In his early 20s, just before the shortboard revolution, Ron Stoner remade surf photography into what it is today. And he did it with one foot dangling over the abyss. At 22, Stoner all but owned the SURFER masthead. At 23, he was committed to a mental hospital. In 1978, he vanished. In 1994, he was declared dead.
Stoner, by a huge margin, has occupied more of my time and attention as a writer than any other subject. Come for the photos, stay for the drugs, heartbreak, divided family, schizophrenia, Jesus complex, turncoat friends, and all the rest of the trials and dramas that chased this quiet, talented, good-looking man to the ground and finally devoured him. His life, furthermore, puts you front and center for all of the incredible beauty and equally incredible waste of the 1960s.
Stoner reminds me of The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, another Los Angeles County idiot savant with an abusive father who went supernova at a young age, then imploded. Stoner's best photos, like Wilson's best songs, perfectly, sometimes magically, illuminate the time and place in which they were created. Better yet, their work also attaches itself to the here and now. It feels its way into each generation. It moves with us. You probably never surfed flawless Rights and Lefts on a G&S red-fin longboard. No matter—Stoner's Ranch shots play off your own best day of surfing. The Kennedy assassination may have happened 25 years before you were born, but "Warmth of the Sun" lays a comforting hand on whatever heartbreak you're dealing with.
We build tall, wide, marble pedestals to people like Wilson and Stoner, and rightly so. But the shot on this page reminds me that Stoner—before he was an artist, a muse, a tragedy—was first a surfer. A small day at Rights and Lefts. Good, not all-time. One last shot. Set the timer. Click. OK you guys, load the car, let's go, I'm fucking starving. Hope it picks up tomorrow.