California Surfing and Climbing in the Fifties

Yvon Chouinard takes a scenic look at a decade of youthful adventure through imagery and essays

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Some 60 years ago the Golden State saw a golden era for surfing and climbing. Offering a spot-on retrospective look at the period of innovation spanning from 1948 to late 1958, newly published “California Surfing and Climbing in the Fifties” is full of epic imagery and insightful words by the likes of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, climbing pioneer Steve Roper and Steve Pezman, founder of The Surfer’s Journal. The 84 pages of both black and white and color images capture the freewheeling spirit of a small group of individuals that contributed to a monumental growth in technique and equipment across both activities.


“The ’50s were the easy years in California,” recalls Chouinard, a participant in both cultures. With gas at 25 cents a gallon and free campsites across the state, the land was essentially free for the taking. This limitless mentality lead to a shift in the climbing community unlike any seen before. “The decade of the 1950s in Yosemite climbing history is a classic example of a sea change in style, equipment and attitudes towards “impossible” walls, the one the Thirties pioneers had shunned,” explains Roper. The decade saw the first successful attempts at the Nose of El Capitan, Half Dome and countless other remarkable feats in the Valley.

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On the other end, surfing was experiencing a similar surge in equipment and culture. Until this time, the number of surfers worldwide was so small most knew each other on a first name basis. Those lucky few who had made it to “The Islands” brought back the Aloha spirit and style for the rest to consume. Regardless of their beginnings, all involved in California surf culture in the ’50s knew that they were onto something special. “It was a cosmic attachment that, though it went unspoken, was shared by those who had felt it firsthand. It was a secret thrill. The world was lame. We were not,” says Pezman, a surf legend in his own right.

Published 31 December 2013, “California Surfing and Climbing in the Fifties” is now available directly from Artbook and Amazon for between $28 and $40. For a closer look at the enchanting book see the slideshow.

Studio photos by Graham Hiemstra, all others courtesy of Artbook