged me to continue my photography as there was a great need for surfing photos. I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t really a photographer, but that I happened to have taken the photo one day from the Huntington Beach Pier with my mother’s old “box” camera. But he was so supportive and encouraging that I just went along with it.
A decent surfer himself, John had won the 1961 Peru International. And he was an excellent photographer and journalist. But his true love and probably his greatest talent was the artist.
His paintings fetch quite high sums in the five-digit range. He was also an excellent golfer, but we don’t blame him for that.
I became a good friend of John’s in the early 1960’s while he was building his home at Cotton’s Point. That was the spot where I surfed most of the time. We saw each other in the water the whole time and struck up a conversation while waiting for waves.
Of course, through browsing, we started interacting a lot with the magazine. He was the one who recommended me for the Jantzen International Sports Club.
Many times I was invited by John and his wife Louise to their home for dinner and this led to our infamous afternoon Scrabble matches on the beach. The guy was almost unbeatable at Scrabble, and he had the most expensive and comprehensive dictionary in the world known to man or beast. I only got to see it when I was stupid enough to challenge a word.
We put a plank on the beach at Cottons Point in front of his house on many afternoons when we thought the wind would die down and the surf would get nice. Usually he’d beat my brains out, gloating about it, and then we’d go surfing.
When I first became interested in painting, I asked John for his opinion on what I was doing. I will always remember his words and to this day I have followed his advice. He said: “Keep doing exactly what you’re doing because you have your own style and it’s not a copy of anyone else. If you stick to it, it will work out fine.”
My wife, the pretty Raquel, says the same thing when she sees me looking at the work of my favorite artists online. I’ll say, “THAT’s what I want to do.” She’ll say that’s not me and will stick with what I’m doing because that way I can bring the right “feeling” into the art.
It was John Severson who opened my eyes to this. He did what he did and it was amazing and his words had a huge impact on me. I’ve thought about him a lot these days when I’m serious about making art.
In his later years, John lived on Maui and had a small art gallery in Lahaina. He surfed and painted until his death in 2017 at the age of 84. Definitely one of the most interesting surfers I know.
https://www.ocregister.com/2023/01/13/corky-john-severson-makes-interesting-list-for-many-reasons/ John Severson makes an interesting list for many reasons – Orange County Register