Steve Wilkings and Mark Levy check out the plaques that will bear their names on the Surfers Walk of Fame. Photo by Mike Balzer
Dazzling golden sunshine bathed former U.S. Surfing Champion Mark Levy and widely published surf photographer Steve Wilkings as they were formally inducted onto the Hermosa Beach Surfers Walk of Fame in a Saturday ceremony at the foot of the city pier.
Wilkings grew misty-eyed when he offered “a special thank you” to another Walk of Fame inductee, surf photographer Leroy Grannis, who passed away last year.
“He was my mentor,” Wilkings said. “It’s hard to think of him passing. He was a wonderful man.”
Wilkings, a third generation Hermosan, surveyed his picture-postcard surroundings.
“What more could you ask for…This was a wonderful place to grow up,” he said.
He recounted working at an aquarium that once stood south of the pier, near where Scotty’s on the Strand restaurant is located, and seeing his first published photo in “Surfer” magazine in 1964.
“I thought, this is great, this is fun,” he said.
Wilkings’ parents let him turn the family bathroom into a darkroom to develop his photos. Local surfers would wait outside for proof sheets and choose shots to buy from Wilkings for $1.
“When I think back on it, it was kind of funny, because we only had one bathroom,” Wilkings said, recalling the occasional urgent knocking from a family member who would have to wait for photos to develop before the door could be opened and light allowed in.
Wilkings developed a system to mount cameras on the tails of surfboards, and shoot photos from behind the surfer, from inside the tube to the outside, using a remote control device from the beach.
A July 1965 photo by Steve Wilkings captures Mike Stevenson, Steve Clark, Alfred Laws and Richard Crawford in Hermosa Beach.
He helped chronicle a golden age of Hermosa surfing in the 1960s before moving to Oahu, Hawaii to photograph high-paying surf competitions there.
Wilkings served as a senior staff photographer for Surfer magazine for a decade, and his images have appeared in Time, Life, People, Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone and Surfers Journal magazines, as well as in numerous books.
Levy took to the podium following a glowing introduction by his brother Derek, also a noted waterman.
“I was wondering who he was talking about,” Levy joked.
The Hermosa native praised Wilkings’ distinctive and eye-grabbing magazine photos, and took his turn waxing expansive upon the town.
“We live in such a cool place…such a beautiful playground, and the people are so nice,” he said.
“I am deeply moved to be a part of this. This is really cool,” Levy said.
He expressed gratitude for his family and for surfing mentors, including his brother, who shows “no fear” in big waves. Levy noted his brother’s strong finish in the Legends division of the recent Dive N’ Surf South Bay Boardriders Club contest, which was won by Walk of Fame inductee Mike Purpus, once a top-ranked pro.
“Nobody else from here has done what Mike Purpus has done,” Levy said.
He cited Purpus as a key influence.
“Purpus could turn like nobody’s business,” Levy said.
Levy reeled off a long list of wins and high finishes in the 1970s, and won the U.S. Junior Men’s Surfing Championship in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina in 1974. He was named “Best Californian Surfer” in the October 1974 issue of Surfer magazine. The Jacobs “Tiger Tail” surfboard is his signature model.
He finished second in the 32-mile Catalina Classic paddleboard race in 1976, paddled the length of the 1,100-mileCaliforniacoastline, and paddled the English Channel along with six other members of the South Bay Paddleboard Club.
He participated in adventure paddles at Loch Ness, Manhattan Island, New York, and an ill-fated Florida-to-Cuba relay. Out of the water, Levy finished the Boston Marathon in 2 hours and 48 minutes.
The inductees were draped in flower leis and presented with bronze plaques that will be affixed to the pier.