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Surfer Goes Electrical Bananas

Detail from 1969 SURFER cover
John Severson, 1969
Rick Griffin, 1969. Photo: Art Brewer
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Brewer (left) and Kampion, 1970. Photo: Brad Barrett

Surfer founder and publisher John Severson didn’t just embrace the counterculture, he turned it into sound business practice. In early 1968, Surfer remained the bulwark of surf media conservatism. The photography was first-rate, the magazine was well-organized and professionally assembled, and circulation was holding steady at a hundred thousand—by these and other measures, no other surf periodical was close.

Surfer was also as predictable as oatmeal. If it wasn’t yet square, it was heading i...

John Severson’s introduction to pot in 1968 broke his bourgeois fetters at a single blow—or exhale. Before Christmas of that year, he traded his longboard for a new shortboard, grew a luxuriant Sergeant Pepper’s moustache, and began  remodeling his magazine.