Smugger than Justin Bieber on a nude Instagram tear. That’s how I felt a few months ago when I dropped a “10 Most Glamorous Surfers” list, mostly just to get one over on dandy Chas Smith, arbiter of all things fashionable in surf [editor’s note: bullshit]. But oh how embarrassed I am today, after discovering that I completely, shamefully, overlooked the most glammed-up wave-rider of all time—Arnaud de Rosnay.
Sorry, Baron Arnaud de Rosnay. French Aristocrat, pioneering Biarritz surfer, skateboard champ, sailboard daredevil, jet-setting photographer for both Surfer and Vogue. Looked like Robert Redford’s younger, more swashbuckling brother. Thread-count inspector on the beds of the finest Pompidou-era beauties. Friday morning, de Rosnay’s ruling the lineup at La Barre. Midnight Saturday, he’s strolling into Maxim’s in an ankle-length brocade jacket, swinging a brass-knobbed walking stick, cheek-kissing Bianca Jagger. Non-stop dazzle. Never worked a day in his life.
In 1980, while in Hawaii, the 34-year-old de Rosnay met a blond 17-year-old high school stunner named Jenna Severson (yes indeed, the underage daughter of SURFER founder John Severson), felt le coup de foudre, and began pitching 25 different kinds of sophisticated Continental woo. Young thing didn’t have a chance. The two were married just after Jenna’s 18th birthday.
De Rosnay turned his attention to open-ocean sailboarding, and completed a series of headline-worthy first crossings: the Bering Strait, the English Channel, the Straights of Formosa. Then in late 1984, not long after outpacing his guide boat while attempting to cross the Taiwan Strait, de Rosnay was lost at sea. His body was never found. The French, I suppose, would argue that de Rosnay was glamorous unto death. A more prosaic mind would suggest that he should have hung up both his swash and his buckle a couple years earlier.
In any event, de Rosnay, today, is best remembered for his late-’60s work with Vogue, when he was trading cover shots with the likes of Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon. Look at these photos. Argue among yourselves as to whether de Rosnay’s work or de Rosnay himself was more beautiful.