Ira Opper is one of the biggest reasons sites like The Adrenalist exist. There’s a reason surfing and skateboarding have entered the general lexicon of 21st century culture, and inspired generations of extreme sports enthusiasts . The fact that there are even national fans to these old-school regional pastimes, is largely a result of the television production of Ira Opper, creator of Opper Sports Production Company.
Ira Opper hit the extreme sports scene in the early 60’s at the ripe age of 12- skateboarding on a piece of plywood attached to roller skate wheels. It wasn’t long before Ira became passionate for surfing and filming as well. Opper moved to Solana Beach, California, and helped start a regional sports network called “Box Seat” for A & G Productions back in the 1980s. Opper was drawn to the blossoming surf scene and stunning beaches in the So Cal town. Jerry Buss, the legendary owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, purchased Box Seat and moved the company to L.A., but Opper would not leave the beach that had won his heart. Opper made Solana Beach his permanent residence as he set out to make a mark in sports production, founding Frontline Video & Film. He ended up changing the way extreme sports were produced and legitimized them so others could witness the beauty of surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding and hosts of other “action sports.”
Opper spoke with the Del Mar Times about the early days of action sports programming and what ESPN and other executives thought about these sports floating on the periphery of popular culture. Opper said, “the networks, they used to call action sports trash sports. Corporate executives embraced pro sports, but they called us ‘trash producers.’”
They did until Opper used his company to show them there was a market for action, or extreme sports. The major extreme sports competitions wouldn’t be around if Opper hadn’t proved that it wasn’t “trash production,” but a highly-evolved form of filming the hair-raising exploits of these new, more dangerous contests. That’s why snowboarding, skateboarding, BMX biking and other sports outside the margins of professional athletics got such a boost from TV coverage; it was all thanks to Opper.
Over his career, Opper - through his production company - has received seven Emmy awards for directing and producing both television shows and films. Some of his action sports documentaries you might already know, such as Ultimate Sessions, Super Slide: Beyond the Glide, and Wingnuts Search for Soul. Additionally, he produced ground-breaking television shows like Surfer TV and Powder TV in the early 1990s and Fins, which won him an Emmy. His transcendent and legendary videography of surfing and other action events in documentaries and on television has cast such an imposing presence on the industry that as early as 2003, Glide Magazine called him “Ken Burns with an attitude.”
It’s said that Ira Opper has the largest cache of surfing footage in the world after traveling everywhere in the early days to snap footage religiously. Without his passion and excellence for extreme sports, a lot of people might never have discovered surfing and the other extreme sports you can now catch regularly on television and in movies. Ira Opper may not be a household name, but his life work has earned a place in history and made a monumental impact on the world of sports today.
Cover Photo Credit: Luis Claudio / Flickr.com