The films of Grant Rohloff capture a golden era of surfing, the ‘50s and ‘60s, when fun and mischief and big balls were all-important. Men Who Ride Mountains unveils the nascent big-wave scene on the North Shore. Wet and Wild depicts the sport of kings in all its sun-struck, cross-stepping glory. When Rohloff passed away from lymphoma cancer in 1989, he passed his body of work along to his son, Chris, a keen surfer and a massive appreciator of his father’s life and art. There was a lot of 16 mm film, and there was also a huge amount of still photos.
“My dad would shoot stills with an 800 mm lens, mainly to use on the posters for his films,” said Chris.
I caught up with Chris at his home in west LA, where he showed me his favorites from this bank of still shots. Here are but a few—
“This is actually huge Makaha in ‘63. This shot shows how authentic my dad was to go down to the water’s edge to capture the raw essence of this guy dropping in. I love the angle. A lot of guys shot it straight-on but my dad would get this from-behind angle. Before Waimea, Makaha was the go-to big wave spot.”
“It’s almost like school’s out and everybody’s watching from the inside. I like this playful shot of Sunset Beach in ‘63; it sticks out for me. It has a wonderland, amusement park feel to it.”
“This is Miki Dora at Haleiwa in ‘62. He’s not really hanging five, but he’s got this Miki thing with his arms.”
“This was taken in 1959. It captures the period. I call it ‘Morning Girl.’ It’s got the ’57 Chevy and then that’s [big-wave surfer] Kimo Hollinger’s fire truck. This is right at Three Tables, across from Pupukea Heights and Foodland.”
“This is Makaha again, in ‘62. I like this shot because the contrast of the out-of-focus and in-focus gives a 3-D effect, and also just the corduroy waves.”
“This shot depicts my dad at his very best. Waimea in 1962. I call this one ‘Heavy Traffic.’ That’s Greg Noll in the middle, Ricky Grigg behind him, Buzzy Trent in front, and then there’s Miki Dora paddling over.”
---Jamie Brisick is a writer, photographer, and director. He surfed on the ASP world tour from 1986 to 1991. He has since documented surf culture extensively. His books include Becoming Westerly: Surf Champion Peter Drouyn’s Transformation into Westerly Windina, Roman & Williams: Things We Made, We Approach Our Martinis With Such High Expectations, Have Board, Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snow, and The Eighties at Echo Beach. His writings and photographs have appeared in The Surfer’s Journal, The New York Times, and The Guardian. He was the editor of Surfing magazine from 1998-2000, and is presently the global editor of Huck. In 2008 he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship. He lives in Los Angeles. For more of his work check out jamiebrisick.com & @jamiebrisick