The Father of Surf Photography

Note the embossed Gurrey Honolulu stamp at the bottom left. Photo provided by Timothy DeLaVega.

Have you ever thought about how surf photography started and how it has evolved to what it is today?

The surf photography we see now, for example by Clark Little and Dane Grady, makes one feel as if you are in the water feeling the ocean spray on your face while getting barreled. The photographer is so close to the wave and the surfer but this concept of capturing the emotions of the surfer by taking the photograph in close proximity to the wave did not to come be until a man named A.R. Gurrey Jr. used an Eastman Kodak Camera to establish a turning point in the history of surf photography.

During Duke Kahanamoku’s time in the early 1900’s surf photography  was only known to be taken from the shore with large hand coated glass plate cameras, and to attract visitors to the islands, the photographs often times had famous landmarks in the background, such as Diamond Head.  Gurrey had a different approach to surf photography, which distinguished him from other photographers. He wanted to capture the emotions that a surfer feels when surfing, whether it’s pure joy and passion while catching the perfect wave or the rush and adrenaline you get from catching a wave that intimidates you.

In order to capture these emotions, Gurrey took his Eastman “3A Folding Pocket Kodak” camera into an outrigger to take photographs of the surfers up close. Similar to the recent introduction of the GoPro that allows almost anyone to be a surf photographer, the Kodak “Brownie” camera was introduced in 1901 and allowed people who were not professional photographers to take photos closer to the surfers. While others might have been doing this at the time as well, Gurrey has been recognized through history as The Father of Surf Photography because of this advanced technical skills, aesthetic appreciation and knowledge of the waves. With his passion and his skill, he set the standard for surf photography for the years to come and has influenced the evolution of surf photography and what it is today.

His book, The Surfriders of Hawaii was published in 1914 and is considered to be the first book ever published dedicated solely to surfing. The book is more of a photo book but it is still the first book whose content is all about surfing. The books were handmade with the original photographs in them and the photos in each book varied. There are only 6 in the world and are being auctioned anywhere from $25,000 – $40,000.

Gurrey was close friends with Duke Kahanamoku and was his favorite photographic subject. Many of Gurrey’s photos were used to promote Duke during the 1912 Olympics. Photo provided by Timothy DeLaVega.