On clear and cold days, the sun jumps up over the mountains behind Laguna Beach and something magical happens. The golden light is greeted with brisk offshore winds racing down the narrow canyons. Lines of swell transform into blue green see-through barrels as they hit the shallow sandbars of Salt Creek Beach. The light is otherworldly – a creation of nature that beats any studio.
This phenomenon has a name: Larry Light. That’s because for decades Salt Creek beach on Laguna’s southern end was the favored stomping ground of legendary Surfing Magazine photographer and photo editor, Larry “Flame” Moore. Pete Taras, one of many aspiring lensmen who worked under Flame, was blown away by Flame’s dedication to his home break. “Every morning he would be down at Salt Creek to see what the patterns would be,” Taras says. “Even if it was one foot and blown out he’d write down the wind, the tides, everything. He was so mathematical about it.”
Southern California and Northern Baja aren’t known for having consistently big surf, but Flame studied weather charts and pioneered missions to shoot Waimea style waves at Todos Santos Island just off the coast of Ensenada. He was also the first person to pursue Cortes Bank, a terrifying seamount one hundred miles from land, as a surf spot. Flame’s mission there with Peter Mel, Mark Parsons, Brad Gerlach and Ken “Skindog” Collins in 2001 was the stuff of legend. The surf was 60 feet and glassy, and, considering this was in the days before drones, Flame shot the session from an airplane.
Throughout his career, Flame was obsessed with figuring out the equation for the perfect surf photo. His cover shots demanded your attention. The colors were so vivid they seemed to glow. When you saw one on a magazine rack, you couldn’t help but pick it up. “Flame wanted everything to be the brightest, the sharpest, the most colorful and just big and bold and beautiful,” says Taras.
The photography Flame shot and curated set the standard during the surf industry boom years. Evan Slater was editor at Surfing during the peak era. “In those days, we had a full roster, like a sports team of photographers that all got a retainer, '' says Slater. “It was such an amazing time in the industry.”
The Surfing Mag office was just down the road from Salt Creek and Flame was a fixture in the lightroom for decades. “He was really well known for mentoring young surf photographers,” says Slater. That was one of his joys in life.” says Slater. Scores of acclaimed shooters like Aaron Chang, Jack English and Jeff Flindt got their start working under him. “A lot of people became icons because of Flame’s tutelage,” says Taras.
Flame was also known for his passion for film in the pre-digital era. “He had this secret formula,” says Taras. "He knew how to push film and the chemistry behind it.”
Flame was obsessed with achieving tack sharp focus. He searched the world for the perfect lenses and water housings. “He would go to any lengths,” says Taras. “He experimented with Crystal Dome ports instead of Plexiglas, just because the photos were going to reproduce just that tiny bit more clearly than the competition. He had to make sure that the stuff was the sharpest and the best in print.”