Larry “Flame” Moore never sleeps on the job. He shoots Salt Creek’s every mood before most of us hit the snooze button on our alarm clocks. He sends photographers and surfers to the right locations before even the swells know where they’ll end up. And he always reminds us of his Smithsonian-size archive of five-star unpublished photos begging to be printed.
So, when I caught our tireless photo editor dozing on publisher Peter Townend’s office couch on the afternoon of December 31, 2002, I should’ve known a baseball-size tumor had a grip on the right side of his brain. I also should’ve known it wasn’t just any old lump of tissue — it was a high-grade astrocytoma, the Mike Tyson of cancerous heavyweights notorious for its depressing cure rate.
The only thing was, this cancerous heavyweight had never met a challenger like Larry “Flame” Moore. If cancer is the King of Chaos with its never-ending mutations and regenerations, then Flame is the King of Order — no one knows the power of routine like our man behind the light table.
Just how powerful is his routine? When doctors surgically removed the tumor in early January, he was back at the Creek two days later, firing away.
Toward the end of the month, when the aggressive “Cyber Knife” treatments gave Flame a severe case of radiation poisoning, many of his closest friends feared their time with the living legend was limited. “That’s it — we’re sending him to the Mentawais this year,” resolved one. “There’s a seat on our Scorpion Bay plane with his name on it,” said another. But when Flame caught wind of these plans from his hospital bed, he politely shrugged them off and stuck to his mission statement. “Just make sure our photographers are on it for the next swell,” he said, with red-peppered mustache still in perfect trim. “It’s gonna be a good one.”
As the weeks wore on, Flame remained one counter-punch ahead of the King of Chaos. When his medication forbade him to drive, his good friends Pat O’Connell and Jeff Hurley chauffeured him to the beach on the sunny days while his longtime partner Scott Winer got him to the office early on the cloudy ones. And his brief spell of short-term memory loss? No problem — Flame came armed with a briefcase full of yellow sticky notes each day. Instead of letting the tumor rule his life, Flame simply made it part of his unwavering daily ritual, right alongside his 1 p.m. lunchbreak, his son Colin’s hockey practice and his search for the ultimate surf shot. More than six months since his initial diagnosis, he shows no signs of recurrence. In fact, the only evidence of his grueling battle with cancer is a little less hair and a horeshoe-shaped scar above his right ear.
When asked how he beat the odds, Flame said it never occurred to him that he had any odds to beat. But I think he knows there’s a more serious force at play. Namely, the same force that captured 43 cover shots over an unparalleled 30-year career; the same force that enabled him to conquer Cortes Bank after waiting more than a decade for the right day; the same force that found an Orange County secret spot in the summer of 2002. And the same force that scaled the steepest mountain of Tahiti material this magazine’s ever seen, which is now proudly displayed in this year’s Second Annual Golden Flame Awards feature (see page 70). Above all else, it’s a force that never sleeps — and likely never will. Which is why I have one standard response for the hundreds of people who ask me how our beloved photo editor is doing these days: “Flame?” I’ll say. “Are you kidding? He’s more fired up than ever.” — Evan Slater