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Portfolios: Brian Bielmann’s ’80s North Shore Archive

Tom Carroll, Cheyne Horan, Derek Ho, and more

On any given day, you can call Brian Bielmann’s house and receive a line filled with the background fuzz of dusty vinyl blaring through the speakers in his makeshift basement. Two huge shelving cabinets stand completely full with all things classic rock. Captain Beefheart. Cream. Bowie. It’s all there. At this point, those records might as well be part of Brian’s DNA, those grooves in vinyl embedded deep into his chromosomes.

Like Brian’s records, his photography stands up to time. He’s one of the few surf photographers who’s survived multiple surf industry recessions. While he’ll tell you he’s never seen anything like this apocalypse (a drought of sales in photography), the energy that makes Brian a favorite persona in our world still shines bright. From Cheyne Horan to Kelly Slater, Bruce Irons to Dane Reynolds, he’s seen it all. And that well of experience began from the wild-life memories of his youth on the North Shore in the 1980s.

Back then, Brian had the niche of niches: the “swimsuit photographer.” The man whose photos of bright neon suits appeared body-painted onto exotic gals posed in tropical tidepools. The hearts of young men everywhere stickered their walls with Brian’s iconic images. As Quiksilver’s main fashion photographer, he’d sneak Tom Carroll, Marvin Foster, and crew into urban areas of Honolulu for campaigns. The pay: $100 and all the free clothes a man could ask for. “Back then, you didn’t need much to live out here on the North Shore. I mean, no one was making any real money, but at least it was enough to get by.” says Bielmann. “It was just so gosh-darn cheap to live out here.”

“The ’80s were super cool,” says Bielmann. “During our times, we’ve seen so much back and forth with the rise and fall of the surf photographer. Back then, there were maybe 100 surf photographers worldwide. Everyone had their own magazine. We were all discovering new places. I really looked up to guys like [Jeff] Hornbaker, Don King, Aaron Chang, and Jeff Divine. They were very much the little sewing circle. I was a little younger and outside of it, just starting to find my place.”