Versatile California-born photographer, heralded in the 1970s for his tight-angle water shots taken mostly on the North Shore of Oahu.
Wilkings was born (1946) in Hollywood, California, raised in Hermosa Beach, began surfing in 1958 and taking photographs in 1964.
Original surf photographer LeRoy Grannis, also from Hermosa, was Wilkings' informal mentor. He became a Surfer staff photographer in 1971, after receiving a B.F.A. in photography from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and moving to Hawaii.
Wilkings' mission was to bring the viewer closer than ever before to the powerful North Shore surf—Pipeline was a favorite haunt—doing so at times by floating up the wave just as the tube poured overhead.
In 1976 Wilkings bolted a waterproof camera to the tail section of a surfboard, and by following the action from the beach and releasing the shutter with a remote control unit as the rider disappeared into the tube, he captured the first behind-the-surfer view of a tuberide.
Wilkings was a senior staff photographer at Surfer until 1980; he continued living in Hawaii, working for the most part as a freelance watersports photographer. His photographs have appeared in Time, Life, People, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, and Rolling Stone; he's also contributed to more than a half-dozen illustrated surfing books, including The History of Surfing (1983), Surfing: The Ultimate Pleasure (1984), SurfRiders (1997), and The Perfect Day (2001). Since 2007, Wilkings has been the photo editor at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente, California, putting him charge of the word's largest collection of historical surf images.
In 2012, Wilkings was inducted to the Hermosa Beach Surfers Walk of Fame. His website www.stevewilkings.com
is a valuable resource for surfing enthusiasts.
Written by Matt Warshaw (Encyclopedia of Surfing)