California Surfing & Climbing In The Fifties

 
CLOCKWISE TOP LEFT: BOB SWIFT © ALLEN STECK; OAK STREET, LAGUNA BEACH © DICK METZ/SHACC; COVER; DEVILS SLIDE © BOB SWIFT; SAN ONOFRE © DICK METZ/SHACC; RENNIE YATER © DICK PERRY

 

Tom Adler publishes beautiful photography books. I own almost all of them. They are limited edition gems that visually chronicle the culture of surfing through the eyes of a particular photographer like Don James, Jeff Divine, or Ron Church, or though a particular surfer like Miki Dora or Tom Blake. His books are curated like time capsules, and designed to appeal not just to surfers, but anyone who appreciates beautiful books, photography and design.

But Tom Adler also designs and publishes beautiful books on climbing. A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon “The Stone Masters”, a gorgeous coffee table book on the California climbing scene in 70’s, and was surprised to see it was a Tom Adler book. It was typically distinctive in its contrasting juxtaposition of portraits, action, details, landscape and candid snapshots, but I had no idea his passion for the culture, photography and visual history of sport included climbing. This was not his only book I learned on the subject. There was also “Yosemite In The Sixties”, a compilation of magnificent black and white photographs by Glen Denny, capturing the famous climbing scene of Yosemite Valley’s Camp 4 in its heyday. It left me wondering what the connection was for him with these two sports.

Tom Adler has made the connection for us in his newest book, “California Surfing And Climbing In The Fifties”, which brings these two sports together in one photographic tome. I recently had the opportunity to speak with him and asked about the common thread between these sports in that era. “The late 50’s were a pivotal point in both climbing and surfing”, he told me. “Equipment was changing dramatically in both sports, and with that came first ascents in Yosemite, while at the same time, new key breaks, like Pipeline and Waimea, were being surfed in Hawaii.”

There are indeed similarities in the lifestyles of these two sports. As Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, writes in the foreward, “The fifties were the easy years in California. Gas was a quarter a gallon, used cars could be bought for twenty-five dollars, and you could easily live off the excess fat of society. Those of us in the counter cultures of climbing and surfing were, as climber Pete Sinclair said, the last free Amercians.”

There were maybe a thousand surfers worldwide in the fifties, and equally few climbers — kindred spirits living the same non-conformist lifestyle, some on the rocks of Yosemite, others on the beaches of southern California. Be it surfing or climbing, their bohemian lifestyles created common counter cultures, rich in visual stories that are the perfect material for a Tom Adler artbook.

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