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Leroy "Granny" Grannis, RIP


This message has reached me via friends of the Grannis Family:

"LeRoy Grannis passed away peacefully today, February 3rd. 2011. He was 93 and had a wonderful life. Rest in peace Granny. Your family and friends love you and will miss you so much. We will let you know about the plans for his memorial soon. The Grannis Family."

The main LEGENDARY SURFERS chapter on Granny is at: Legendary Surfer: LeRoy Grannis


Granny and I in San Clemente, 1994


... and, although it is somewhat out of the chronological order we have been writing about the 1930s, we begin the updated chapter on Granny, in installments:



LeRoy “Granny” Grannis (1917- 2011)


LeRoy Frank Grannis was born on August 12, 1917, at home in Hermosa Beach, less than a block from the beach.  Hermosa was a small town, back then, with a population of approximately 3,500 residents.  Since the big hospital was a good deal away, many people just had their babies at home and that’s how LeRoy came into this world, too.  Back then, what used to be called El Camino Real – the Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH for short – was a dirt road. [1]

By the time LeRoy was five, he was going with his dad on early morning swims.  “I’ve been around the ocean ever since I was born,” he told me.  “When I was born, we lived a half block from the Strand in Hermosa Beach, on 10th Street.

“My earliest recollection of the ocean is when I was 5 or 6 years old.  My dad used to get up early and go down and jump in the ocean in the summertime.  I went along with him.  I learned to bodysurf.  Eventually, I got into belly boards.”[2]

At age 14, LeRoy began his long sojourn in the world of stand-up surfing.  “When I was 14, I became acquainted with the surfers in Hermosa through Norman Hale, my next door neighbor.  He was also a good friend of Doc Ball’s.”[3]

Norman’s mother had a restaurant on the beachfront called Ma Brown’s, which was where the surfers hung out.  Doc hung out at the restaurant, too, and met her son and they became good friends.  Doc’s son Norman is named after Norman Hale.  Norm got brain cancer and died at an early age.” [4]

“My dad bought me this slab of pine which was about 24-inches wide and 6-feet long and 2-inches deep,” Granny continued, pegging the year as 1931, “and I shaped it with a drawknife.  I rode some waves on my knees before I decided I needed something bigger.  Since Norm was riding paddleboards and solid boards at the time, he loaned me some to ride.” [5]

The teenage Grannis had shaped at least one body board (3-4 feet long, 16-inches wide) [6] and made a stab at shaping his first surfboard.  It became readily apparent that this was not to be one of his strong points.  So, he ditched his own shapes to borrow Norm Hale’s boards. [7]

It was through Norman Hale that LeRoy met John Ball, then a dental student at the University of Southern California.  A Grannis/Ball match-up soon took hold and their friendship lasted more than 60 years. [8]

After graduating from USC Dental College in 1933, John “Doc” Ball set-up his dental practice in Los Angeles in early 1934,[9] continued to surf with his buddies in the South Bay, and began to photograph the emerging California surfing lifestyle.

Yet another early influence on LeRoy was Hoppy Swarts.

“In late ‘32,” LeRoy recounted, “I had to move from Redondo to University High School.  In 1933, I came back to Redondo and that’s when I met Hop.  I moved in with my mother.  My folks were divorced… My sister knew Hop’s sister and we eventually met through them.  He wasn’t surfing at the time, but found out the rest of us were and jumped into it and eventually became a real fine surfer.” [10]

Granny and Hoppy began surfing at Palos Verdes Cove, driving in borrowed cars to get there. [11]

I once asked Granny what his take was on the Great Depression and its affect on surfing.  “Well, I don’t know how it affected us,” he replied.  “It made us appreciate money when we were older, cuz we never had any during the Depression.  I would go for weeks without a penny in my pocket.  I went to high school stone broke most of the time.  You’d take a lunch with you, of course, so you could eat.  There just wasn’t any money available.  Those that had steady jobs were the kings.” [12]

A year after he got going in his dental practice, Doc got together with Adie Bayer to found the Palos Verdes Surfing Club.[13]  The PVSC was second only to the Corona del Mar Surf Board Club.  Because it organized the first annual Pacific Coast Surfing Championship in 1928 and boasted the Father of Modern Surfing Duke Kahanamoku as a member at one point, the Corona del Mar Surf Board Club is generally considered to be the first surf club to organize on the Mainland, “the largest club of this kind in America,” according to The Santa Ana Daily Register, July 31, 1928.[14]

Chuck “A Luck” Ehlers claimed the honor for the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club, saying that it was the first, in 1934, when “the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club was formed. They had about 18 members. The old ones plus LeRoy’s [younger, by 7 years] brother Don Grannis, Ted Davies, and others.”[15]

I tried to pin Doc down on this one. How he remembers it is that Johnny Kerwin got the Hermosa Beach Surfing Club going “a little after we formed. Palos Verdes was one of the first ones that organized. After that was Hermosa and then Manhattan and then Santa Monica. From there on it went up the coast and kept going after that.”[16]

“Well, he was a member of the Hermosa Club,” Granny told me, particularly addressing the dates Chuck-A-Luck put on things in a Surfer’s Journal article. “Chuck’s all wet on his dates and things. Strictly a figment of his imagination. He was on the scene, there’s no doubt about it, and a lot of things happened [as he described], but not at the times he stated.

“He started at the same time [as I did]. It was quite a group of them in Manhattan, who surfed Manhattan Pier.” [17]

Other surfers Granny especially remembers from back that time were not only Doc and Norm Hale, but also a “Japanese fella, whose name I forget.” [18]

“In 1935, a whole bunch of us from Redondo High started surfing together,” LeRoy recalled, adding: “One of the things that got the surfing groups going in the late ‘30s: we started playing paddle polo at the Plunge, out there by USC. The competition was pretty keen.” [19]


Palos Verdes Surfing Club


John “Doc” Ball was typically modest in his comparison of his Palos Verdes Surfing Club to other surf clubs of the era. The fact was that the Palos Verdes Surfing Club was more sophisticated and organized than any of the other clubs early on. It’s organization would be impressive even compared to today’s standards. 

Importantly, Doc’s photography played a large part in establishing the PVSC as the dominant surf club of the 1930s. [20]

In 1936, a year after the club formed, both LeRoy and Hoppy were inducted into the PVSC. [21] “Myself and Hop [Hoppy Swarts] were the only two that joined the club [PVSC] [from the Redondo High group]. The rest of ‘em scattered out between Hermosa and Manhattan (our school took in all of Hermosa and Manhattan).” [22]

“We were really a friendly group,” Grannis said of the Palos Verdes crew. “We met every Wednesday night… Doc had a dental office on the corner of Santa Barbara and Vermont [streets]; over the theatre, there… That was an all-white neighborhood at the time… He had a spare room and we converted that to a clubhouse. We had pictures – each one of us – with our boards, hanging on the wall… Every weekend, if there was surf, we were out surfing either Hermosa Pier or Palos Verdes Cove.

“See, the Cove wasn’t any good in the summertime, cuz it only takes a north swell. Then, of course, in the late ‘30s, we all started going down to San Onofre in the summertime.” [23]
  

Surfin’ The Late ‘30s


One of the standout surfs Granny remembers of the 1930s was his first trip to Malibu ten years after Tom Blake and Sam Reid first surfed the place in 1926.[24] “In May 1936,” Granny surfed Malibu with Hoppy and Bud Morrissey, who had an “in” at the Malibu Colony. “Pete [Peterson] was riding Malibu in those days, then Gard Chapin and more and more Palos Verdes [Surfing Club] people.” [25]

“Flood Control – right where the Queen Mary is, now – that was a great south swell spot. That was before the breakwater was built across San Pedro Harbor.” [26]

Surfing continued to gain in popularity, as demonstrated by not only surfing photographs making it into newspapers, but articles about surfing, as well.

“This is Big Surf,” wrote and photographically documented Doc of March 13, 1937. Pete Peterson “of Santa Monica“ is identified riding the “wave of the day.” Also featured:  LeRoy Grannis and Jean Depue.[27]

“Pete Peterson – he was one of the big ones who could really paddle,” Doc recalled. “He was expert at taking gals up on his shoulders and everything and riding. He was one of the big surfers in those days… He was a big wave rider. He used to be able to cut across a wave almost like they do, now; get in the tunnel and get out; just an extraordinary surf hound. That’s what we thought.”[28]

No less stoked was LeRoy “Granny” Grannis, aka “Scrobble Noggin“ “That was one of Doc’s sayings,” declared Grannis. “I don’t knows how he came up with it. I was ‘Granny’ all along. But that was Doc’s special name [for me]. I became ‘Granny’ in the second grade.” [29]

“He’d get shook up every once in a while,” explained Doc about LeRoy’s nickname of Scrobble Noggin, “and he’d get an ornery look on his face [at those times].”[30]

That winter swell of 1937-38 cranked out good sized surf. January 7, 1938 was “The day when the newsreel boys came down to shoot the damage done by the big seas ‑ packed up and left when we came out with our surfboards,” wrote Doc Ball. Surfers he identified with photographic proof to back it up: “Tulie” Clark, Hal Pearson, Al Holland, Adie Bayer and Leroy Grannis.[31]

In a section entitled “Palos Verdes Surfing Club at the Long Beach Surfing Contest,” Doc Ball wrote that at this contest, the Hawaiians even sent over a team. PVSC members, left to right were: [Gene] Hornbeck, Reynolds, Humphreys, [Fenton] Scholes, Huber, [Al] Pearson, [Johnny] Gates, Alsten, [E.J.] Oshier, [Adie] Bayer, [Jean] Depue, Allen, [Hoppy] Swarts, Grannis, Pierce, [Al] Landes, [Tulie] Clark.[32]

Tulie Clark was “Hot and cold,” Granny remembered. “He’d work and get out of shape, periodically. Most of the time, he was right up there and is in great shape, even today.” [33]

I asked Granny about Peanuts Larsen. “Larsen was a good surfer,” Granny granted, “but a scammer. He wasn’t too well liked.” [34]

Granny’s brother Don might have been in with them, but he was seven years younger than his brother and was a lot like many younger brothers toward their older brother. “He hung out with the Hermosa bunch,” 

LeRoy explained. “He and [Dale] Velzy were real close friends. He was a lifeguard…”[35]

Ocean relay races provided the impetus for surf club contests and these were “very popular” in the later half of the 1930s, Granny recalls. “[During and] after the war, that kind of died out.” [36]

Tandem events provided a way for men to bond with women. “Well,” Granny explained, “everybody had a board that you could tandem with, cuz they were so long and buoyant.” [37]

In 1938, LeRoy met his wife-to-be, Katie Tracy. She was an inland girl, but they met at Hermosa Pier, then went on to courtship with a strong tandem emphasis. A year and a half later, they were married. [38]

In late September 1939, 15 to 20-foot Chubasco waves rolled in at Malibu. A number of guys went out that day, Fenton Scholes and Granny being the last ones to get out. Fenton lost his board and both came in on Granny’s… “New Year’s ‘40 and ‘41 – there was huge surf,” Granny recalled, “20 to 25-foot rollers.” [39]




[1] Photo: Grannis -- Surfing’s Golden Age, 1960-1969, edited by Brad Barrett, ©1998, Journal Concepts, Inc., San Clemente, California.  Photos ©1960-1969, LeRoy Grannis.  Text ©1998, Brad Barrett, p. X.
[2] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[3] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[4] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.  See also Gault-Williams, “Doc Ball…”
[5] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[6] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[7] Photo: Grannis -- Surfing’s Golden Age, 1960-1969, edited by Brad Barrett, ©1998, Journal Concepts, Inc., San Clemente, California.  Photos ©1960-1969, LeRoy Grannis.  Text ©1998, Brad Barrett, p. XI.
[8] Photo: Grannis -- Surfing’s Golden Age, 1960-1969, edited by Brad Barrett, ©1998, Journal Concepts, Inc., San Clemente, California.  Photos ©1960-1969, LeRoy Grannis.  Text ©1998, Brad Barrett, p. XI.
[9] Lynch, Gary.  “Biograhical Sketch of Dr. John Heath Ball,” February 2, 1989.
[10] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[11] Photo: Grannis -- Surfing’s Golden Age, 1960-1969, edited by Brad Barrett, ©1998, Journal Concepts, Inc., San Clemente, California.  Photos ©1960-1969, LeRoy Grannis.  Text ©1998, Brad Barrett, p. XI.
[12] Gault-Williams, Malcolm.  Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[13] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with John “Doc” Ball, January 10, 1998.
[14] The Santa Ana Daily Register, July 31, 1928. See Lueras, 1984, p. 107. It’s unlikely that the Corona del Mar group was a surf club as we understand the term. Film footage of Duke with some friends – most likely Hollywood friends – was retrieved out of a trash landfill and is sometimes referenced as documentation of the Corona del Mar club. It is likely that the club sprung up after Duke’s dramatic rescue of _____, which took place in the Corona del Mar vicinity.
[15] Ehlers, Charles (“Chuck A Luck”).  “Log Jam 1922,” The Surfer‘s Journal, Volume 1, Number 2, May 1992, p. 46. Classic photos. Chuck A Luck indicated he thought Hermosa formed, actually, in 1933 & Palos Verdes in 1934. Doc Ball is sure that Palos Verdes started out in 1935 and was unsure what club started first.
[16] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with John “Doc” Ball, January 10, 1998.
[17] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[18] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[19] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[20] Lynch, Gary. Notes on draft of Doc Ball, Early California Surf Photog, May 1998.
[21] Photo: Grannis -- Surfing’s Golden Age, 1960-1969, edited by Brad Barrett, ©1998, Journal Concepts, Inc., San Clemente, California. Photos ©1960-1969, LeRoy Grannis. Text ©1998, Brad Barrett, p. XI.
[22] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[23] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[24] See Gault-Williams, Malcolm. “Tom Blake…” Also: Lynch, Gary and Gault-Williams, Malcolm. TOM BLAKE: The Uncommon Journey of a Pioneer Waterman, 2001.
[25] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[26] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[27] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 42-43.
[28] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with John “Doc” Ball, January 10, 1998.
[29] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[30] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with John “Doc” Ball, January 10, 1998.
[31] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. 20-21.
[32] Ball, 1946, 1979, 1995, pp. .70-71.
[33] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[34] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[35] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[36] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[37] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.
[38] Photo: Grannis -- Surfing’s Golden Age, 1960-1969, edited by Brad Barrett, ©1998, Journal Concepts, Inc., San Clemente, California. Photos ©1960-1969, LeRoy Grannis. Text ©1998, Brad Barrett, p. XI.
[39] Gault-Williams, Malcolm. Interview with LeRoy Grannis, Carlsbad, California, 26 June 1999.







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