Doc Ball

Before present-day GoPro practitioners and the culture vultures of the 21rst century grinding the sport of surfing into media pulp of existential nothingness, there was the puritanical ‘Doc’ Ball, a practicing dentist and seminal inventor of surf photography in California. Born in Los Angeles, (1907) he began surfing in 1929 and grabbed his first camera, a Kodak Autograph folding model, while enrolled in USC’s Dental School.

If there’s such a thing as ‘surf stoke’ in this world Doc Ball invented the spiritual medium. A founder of one of the first surf organizations, Palos Verdes Surf Club in 1935, Doc also published California Surfriders in 1946, a collection of the some of the 900 black and white images he took of nascent surf culture between 1931 and the start of WWII. The 500 first-edition copies of the book, are to surf memorabilia collectors, the equivalent of the Gutenberg Bible.

Contributing to the visual experience of surfing for landlubbers in art galleries, Ball purchased a Graflex camera in 1937 and built, what is regarded as the first waterproof housing for photography.

His images first appeared in Life, Look and National Geographic as photographic editorial spreads depicting the nomadic life of Southern California surfers.





Moving to Northern California later in his life after serving in the Coast Guard, ‘Doc’ Ball took up skateboarding, a religious practitioner until his 90’s. A mostly excellent video:

Along with Tom Blake, legendary surfer, developer of modern surfboards and photographer, ‘Doc’ Ball exerted a great influence on the generations of water photographers throughout the following generations. His work, holds creative standards and clarity unmatched in the digital age. And is an inspiration to me, today.


Assateague Wave Summer 2014 (Nikonos-V)

(image copyright 2014 grosnerfoto)

gregg rosner


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