Discover another milestone in the history of surf photography!
Together with Tom Blake, John “Doc” Ball was one of the pioneers of surf photography, and even though he took his inspiration from Blake himself (they were good friends, how amazing is this?), he was the one who influenced future generations more.
He was born in 1907 in Los Angeles, and begun surfing in 1929 while attending University.
He first used a camera when he was 8 years old. After seeing a photo published by Blake he decided, in 1931, to begin taking shots about Surf Culture.
He was able to take over 900 b/w pictures in a decade, portraying all possible aspects in the life of a surfer: not only wave riding but also moments of relax or solitude, making surfboards, road trips and more.
As Tom Blake did before, Ball revolved to DIY: he built a pine-box waterproof housing, and began taking photos from the water (you can see it at the California Surf Museum!)
His photos appeared in many magazines, such as Life, Look, Popular Mechanics, Los Angeles Times and National Geographic, which in 1944 published “Surf-Boarders Capture California”, an 8-page article about Ball’s works.
“California Surfriders” was his first photo book, printed in 1946 in 500 first-edition copies (with which Ball wasn’t actually satisfied: the printing quality looked poor to him), sold today as collectors’ items for more than 2.500 dollars. It featured more than 150 photographs with interesting captions like “These giant storm peaks broke in monstrous wedges, spilling tons of brine into a grinding, churning ‘soup,’ and an experienced surfer trapped in a series of these behemoths can have a serious time of it.” Later editions of the book had to be printed taking pictures directly from this book, because all photo negatives got lost (with tons of other materials) in 1964, when Ball’s house was flooded. Luckily, Ball gave copies of most of his images away and today it was possible to reconstruct his archives by copying pictures from various collections, and there’s always hope to discover more.
Ball’s photos were featured in lots of surfing books, among which: Surf ‘s Up! An Anthology of Surfing (1966), A Pictorial History of Surfing (1970), Surfing: The Ultimate Pleasure (1984), Maverick’s: The Story of Big-Wave Surfing (2000), and The History of Surfing (2010).
Ball was a dentist (That’s the reason behind his nickname “Doc”) during World War II, and once back home he suffered of PTSD. This led his family to move several times. His only interest were religion and surf. He later also begun practising skateboarding, even until his 80s. He neither drank nor smoked, and was one of the first supporting the importance of heathy eating when surfing.
His importance to the surfing world was widely recognised: In 1991, he was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame and in 1998 he was inducted to the Surfing Walk of Fame
We lost Ball due to heart failure in 2001: he was 94 years old, being the oldest living American surfer.