Not only did Jim Kempton captain SURFER through one of surfing’s most dynamic periods, but now, as the President of Oceanside’s California Surf Museum, he’s led the effort to celebrate our 50th Anniversary in a manner befitting a grand ol’ publication by organizing a Tribute to his old employer on Saturday night. We caught up with him to get a snapshot of what the Tribute’s all about.
When were you editor of SURFER?
I was Editor from 1978 to 1983. My era witnessed a massive paradigm shift—from black wetsuits to the pro circuit, from pintails to tri-fins, and from surf traders to Surf Industry trade shows. The mid-’70s to mid-’80s was a seminal period of change, and the Free Ride generation was my beat: Shaun broke the barriers of tube-riding, MR redefined contest surfing, and Simon re-invented the surfboard. Tommy Curren was the new enfant terrible while little Kelly Salter was just beginning to show his prowess by winning every menehune contest in his Florida hometown.
Tell us a great SURFER story.
We couldn’t find a cover photo we were happy with. I wanted to do a completely white cover with a white embossed Surfer logo, like the Beatles White Album. Our art director, Hy Moore, mocked it up hoping I wasn’t serious. Art Brewer tossed a slide of Mark Richards onto the white background. Almost at once we all said, “That’s it.” We ran a pure white cover with an actual mounted slide in the middle—the first of its kind. It won a national design award, and we looked pretty good for not having a cover photo to begin with.
What was the inspiration for the SURFER Tribute on Saturday?
We wanted to honor Severson most of all. SURFER was his baby, and we just babysat for a few years. The surfers all get made into big stars but the editors are always in the background stoking the star-maker machinery and making it all happen somehow. We just wanted to honor all those guys that have continued the great linage of this culture. The guys that have made it SURFER.
What should attendees expect to see, hear, etc?
Rare footage of Severson at home, talking about how he first thought up the idea and did it on a shoestring. World Champs and living legends all telling stories about their experiences related to SURFER magazine. And an insane short peek at an Imax movie that features Kelly Slater.
An amazing SURFER slideshow of the best shots of 50 years, the best footage from the archived ESPN SURFER videos, and a lot more.
What effect did SURFER mag have on your life?
It made everything else in my career possible. Back then it was the “Bible” of surf, and we got to write a chapter every month. It’s always with you. There are still people who come up to me and ask me how I’m doing at SURFER Magazine, and I’ve been gone for two decades! It’s like a Harvard Law degree for the surf world—a resume that opens so many possibilities.
For more information and to buy ticket’s to Saturday night’s SURFER Tribute click here.