The late Grant Rohloff caused a sensation as one of the original surfing filmmakers in the late 1950s and 1960s, with sold-out screenings at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and influence that would sway future generations of surfers and surf filmmaking. Now his son Chris Rohloff, who discovered an archive of his father’s films and photographs after his death, has been pushing to continue his father’s legacy.
A collection of vintage surfing photographs by Grant Rohloff and modern surfing photographs by Chris Rohloff, will be displayed as part of the group art exhibit, The Good, The Bad and the Objectionable, at the Universal Art Gallery, 2001 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. A reception is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, October 7th, and the images remain on display through Saturday, November 16th.
Also on display in the exhibit will be early Los Angeles punk rock scene photographs by Jill Ash, paintings by Joe O’Neill, Norton Wisdom and Gilbert Johnquest, and ceramic sculptures by Matt Doolin.
Vintage Rohloff surf films and photographs depict early legends such as Mickey Dora in their prime surfing the waves at historic beaches, including North Shore, Waimea Bay, Malibu and Santa Cruz.
Grant Rohloff spent the last few years of his life editing film in a converted garage that he used as his cutting room in Venice until he died of cancer in 1989.
Chris Rohloff stored his vast archives for a few years and then in the mid-1990s began to comb through what he calls a treasure trove of photographs and film footage.
Some of Grant Rohloff’s best known and most influential surf films, self-financed, before the age when surfboard companies caught on to sponsoring films, were Men Who Ride Mountains (1964), Surfin’ Wild (1962) and Out of Control (1964). He first began shooting his own footage in 1958 and in the mid-1950s, had an apprenticeship with Surfer magazine publisher surf culture artist/photographer John Severson.
“There were only a handful — maybe five to seven people — who made surf films at the time,” says Chris Rohloff. His father’s contemporaries included Bruce Brown, Walt Phillips and Greg Noll.
Grant Rohloff’s films show early surf pioneers tackling huge waves in exotic locations in Hawaii, Mexico, France Spain, Southern California and Oregon. The surfing footage is interspersed with footage of the surfers goofing off and having fun out-of-water and with shots of the natural environments.
“He was a mellow, peaceful, easygoing kind of quiet person who just let his camera do the talking,” says Rohloff about his father.
At first produced with no sound on 16mm film, Rohloff began to add surf rock scores to his films in the mid-’60s, when the genre of music was at its height of popularity. Some of the soundtracks featured music by Daryl Dragon of the hit 1960s pop group Captain & Tennille.
Rohloff continued to produce his own surfing films up until about 1971. After that, he would often be hired to shoot surfing footage. He also dabbled in early skateboard and motorcycle films in the 1960s.
“He pretty much never turned off his camera up until he died,” says Chris Rohloff. As a child, he would sometimes go on shoots with his father.
“Sometimes my father would break for lunch and hand me the camera and tell me to continuing shooting until he got back,” remembers Chris Rohloff. “So bits of his old footage was actually shot by me as a kid.”
Rohloff now lives and surfs in Santa Monica, and works on getting his father’s vintage works into films, art shows and other channels of distribution.
Aside from Universal Art Gallery, Rohloff’s work has been shown in recent years at Danziger Art Gallery in Soho, New York, Allen Scott Gallery in Santa Monica, and some shows at local businesses.
Stock footage shot by Grant Rohloff has appeared in the Stacy Peralta skateboarding and surfing documentaries Dogtown and Z-Boys (a 2002 film about the vintage Venice/Santa Monica scene) and Riding Giants (2004), which traces the history of surfing back to its Polynesian roots, its rebirth in the 20th Century and the California boom that started in the 1940s. The footage has also appeared in a number of television and commercial advertising spots.
Recently, the City of Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau has recognized Rohloff’s work as part of the local beach culture and has begun selling Rohloff’s surf photography and T-shirts in its main walk-in center in the Santa Monica Place Mall.
Information, (310) 396-9444.