“One of Joe’s goals was to surf a hundred sessions a year,” says Joe McGovern’s brother, Don. “He would surf on cold, winter, knee-high days or onshore slop. He surfed in anything that would move his board!” That was one side of McGovern’s commitment to surfing; the other side was from behind the lens.
For decades, McGovern set the standard for surf photography in not only his hometown of Narragansett, Rhode Island, but in the East Coast surfing community as a whole. Since he began shooting surfing not long after he and Don rode their first waves in 1963, on rented pop-outs from the Hobie shop in Narragansett Town Beach, McGovern inspired countless young East Coast lens-men and -women.
McGovern became one of the early pioneers of the New England surf scene alongside fellow East Coast Surfing Hall of Famers Sid Abruzzi (Class of 2016) and Peter Pan (Class of 1996). When the Shortboard Revolution hit in the late 60s, McGovern was ready to make the transition — and more stoked than ever! He traveled to Puerto Rico and the North Shore of Oahu to chase more waves. It was on Oahu that McGovern first got serious about taking photos and film. He returned home to Narragansett, where he started a career as a library administrator, but he never stopped shooting photos.
In the photography career that followed, Joe contributed surfing images to The Boston Globe, Sports Illustrated and virtually every American surf publication. He also served as the senior photographer for the State of Rhode Island and was the official surfing photographer for the Narragansett Times. But, perhaps most importantly to McGovern, he was an integral part of the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame, volunteering his time, photos, historian’s eye, and pure stoke each year since the ECSHOF’s inception in 1996.
Sadly, McGovern passed away unexpectedly in 2015, while surfing at Paradise Beach, Florida. The following year he was inducted into his beloved East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame.
Photos by Steve Fitzpatrick, Larry Pope, and courtesy of the McGovern family