Dale Velzy: A Legend Moves On

posted by / News / May 27, 2005

Dale Velzy (1927 – 2005)

“Dale could out-drink, out-shoot, out-ride, out-sell and out-finesse all comers, and he made it all up as he went along.” –Surfers Journal, 1994

News of Dale Velzy’s death traveled very fast throughout the surf industry. How could it not? The man practically invented the industry. OK, maybe that’s going a bit far, but truly, Velzy’s impact on the sport and industry of surfing is one of those things impossible to quantify, like the roots of a tree stretching deep down into the soil. Dale was a hero and mentor to the heroes and mentors of most of our heroes and mentors, part of the original 1940s California crew who made their boards with their own hands and took to surfing with no one to show them how. For those of you entirely unfamiliar with Velzy, maybe it helps to imagine the character of “Bear” from the 1978 classic film Big Wednesday. Bear was modeled on Velzy. Surfing since 1936, Velzy began making balsa surfboards beneath the Hermosa Beach Pier around 1949, and a few years later opened what is regarded by many to be the world’s first surf shop: Velzy Surfboards in Manhattan Beach. Not long afterwards, he teamed up with partner Hap Jacobs, with whom he opened a half-dozen Velzy-Jacobs shops throughout California and Hawaii. Throughout the mid-‘50s, he was the undisputed king of surf retail, with a surf team that included Dewey Weber, Miki Dora, Donald Takayama, Mike Doyle and Mickey Munoz. Perhaps more importantly, he taught many of the board-building legends to follow – guys like Greg Noll, Mike Eaton, Bing Copeland, Johnny Rice and countless others – the craft of shaping and glassing surfboards. “I learned much about life and things in general by hanging around him,” {{{recalls}}} shaper Mike Eaton. “He was a major influence in my life.” Velzy lived large. He was famous for smoking big Cuban cigars and driving fancy cars. He bought a young filmmaker by the name of Bruce Brown his first camera and funded his first film, Slippery When Wet, and during the filming of that pioneering movie, they discovered a North Shore break which they named “Velzyland” in his honor. (Brown, of course, went on to make The Endless Summer.) Jacobs and Velzy eventually parted ways, and Velzy’s surf shops were in time shut down and replaced by the eventual inevitabilities that consume all things. He spent most of his time on his ranch in the outskirts of San Clemente, and those who didn’t know any better might have thought him a real cowboy from the old west, with his horses, his boots and plaids, his classic handlebar mustache. But Dale was a surfer at heart, and continued shaping custom boards throughout his life, often returning to the rudimentary tools of his past to create hand-shaped works of art and classic paddleboards whose owners were hesitant to even put in the water. His battle with cancer was long and well-fought, and his passing not entirely unexpected, but nevertheless, the shock felt by all who knew him will not soon be forgotten. “As the redwoods are to the California forest,” says shaper Johnny Rice, “Dale Velzy is to California surfing.” He is survived by his wife, Fran, and two children.

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