Words by Haydn Kramer
Or so it might have been said. For without John, there would be no “Surfer” magazine, and without Dana Point there may have been no John Severson, and forever, those legacies will be intertwined.
The demise of a legendary point break to the age of rational economic vitality (and the good that harbors can afford) was always balanced by the loss of a revered surf spot, a point of renown, and a place that Richard Henry Dana described as, “…the most beautiful spot on the California coast”.
When John landed in Dana Point with a fledgling “36 -page- clipped- together-black-and-white”, bundle of photographs, a cartoon, and an impassioned love of surfing; he launched a culture, a media, and what became a “surf industry”. As the Beach Boys morphed from “Surfs Up”, to “Pet Sounds” and the Beatles, and Dylan and Dora seeped into the exploding “California Dreamin’,” John was perfectly positioned to chronicle all that followed.
“Killer Dana” Surf shop on Del Prado is located next to where John sat and contemplated the heart and soul of what became California’s (arguably) most identifiable cultural icon: The Surfer.
In the late 60’s John Severson sat at the apex of a sport straddled between some mystical calling of the Pacific, and the commerce that would allow the sport to flourish, for good or ill.
Ron Stoner, Rick Griffin, Jeff Devine, Art Brewer, Steve Pezman, Drew Kampion---all owe some part of their existence to John’s vision for what became Surfer magazine. Surfer became the vessel of opinion, outlaw surf culture, and the commercial enterprises invented by a self-sustaining surfers---and allowed for, “ah, knocking off a bit. It’s 6 ft. and glassy….”
It was a complicated shore John edited Surfer on: Was it a sport or a lifestyle? Were surfers’ political animals, or just on an endless journey for waves? Bums or brilliant? Vietnam and Woodstock, long boards or short boards? Environmental degradation or elements of commerce to improve coastal access to all? He was keenly aware of ecology, before it was cool, before The Surfrider Foundation was an idea.
John Severson was a filmmaker, an artist, a journalist, and most of all a surfer. His perhaps overly romantic final vision: the film Pacific Vibrations, was a kaleidoscope of emerging psychedelic music and imagery, that left unresolved the question of embrace or abandonment of a lifestyle or a sport. He retreated to Maui to contemplate just that and returned to painting where his works were exhibited in museums around the world.
In the final analysis, John embodied a complex mix of a publishing visionary, a prophet of ecological doom, and a surf stoked grommet, who knew the secret every surfer knows; once the ocean has its hooks in you, there is no going back…. Ever.