Larry ‘Flame’ Moore, 57; Renowned Surf Photographer ‘Defined a Whole Genre’

Times Staff Writer

Larry “Flame” Moore, an influential surf photographer and former Surfing magazine photo editor who led the first surfing expedition to Cortes Bank, the legendary big-wave spot more than 100 miles west of San Diego, has died. He was 57.

Moore, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in late 2002, died Monday at his home in Dana Point, said Robert Mignogna, a close friend and former publisher of Surfing magazine.

Nicknamed for his red hair, Moore served as photo editor for the San Clemente-based magazine from 1973 to 2004, with time out for a brief stint as photo editor for the launch of the Internet surf site


With 43 Surfing magazine covers to his credit -- as well as covers for many other surf publications around the world -- Moore was known for his close-up, front-lighted, razor-sharp action shots.

“He defined a whole genre of surf photography,” said Evan Slater, editor of Surfing magazine. “He was a very competitive person, so he always wanted [this] to be the magazine that had the best, the first, the brightest and all that kind of thing.”

Bill Sharp, a former editor of Surfing, said that “no other individual has had more command over surf media in the U.S. than Larry Moore.”

Surfing magazine recently published “30 Years of Flame: California’s Legendary Surf Photographer,” a coffee-table book retrospective of Moore’s work, with text by former Surfing editor Nick Carroll."Larry treated ocean waves with the same attention to lighting and color as a photographer would in a studio,” said Steve Hawk, former editor of Surfer magazine. “He was always looking for spots he could shoot in the morning that were brightly front-lit. He told his surfers to wear bright wet suits and use brightly colored surfboards, so that his photos would pop.”

More often than not, Moore’s “studio” was Salt Creek in Dana Point -- a section of the beach “where the waves can get really hollow and early in the morning the sun hits them just right, so it will light up the insides of these tubes,” Hawk said.

“He’d get these amazing, beautiful, wide-angle water shots. He’d be out there swimming with the surfers, and he’d capture one cover shot after another at Salt Creek.”

Moore taught his team of photographers “to have the same sort of eye for lighting as he did,” Hawk said. “His standards were very high. He raised the whole art of surf photography as a result.”

As photo editor for Surfing magazine, Moore influenced many surf photographers, including Aaron Chang, Pete Frieden, Jeff Flindt, Don King, Pat Stacy, Jeff Hornbaker, and Chris Van Lennep. In his pursuit of great surf photos for the magazine, Moore studied worldwide weather charts to determine where and when the best waves would hit. In so doing, he was instrumental in showcasing Isla Natividad and Todos Santos Island, both in Baja California.

Then there was Cortes Bank.

“That’s the big one,” Slater said. “It had huge repercussions and is considered one of the top five big-wave discoveries in surf history.”

Moore first saw Cortes Bank, an underwater mountain range whose peaks rise to within several feet of the ocean surface, when he flew over it in 1989.

“There may have been people who stumbled upon it when fishing or diving and rode a wave or two, but there is no concrete proof of it,” said Sharp, who helped organize Moore’s big-wave expedition to Cortes Bank.

Moore was the first person to pursue it as a surf spot, he said.

Moore flew over Cortes Bank again in 1990, on a big surf day, and a year later he led Sharp and two other surfer friends there on his boat. The men caught some waves, but they were relatively small.

Moore waited more than a decade before launching his expedition, sponsored by Surfing magazine and, in the winter of 2001. The advent of tow-in surfing on personal watercraft had made big-wave surfing at Cortes Bank more feasible.

After an overnight boat ride from San Diego Harbor, the four experienced big-wave riders Moore had rounded up -- Peter Mel, Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach and Ken “Skindog” Collins -- hit the water.

The conditions on Jan. 19, 2001, were ideal -- no wind, big swell, glassy water.

With Rob Brown and Aaron Chang taking photos from the boat and a personal watercraft and Moore from an airplane, the surfers spent the day riding one fast-moving big wave after another -- many in the 50-foot range and the biggest in the mid-60s.

“It was amazing,” Mel told The Times in 2001. “You’re sitting out there and there’s no land in sight. You see nothing but waves.”

Parsons caught the biggest wave, a 66-footer. “If it wasn’t the biggest, it was one of the biggest I’ve seen,” he told The Times in 2001.

For Moore, his longtime dream of photographing surfers riding the towering waves at Cortes Bank had come true.

“Those guys were ripping the waves apart,” he later told “Dateline NBC.” “And you kept on going, ‘No! Don’t be so aggressive here!’ ”

Slater said the expedition, which became the highlight of Dana Brown’s 2003 documentary “Step Into Liquid,” is “probably the most significant thing in this magazine’s history.”

Moore was born in Whittier, the son of a Los Angeles County firefighter. He began surfing as a teenager.

As a student at Cal State Long Beach, he rode for Harbour Surfboards out of Seal Beach, a team that won the Western Intercollegiate Surfing Council Championship.

Moore later recalled that he began taking pictures of his friends surfing with a camera given to him by a friend.

When Moore graduated from college in 1970, he was already a regular contributor of photographs to Surfing magazine.

He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Surf Industry Manufacturers Assn. in August.

He is survived by his wife, Candace; son, Colin; sisters Lynda Doucette and Debbie Capazoli; and father and stepmother, Eugene and Betty.

Memorial service details are posted at