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The home of 1960s surfing culture in Australia

John Pennings

John Pennings surfing photography spans 1962-1969.
All taken on 35mm film. 
In his own words below

My interest in surfing began in 1956 after watching a display of board riding by US lifeguards at Avalon Beach. I purchased my first board from Roger Keiran, a ‘pig’ shape – heavy balsa, absolutely fantastic a completely new experience – this was around 1959.

My interest in surf photography began a year later when a good friend of mine, Bob Commys, started taking photos with a small telephoto lens and getting good results. With the launch of Australian Surfer magazine in 1961 I saw a good spread of Bob’s surfing photos published – this certainly sparked my interest.

I used to run into Bob Evans on the beach quite regularly after a surf. Bob had just started Surfing World magazine and stated to me that he may find it difficult to gather enough material to print 12 issues a year. That meeting with Bob prompted me to purchase camera equipment. This was in the late months of 1962. My camera consisted of a 35 mm SLR Pentax, with a 400 mm Novaflex lens and came with a 200m m extension screw fitting lens – I guess very basic equipment certainly by today’s standards – however, I was absolutely stoked. So, my association with Surfing World commenced.

I was fortunate enough the following year to be on hand to photograph a classic North Narrabeen day in April of 1963. One wave with local surfer Jim Fordham in the slot gained a lot of recognition, and I was commissioned to have a 6 foot by 4 foot framed mural to hang in the Narrabeen surf club hall for the Saturday ‘stomp’ nights. My passion for surf photography definitely increased. Of course there was very little money paid for surf photos – the meagre amount paid by the magazines covered the cost of film and printing – not too much over. However, the self satisfaction I got out of photography more than compensated for that.

below: John Pennings pictured with his famous photo of North Narrabeen 1963.

Besides Surfing World, I contributed regularly to South African Surfer magazine, had several articles published in American Surfer magazine and International Surfing. My photo of Wayne Lynch’s cutback during the 1968 Australian surfing championships was used on a poster to advertise Paul Witzig’s movie, ‘Evolution’.

The early 60s were memorable – everybody knew everyone, surfing was fun … little did we realise then how big it would be 40 years later. Memorable times for me were setting up my tripod on an unspoilt north coast beach when wind and wave conditions were right, the friendships made, all with a love of the ocean.