His name has appeared in SURFER Magazine more times than Andy Irons’, Kelly Slater’s and Tom Curren’s combined, but you wouldn’t recognize his cutback or his off-the-top. His surfing, while accomplished, never put him on a podium, much less in the magazine. But his body of work is so unforgettable, so absolutely important, that it’s hard to imagine the sport of surfing without it. In 1971, Jeff Divine––then a blossoming 18-year-old California surf photographer––made his first of what were to be many pilgrimages to the North Shore of Oahu. While times have certainly changed, the Seven Mile Miracle still holds much of the luster and attraction it did when Divine first touched down in Honolulu 34 years ago. With more than three decades behind the lens both on the beach and in the water, there’s little Divine hasn’t seen, much less photographed. From the first days at Backdoor with Sam Hawk and Owl Chapman, to busting down the door with the Bronzed Aussies, to the New School Revolution in the ‘90s, Divine has been there, documenting it all. So who better to sit down and talk with about seasons past and present than our esteemed colleague and former Photo Editor of 18 years? — Chris Mauro
SURFERmag: When was the last time you missed a winter on the North Shore of Oahu?
JEFF DIVINE: Well, my first year was ‘70/’71. I think I missed one year, maybe ‘73. I remember hearing a few stories about how good it was but my theory, especially in the old days when there were a lot less photographers, was that if you weren’t actually there, then it didn’t happen…it didn’t exist.
SURFERmag: That sounds like a useful theory for students and workaholics.
JEFF DIVINE: Exactly. And it works. Hey, I didn’t see it. It didn’t happen. But it was a lot easier back then because we only had a handful of photographers. If Pipeline broke and nobody shot it, nobody would ever know. There were only five or six of us back then, total. But that game’s a lot harder to play now because once something is documented it’s harder to ignore.
SURFERmag: Obviously there have been a ton of changes on the North Shore. What, in your opinion, is the most drastic since you’ve been documenting it?
JEFF DIVINE: When I first went there was a very minimal sense of law, and it was very extreme country. I still hear people say there’s little sense of law, but it’s hard to really call it country anymore. There are a lot fewer roosters crowing. To give you an idea of how remote it was when I first got there, my roommates and their friends would get drunk and lay down on the center-divider of the Kam Highway and see how long it took for a car to come, at night, in the dark. And I think they were all arguing like, “We were there for 45 minutes.” The next day somebody would top it…I think the record was like an hour and a half or something. That was like’70/’71.
JEFF DIVINE: None—wait, actually, there was one girl named Bobo that used to bodysurf Gas Chambers naked, and that was real nice. But for the most part no girls and no TV, it was just the Sea View, which is now Haleiwa Joe’s, and Jerry’s Sweet Shop. The Sea View was like the gathering place because it was good home-cooking—you could order turtle steak, I remember that distinctly—but yeah, it was way more dialed down, like life in the slow lane, you could say.
SURFERmag: Was there a sense that everyone there was family?
JEFF DIVINE: Oh yeah. I remember staying with all the Huntington guys in Haleiwa, but Tiger Espera, Dick Brewer, [Jeff] Hakman and Jock [Sutherland], everybody would come by to get their boards made around there so it was the hangout. There were some long nights…a lot of gambling, cockfights, the whole nine yards. Those were really fun times, and everyone got along for the most part.
SURFERmag: So the locals were pretty welcoming?
JEFF DIVINE: The real locals were for sure back then. The funny thing is, and this pretty much goes for almost anywhere around the world, the worst people to run into are people who’ve fled California. They’re by far the worst people to run into to. If they’ve beaten you somewhere by a year, a week, even an hour, they’re the ones who get all paranoid and territorial.
SURFERmag: That’s pretty sad.
JEFF DIVINE: It’s understandable, in a way, because California’s population has just exploded and those first guys saw what it did to lineups there. But yeah, I just think it’s sad that Californians export that attitude. But hey, I’m guilty of it too. It’s funny, because my friends and I were horrible when we first moved to Hawaii. I’d get calls from old friends and sometimes friends of friends who just wanted to crash on our floor at our place. I can remember my roommates just going, “F—k, Divine, not another one.”
SURFERmag: But was that attitude a stark contrast to other places?
JEFF DIVINE: Oh yeah. When we’d go to the East Coast we were on the receiving end of some serious Southern Hospitality—the total opposite of how we were. In Florida they were like, “Okay boys, tomorrow we’re taking you guys water-skiing, then I’ve lined up some dates for you guys so we’re going over to Disney World. Oh, and we’ll stop by my mom’s house because she’s cooking up some fried chicken for y’all.” We were treated like royalty.
SURFERmag: And what would happen when they’d come out to California?
JEFF DIVINE: [Laughs] The first words out of our mouths would be, “Cool…so uh, how long are you staying?”
SURFERmag: [Laughs] That’s harsh.
JEFF DIVINE: I know. It was bad. But we loved those guys. I remember [Jeff] Crawford, Greg Loehr and those guys arriving at the Shores in La Jolla and just spilling out of their van along with tons of crap. We looked inside the thing and couldn’t believe what we saw…it was like two feet deep in fast food crap and we were just thinking, “Oh my god.” I remember asking them if they stopped to smell the roses or anything and they said, “No man, straight through all the way.” All they did was stop at gas stations. They were on a mission. The way they explained it was, “You guys don’t understand, we save our lunch money just to get out here because you guys have such better waves.” I really admired that, so I let them stay at my grandmother’s house.
SURFERmag: But not yours?
JEFF DIVINE: No. [Laughs.]
SURFERmag: You’ve obviously seen a lot of milestones on the North Shore. Do you still even today?