He shaped surfing culture with a twist of the lens and recorded its history with a snap of a frame. He braved the 30-foot Hawaiian winter swells and the pounding South Bay beach breaks, all for the perfect shot.
LeRoy Grannis, the Hermosa Beach native and influential photographer who documented the rise of surfing through his camera lens, has died. He was 93. Grannis died of natural causes Thursday afternoon at a nursing home in Torrance, his son John confirmed.
He was widely considered to be one of surfing's first professional photographers and produced the bulk of his iconic catalog during the 1960s, when the sport's popularity began to soar.
"He had a huge influence on the surfing community," John Grannis said. "Many surfers who would not have been known became known because of his photographs."
Grannis was born on a kitchen table in his parents' Fourth Street home in Hermosa Beach on Aug. 12, 1917, and grew up in the beach town. He began surfing near the city's municipal pier when he was 14 on a heavy longboard made of pine.
Grannis was among the first members of the Palos Verdes Surf Club, founded in 1935 and considered one of the first surfing clubs in the country. For 31 years, he balanced a career with General Telephone Co. - surfing, photography and his family.
Grannis met his wife of 69 years, Katie, on the beach near 12th Street in Hermosa. The couple would have four children: John of Hermosa Beach; and Nancy, Frank and Kit. Katie Grannis died in 2008.
Grannis, the story goes, had been suffering from stress at work and had developed an ulcer. His doctor recommended taking up a hobby.
Starting in 1959, Grannis spent hours photographing surfers in Hermosa from his tripod on the beach. He'd then go back to his Monterey Avenue home to develop the rolls in a makeshift darkroom he built in his garage.
Among his most iconic photographs is of Dewey Weber surfing in 1966 off 22nd Street in Hermosa. Weber, a Mira Costa graduate, would go on to build a surfboard and clothing empire. He died in 1993.
"Without LeRoy Grannis capturing that moment of that cut-back turn, does Dewey Weber become the figure he was? Probably not," said Hermosa Beach City Councilman Jeff Duclos, an avid surfer who knew Grannis.
Hermosa Beach officials are moving forward with a plan to build a monument depicting the Grannis photo of Weber on the corner of Pier Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. In addition to his four children, Grannis is survived by six grandchildren, three great-
grandchildren and a great- great-grandchild. A book of his photos from the 1960s called "Photo: Grannis," was published in 1998. Another hardcover book, "Leroy Grannis: Surf Photography" of the 1960s and 1970s, was published in 2007. A memorial paddle-out is planned for mid-June at Bluff Cove in Palos Verdes Estates.