The Surfer’s Journal has released “Masters Of Surf Photography: Jeff Divine,” thefirst of a matched series of high-quality annual books, each featuring the workof a master surf photographer.
It’s appropriate that Jeff Divine was the first photographer selected forthe series. Over the span of his 30-year career as one of surfing’s most respectedlensmen, Divine witnessed each of surfing’s major epochs — from the birth ofthe shortboard revolution, the plastic fantastic 60s and 70s, the famous excessesof the 80s, to today’s new crop of aerial wizards.
The photography in the book is — not surprisingly — rich, varied, and top-notch.The unexpected pleasure, however, are the essays, which provide an insider’scollection of surf-media stories that span decades, from Divine’s notorious1971 journey to retrieve Surfer mag’s 1000 mm lens from Ron Stoner to the “neuroticSurfer mag editor” who punched out an ad salesman who called him “fatso” inthe late 90s. It’s all in here and presented with refreshing candor.
To order a copy of Masters Of Surf Photography: Jeff Divine for your store,call: 1-800-666-2122 or log on to www.surfersjournal.com.
TransWorld SURF Business caught up with Divine for the lowdown on the book,its genesis, and his storied career. Here’s what he had to say:
TransWorld SURF Business: How and when did the idea for this book comeabout?
Jeff Divine: The idea for the book stems from Steve Pezman publisher of TheSurfer’s Journal, where Divine is the photo editor. I worked with him for yearsat Surfer. The Journal basically works off people’s photo files, and there’sa huge amount of great work out there. The magazines only use a small percentageof all the great photography available.
Part of his concept for the series is to create historical volumes that youcan look back and say “Here’s all the greatest stuff.” I’m very humbled thatmine’s the first one in the series.
TransWorld SURF Business: You’ve witnessed a huge sweep of surf history.When you were putting the book together was there an era that ended up beingyour clear favorite?
Divine: That’s tough. We figured out that we wanted to do the book just a yearago and then we missed the Christmas deadline. So this June we went, “Oh man,we gotta get going on this.” So we powered it out.
It was like doing a doctorate final exam. I had to write all those chapters.I had to gather and boil down the photos and organize them. That was a hugejob. For instance, after I boiled down all the photos just from the 70s andlaid them all out on the light table in different categories it took us aboutfive hours just to go through those.
When we did that though, we were realizing the 70s was probably the most underutilizedera. We’ve heard about the 60s over and over and over, but no one’s really heardthe stories from the 70s. So I kinda went overboard a little bit on my writingsabout the 70s; those stories were just more interesting. We were living thelifestyle.
TransWorld SURF Business: A lot of people probably view surf photographyand working in the surf media as being a wildly romantic career. Although youemphasize some of the upsides, you don’t shy away from stories about the lessglamorous side of the business. Does it still seem like a great career afterall these years, or is it just another job?
Divine: It’s still a great career, but as you evolve in surf photography –and in the surf business — you come to understand that the money aspect ofthe job is kind of a big joke.
I have friends who have spun off into other non-surf-related careers and they’rereally killing it in the real world. They’re advancing in their careers andmaking more and more money. In comparison, the surf business is extremely cheap.
We’re all surfers, but a lot of CEOs and the people we deal with come fromthe attitude of “Hey bro, do you have any gas money” or “Hey bro, do you havemoney for a sandwich?” That’s just how it is.
So when you try to sell photos to the industry, it’s really difficult. Theydon’t pay on time, and there’s a whole spectrum of people, from the “A+” credit-ratedtypes all the way down to those that get an “F.” I’d say about the third ofthe industry deserves an F.
So it gets really frustrating. To go out on your boogie at Sunset Beach orout on your Jet Ski at Mavericks — it’s really dangerous. It’s hard. Swimmingout at Pipeline is a good example. That’s incredibly hard. If you were in Hollywood,you’d get danger pay for that. And yet the reality is the magazine art directorplaying around on the computer with his Photo Shop makes way more than the surfphotographer and all he needs to do is put the logo and pin lines in.
Surf photographers are at the low end of the food chain, but let’s face it:everybody wows on the photo. The photo is what grabs the kids’ and the buyer’sattention. It’s not the graphics or the design — I mean that’s an element ofit — but it’s ultimately the surf photo. If you have a killer shot of Pipeor something, it sells. The Etnies ad campaign of Strider in that barrel atPipe grabs your attention.
TransWorld SURF Business: There are more than 300 photos in the book. Isthere a shot that stands out to you as being the most important — either historicallyor on a more personal level?
Divine: The one that got me most excited was the shot of Buttons Kaluhiokalani,page 22-23 which is in the intro to the section on the 70s. His tooth’s broken.He’s got his afro. He was at the height of his career, and the photo captureshis whole vibe. He’s a hilarious guy. I was really excited about how that cameout. It kind of captured the entire spirit of the 70s.
TransWorld SURF Business: If a non-surfer picks up your book and pagesthrough it. What sort of impression would you like for him to be left with?
Divine: When I started writing the essays, it was really hard because you realize100,000 surfers are going to read it and analyze who you are and where you’recoming from by the tone of your writing.
I got halfway through it and I realized, “Middle America isn’t gonna get this.They’re not gonna know that the North Shore is the North Shore of Oah’u.” ButI also didn’t want to say, “The North Shore, an area on the North side of Oah’u.”
There’s dozens of things like surf slang that people won’t get if they don’tsurf, but I think they’ll still appreciate it. Basically the book is writtenpurely for a ‘core surfer and a ‘core surfer will understand everything in there.But I think people who don’t surf will still be intrigued by it all.
TransWorld SURF Business: You give a pretty candid view of the surf mediaand some of its more eccentric characters. Was everyone comfortable with thetype of information that you cover in the book?
Divine: I didn’t really ask permission from anybody. I know everybody inthe industry and I know there are some things you can’t say. That was kind ofdifficult, and I had to analyze that.
I realized that basically every story is harmless and is just kind of an anecdote.There was way worse stuff — I didn’t even go into the corporate takeover messat Surfer and how the whole Surfing and Surfer thing has become so corporate.I mean, the people there are still great, but it’s changed a lot from when Ifirst started. Basically the book is like a letter home where you say, “Youwouldn’t believe what happened at work yesterday.”
TransWorld SURF Business: Has working with pro surfers and team managerschanged over the years?
Divine: It’s the money. The surfers today are more spoiled — although mostof them are great. To put it in perspective, when I first went to Hawaii in1970, my roommates were hired on as water patrol and got 50 bucks a day andthey were stoked.
The 70s were more core. To travel and explore you had to grovel. There wasno surf reports — you just went and did it. It was more of big adventure.
Now you have everything dialed in. You get picked up at the airport, you knowwhere you’re going to stay, you
get treated like a king, and all that kind ofstuff. Everybody has credit cards and money to throw down when things get toughor you really need to stay in a hotel. That’s incredibly different. The wholeevolution of surfers in my mind is that we went from being like bikers to apoint where now everybody drives an SUV.
TransWorld SURF Business: Was working on this book bittersweet, like “thiswas my career, but now it’s all over”?
Divine: I’m always going to be a surf photographer, but what’s weird aboutthe book is that it almost seams like I’ve passed away.
I’m kind of shy, so it’s really hard to read about “Jeff Divine this and JeffDivine that.” But it’s really exciting too. This book is the biggest thing I’vedone since having kids, building a house, and getting married. It’s a huge thingin my life. But I’m still just going to be Jeff, surf photographer. I’m stillgoing on trips. I’ll be like the Leroy Grannis of surf photography. I’m goingto hang in there and do what I do because it’s so fulfilling. It’s all beenpretty incredible.