Process of Elimination

1959 Makaha International. Photo: Bob Pasqua
Snow McCalister, 1920s Aussie champion
1964 US Championships. Photo: Ron Church
Pacific Coast Surf Riding Championships, 1940. Photo: Doc Ball
Tandem surfing, 1966. Photo: Ron Stoner

The earliest issues of SURFER included a short “Contests and Clubs” section, but it wasn’t until late 1962 that a surf meet earned feature-length treatment in the magazine, and another four years after that before publisher John Severson put a contest shot on the cover. Then as now, surfers recognized the gulf between the day-to-day experience of riding waves—which was often combative, yes, but also dreamy, quiet, private—and the judging panels, colored flags, numbered jerseys, and ear-splitt...