Always click on the LEGENDARY SURFERS icon to return to this homepage. LEGENDARY SURFERS
A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By  Malcolm Gault-Williams

This Chapter Updated:  1 October 2005
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Dale "The Hawk" Velzy

Surfer, Shaper, Cowboy

Dale Velzy surfing San Onofre
(image courtesy of Barry Jones)

Aloha and welcome to another chapter in the LEGENDARY SURFERS series. This chapter covers some of the highlights of Dale "The Hawk" Velzy's unsurpassed shaping and surfing career, as well as some of the important influences he has had on the sport, industry and other surfers.

Dale passed away at the end of May 2005, leaving a huge wave in the history of surfing that will never be ridden by another. If you would like to add your memories about Dale and his contributions, or just want to read about them, please go to the LEGENDARY SURFERS Blog at: Dale Velzy, R.I.P.


Contents


Velzy Boards

  • Malibu Chip, 1950
  • Hotcurl, 1953
  • Pig, 1955
  • Bump, 1956
  • Y-Not, 1956
  • Stepdeck, 1958
  • South Bay, 1959
  • 7-11, 1960
  • Bohemian Stinger, 1960
  • Wedge, 1962
  • Banjo, 1963
  • 102 Concave Nose, 1964
  • 422, 1965
  • Malibu Express, 1990

Dale Velzy, "The Hawk," was surfing's first commercial surfboard shaper. Before that, though, he built boards alongside the likes of legendaries Bob Simmons and Abel Gomes as well as peers like Joe Quigg and Matt Kivlin. Before that, starting out in the 1930s, the Hawk surfed with the best riders of the Manhattan, Hermosa and Palos Verdes Surf Clubs.

"People think the nickname Hawk is because of my nose," Velzy explained. "Actually the name is from when I was a little kid. When the October windstorms came to the beach they'd expose all of the coins people had lost over the summer. I used to be able to spot a quarter in the sand from about one hundred yards away. They used to call me Hawkeye cause I'd support myself by picking up all those coins."
 
 

Hawk's Beginnings

"I was born September 23, 1927 in Hermosa Beach," retold Velzy to surfing historian Craig Stecyk, "and I started surfing when I was just a little squirt. When I'd see a board wash in on the beach, I'd run down and stand on it until the older surfer would come up and kick me off. As I got a little stronger and older, I'd jump on 'em and try to push it out to them. That was fun and they got to liking me. The older Kerwins started giving me rides and then I got heavy into skimboards and bellyboards."

"When I was eight or nine, my dad decided it was time for a board and he whittled me one out of a couple of planks. It was really heavy and I had to drag it down to the surf. Every couple of months he'd reshape it into something better. Finally he got one there that really worked for me and I really got into surfing. My dad built dories and lifeguarded some, and I'd go with him when he was on duty all over the South Bay, Venice and Santa Monica. On those trips I got to see a lot of different stuff and meet people. Because my grandfather was a cabinet maker, we had a full set of wood tools... So when we'd travel to the different beaches, I'd find a new design one of the older guys was using, we'd go home and try to shape something like it. I got into building boards like that, shaping down old planks into smaller, lighter boards I could use."

"My father lifeguarded at Santa Monica Canyon a lot. It was there that I met Dave Rochlen and Jack Quigg around 1937. I always saw [Pete] Peterson around the pier because my dad said if you want to paddle down there on a lifeguard board, go on. So I got to know Pete pretty well when I was young. When Peterson and some of the guards there weren't working, they'd go to Malibu and sometimes I'd tag along. It was great there for a kid to be able to catch a wave and not get kamikazeed. Hermosa was straight-off Adolf, ya know? Bam crash. Manhattan had a little curl to it, but you really had to haul ass to do it. We were too little to make many waves, but when we did, we were stoked. Going to Malibu was a thrill."
 
 

Lifeguarding After the War

After World War II and a stint in the Merchant Marines, an older Velzy got into automobiles, along with his surfing. From money he'd saved while in the Merchant Marines, he bought a 1940 Mercury for $4,500. "That was a lot of money for then, you could buy a new house for eight thousand in those days... But to take a look at me, I never wore shoes or a shirt, I was cruising... Guys couldn't believe that car. Walt Hoffman would just shit when he'd see it. Bev Morgan had a clean Chevy and we'd go cruising. We had all the girls we wanted. We'd just toss the boards in there and roll off with the puss. Morgan and I would spend one day a week washing and cleaning our cars."

Velzy recalled a memorable time while he was a guard, involving Johnny Rice who would later go on to work under Velzy and take his own shaping skills north to Santa Cruz and become that town's first local commercial shaper. "I was guarding at Manhattan Beach when this lieutenant came by and told me to get my hair cut or else. It was sort of long and I kept it that way just to aggravate him. I looked down from the tower and I spotted Johnny Rice. I called him over and said, 'Hey Greek, you went to beauty college, come up here and give me a haircut.' Rice got his professional barber tools and he's cutting away on my hair while I'm on duty. Up comes these two hard-shoe cops and they order us to stop because it's against the law to cut hair in a public place. I told 'em, 'Bullshit, this guy is a licensed beautician and I'm in charge here because I am the lifeguard.' That really got 'em hot, but I had Johnny keep on cutting. Next thing they say that if he doesn't stop, they're going to arrest us. So I tell them, 'Fuck off, the Greek's almost done.' Rice was just finishing up when they took me off to jail. I thanked Johnny for the haircut and apologized to him for the cops being such assholes. That haircut was the best one I got all that year. The lieutenant never again asked me to get another haircut."
 
 

Shaping from Hermosa to Manhattan to Venice

Dale Velzy began shaping surfboards like most shapers of his era -- in the family garage. He started out -- in Hermosa Beach in 1949 -- repairing and then reshaping Simmons boards.

Joe Quigg, instrumental in the evolution of the Malibu Chip and other innovative board designs, drew a connection between Bob Simmons and Dale Velzy. "After the war Simmons had built those wide tailed helper boards which had allowed people to learn to surf more easily than the planks."

"Simmons made them light," Velzy said, "I made them turn."

Velzy started to gain real notoriety during his wild years as member and guiding light of the Manhattan Beach Surf Club. In and outside club headquarters under the Manhattan Beach pier, Velzy shaped unnumbered redwood/balsa combination boards. "We sorta worked wherever we wanted to in those days," Velzy recalled, "the town was ours." As a Manhattan Beach Surf Club member, Velzy was joined by the likes of Bing Copeland, Bobby Beathard from El Segundo, Bob Hogan and Velzy's glasser Bill Barr. Barr would later die at the hands of a gun. "He took six in the gut from a cop for boning his old lady," Velzy explained, adding "-- I warned him."

Bob Simmons, the Father of the Modern Surfboard, was a regular visitor, circa 1950-51.

"I'd tell Simmons," recalled Velzy, "'Come down to Manhattan, you'll learn something.' That'd piss him off. He'd come down and surf with us, but he really couldn't handle our shore break too well or do quick stuff like cuttin' around the pilings -- ya know, shootin' the pier, which is the way we rode there. He was more comfortable on the long, trimmed up, Malibu-type waves."

Identifying Simmons riding surf next to the Manhattan Beach pier in a personal photo in his sister's collection, Velzy recalled that "On this day, Simmons ended up catching a rail and getting hit with his board. I had to help him in. He sure didn't like being a loser. He was a great guy... but boy was he stubborn! He had answers for everything, but common sense, he didn't."

It was a time when out of three boards stacked up against a wall, one could be a Simmons concave twin, another could be a redwood hot curl, and the third could be an early Velzy with an overhang skeg. "I was doing overhanging fins," Velzy said. "-- I told Simmons that they belonged on the ass end, as far back as they could get. He didn't like that."

Eventually, club members started complaining about too many shavings in the clubhouse under the pier and Velzy moved his operation to Venice.
 
 

Catalina Paddleboard Races

Velzy shaped not only surfboards, but paddleboards, as well.

"Designing a paddleboard is something only a few people can do right," Dale Velzy has said. "The things have to work and if they don't it's apparent right away. You can't bullshit in the open unlimited class. Building for the Catalina race is an art form. To do good, you've got to factor in your length, the currents, the paddler's size and weight, the ocean surface conditions, the board weight, the fin profile, your bottom curves, your deck contours and the paddling style of your pilot. Shaping those 16 to 20 footers is a lot of work. The people who do it have a lot of respect for each other. They aren't too many pretenders or chicken shits in open ocean paddling, of course, sometimes it gets a little competitive.

"I remember at one of the San Clemente to San Onofre races there was a real good field. Ricky Grigg, Tom Zahn, Charlie Riemers and Mike Bright. Hobie was there with his cockpit board, and all were in top condition. I was standing with Tom Blake, a wonderful gentleman, at the starting line. Tom says to me, 'What a fine bunch of athletes.'

"I said, 'Yes they are.'

"Then Blake says, 'Tom's gonna win with his board.'

"Now Zahn had this beautiful new Quigg, and god, it was just tits. So I said back to Blake, 'I bet you five dollars he won't.' So Tom nods at me and it was a bet.

"While the race was underway we drove down to Church for the finish. Now Blake and I are standing on the beach waiting. Finally Tom sees a dot in the haze and he can tell the lead paddler is on his knees and he thinks it's Zahn. But I'm just biding my time cause I know that Bright can paddle either way and that his board is a king hell of a rocket. As it turned out, Bones got first followed by Hobie and Zahn. Blake smiled at me and winked and said, 'You got me.'"

"Velzy had built this full-on, twenty foot, hollow, muslin skinned, racing paddleboard for the Catalina race," recalled Bev Morgan. "He had installed a foot controlled tiller in the tail and had taken the board out to test. When he was coming in through the shore break, Dale slid backward. The tiller handle went right up his trunk leg and caught him full force in the crotch. It was a real mess, he stumbled ashore carrying his bloody testicle in his hand. The tiller had cut open his ball sack and it had unraveled just like a baseball. His nut was still connected to a four-foot string of flesh. When Velzy got to the hospital the doctor told him that he was in a bad way, and that the future prospects for his family jewels looked slim. Dale answered back, 'Shit Doc, I've still got one left.' I guess they fixed him okay, cause he's got two kids."
 
 

Early '50s Surfers & Shapers

In the early 1950s, Greg Noll was one of many who were to eventually study under Velzy. "When I was young," Noll recalled, "I'd walk in Velzy's footsteps. I was his elf, a little shop gremmie, following his every move. He could drink more, surf better, get laid by more girls and drive more bitchin' cars than any of us ever dreamed of. A lot of people have forgotten what an incredible surfer he was. Dale was right there at the top."

Around 1953, some new shapers hit the scene. "Hobie Alter was starting to make boards in Dana Point," retold Greg Noll. "Larry Gordon's and Floyd Smith's operation, Gordon and Smith, popped up in San Diego. Dewey Weber worked for Velzy before going out on his own. Other guys, including Rick Stoner, Bing Copeland, Mike Bright and Sonny Vardeman, also went into business, and the whole surfboard industry exploded. There were a lot of guys up and down the coast by then who were making their own boards in their backyards, but those that I've named are among those who actually set up shop."
 

.. Greg Noll

"Greg grew up in the food chain right there at the Manhattan Pier," Velzy testified. "First he was a little microscopic critter, then a sand crab, then a grunion, then a sea bass and he kept working his way up all the way to a big shark. He went from being the best little hotdogger to being the top big wave rider. Noll knows where he came from, deep down, he's still a stoked little shit playing in the shore break."
 

.. Bev Morgan

"Morgan," said Velzy, "came down from L.A. in this beautiful Chevy and said he wanted to learn how to surf. Bev paid attention to what everyone was doing and he'd surf all day long, every day. A year later he'd become a really good surfer. He was my first glasser... with the sun cure resin, on cloudy days we'd have to throw the boards in the back of my Model A shop truck and haul them up to P.V. where it was hotter to try to kick it off. It used to take three to four days to glass a board. Morgan got a job at the North American Aircraft in Gardena just to learn about fiberglass. He always was trying new things. When he wanted me to come in and do the wetsuit thing with him, I said no. I told him no surfer is ever going to wear one of those goddamn rubbers."
 
 

Velzy-Jacobs, 1953-59

Bev Morgan tried to talk Velzy into joining him in his plan to service the growing diving market, including the sale of rubber wetsuit kits. Dive 'n Surf was Morgan's brainchild, along with help from Bobby Meistrell and his brother. Velzy chose, instead, to open up a surf shop with Hap Jacobs. Greg Noll tells it this way:

"For years," Greg Noll wrote, "balsa-wood boards were the thing. In the early fifties, Velzy joined up with another surfer named Hap Jacobs to make boards under the label Velzy and Jacobs. I was fifteen and making my own boards."
 

.. The Venice Shop

The Venice shop "proved to be a great success," wrote Nat Young. "With all the knowledge he had gained from the experiments of Kivlin, Quigg and Simmons on fin shapes, tail shapes, bottom shapes and outlines, he was inundated with orders to the point where he couldn't keep up with them and still ride waves. So he offered a keen local surfer named Hap Jacobs the chance to learn to shape and become a partner in his thriving business."

It was in early 1953 that Velzy went into partnership with fellow Hermosa Beach surfer Harold "Hap" Jacobs, renting a little shop space up the street from the Hermosa Beach pier. There, they built custom boards under the Velzy-Jacobs label.

"I sort of tricked Velzy and Jacobs into going into business together," revealed Bev Morgan, "and neither of them ever knew it. I was tired of glassing, and I'd just started to make diving wetsuits. Eventually I opened Dive and Surf and the plan was to sell suits and have Hap also sell surfboards. The problem was that the glass itch from building the boards would get all over the wetsuits. Also the business was starting to go and I needed more room. So I started talking it up with Jacobs, 'Gee, Velzy has a bunch of orders, he can't possibly build them all.' And then I'd say to the Hawk, 'Boy, Jacobs is becoming a pretty good shaper, you should see all the balsa wood he's got stockpiled.' Pretty soon they somehow got it in their heads to become partners, and it worked out pretty well."
 

.. Mike Doyle's New Board

After a surfing accident causing a swollen testicle one of his first times out, a very young Mike Doyle went about to convince his mother that he needed not only to continue surfing, but a new board to do it with. "I knew I wasn't going to quit surfing," wrote Doyle in his autobiography Morning Glass. "I began pestering my mother for my own surfboard, arguing that if I'd had the right equipment in the first place, an accident like that never would have happened. I worked my mother every way that a kid knows how, trying to convince her how sorry she would be if I died and she never bought me the one thing I truly wanted. I can still hear her reply: 'Michael, it'll be just like everything else you get. You'll use it for a week, and then you'll never use it again.'

"My mother and I still get a laugh every now and then over those words. But I usually got what I wanted from my mother, and this time was no exception. The only problem now was that I didn't know anything at all about surfboards and had no idea what kind of board I should buy. So one day down at the pier, I asked one of the older surfers what I should get. 'Just go see Velzy and Jacobs,' he said. 'They'll fix you up.'

"Most surfers at that time were riding either hollow paddle boards (a wooden framework with a plywood shell), or solid redwood slabs, some of them twelve feet long and weighing more than a hundred and fifty pounds. The much lighter and much better balsa wood boards were just starting to appear. Dale Velzy and Hap Jacobs were making the only commercial balsa boards in California at that time... their shop [was] a little building in Venice, right under an oil derrick."

"The businessman in the partnership," continued Doyle, "was Jacobs, a soft-spoken man who had grown up around Hermosa Beach and had been a star basketball player at Redondo High. Velzy was the salesman. He had style, charisma, and a silver tongue. He wore a diamond ring on his little finger, always had a pocketful of cash, and always drove a brand-new car.

"Velzy was tending shop the day I walked in. Even though he had grown up on the beach... I thought he looked more like a cowboy than a surfer. He had a big cigar in his mouth, tattoos on his arms, and wore his hair slicked back...

"I explained to Velzy that I wanted to buy a new surfboard. He looked down at me, then asked, 'Where d'ya surf, kid?'

"'I haven't really surfed anywhere yet,' I said...

"Velzy just nodded. 'Don't worry about it. We'll make ya exactly whatcha need.' He looked me over for a minute, mentally calculating my height and weight. Then he drew up an order, took my deposit, and said, 'Be here first thing Friday morning.'

Later I learned how Velzy did business: Every Friday morning there would be thirty or forty custom-made surfboards waiting on the racks. But anybody who walked through the door with cash in hand could buy any board on the rack -- you just changed the name on the tag, handed Velzy the cash, and the board was yours. If you got there a little late, the board you ordered might already be sold.

"I was late picking up my first surfboard, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't the board I ordered. But I didn't know that then, and it wouldn't have mattered anyway. I handed Velzy my mother's $75, and Velzy handed me a board off the rack. 'Here, this one's perfect for ya, kid.'

"That first board was a 9' 6", and had sixty-four ants embedded into its surface coat of resin. It was what they called an 'island-style' board, with a small fin and a pointed nose. Actually, it would still be considered a fairly contemporary shape today, except that none of the boards in those days had any rocker (or curve) -- they were almost totally straight from nose to tail. You glued the balsa boards together, and they were only four inches thick to start with, so all the shaper could do was carve a small rocker."

Doyle, who would go on to become a world champion surfer, dinged his Velzy/Jacobs days later. "I had no idea how to fix it, so I called Velzy and asked him what to do. He said, 'No problem, kid. Stop by the shop, we'll sell you some fiberglass and resin, and you can patch it yourself.'

"... Later that summer, when the surf wasn't good, I started hanging around the Velzy and Jacobs shop in Venice. I became fascinated with the whole process of making surfboards, and I wanted to learn as much about it as I could. After a while Velzy got tired of seeing me standing around, so he handed me a broom and said, 'Here, you can see for yourself what a mess this place is. Why dont'cha clean it up!' So I started working there, sweeping the floor, running errands, and sanding boards. I didn't earn much, but I learned a lot. It was an apprenticeship that served me well over the years."
 

.. From Pigs to Bump Boards

In 1955, Velzy came out with his Pig board. "Velzy's 'pig board' really caught on," wrote Nat Young. "Every hot young surfer on the coast was soon riding one... Mickey Dora, Dewey Weber and Phil Edwards, to name but a few. These Velzy/Jacobs sticks were synonymous with the new 'hot dog' era. Turning by bending and pushing was now a breeze, walking the nose something every good surfer could do, and even the head dip and quasimodo were coming into vogue."

A year after, the Hawk came-up with the Bumps. "I started shaping Bumps in '56-57 as a takeoff on the Pig. I figured the curve caused drag. The minute I put the bump in they just snap turned! Yater wouldn't even shape 'em -- too ugly."

"I was surfing one day in the Summer of '56 at Ala Moana," recalled Donald Takayama, "and Velzy paddled up to me and said, 'Hey small kid, you surf pretty good.' Then he asks, 'Who shaped your board,' and I pointed to myself. Dale told me if I ever wanted a job to look him up. so I got all pumped up, this was Velzy, the guy who shaped all 'da guys boards, and I'm like wow, I betta save up. All summer I sold newspapers and put money aside and finally I got on the USOA plane with a one-way ticket and ten bucks in my pocket. I was this small, eleven-year-old kid with all this hair. They used to call me 'Birdsnest.'"

"Once at Ala Moana," continued Takayama, "Velzy was out riding a balsa surfboard and Peter Cole was riding a new foam board. On a six-foot set wave Peter dropped in, in front of him. Dale was a real hotdogger back then, he was really a good surfer, and he'd dropped in backside and found Cole in front of him. So he decided to do a reverse fin kickout. The Hawk's board went right through Peter Cole's rail and nearly cut the board in half. Peter stormed off real pissed, saying, 'Velzy fucked my board up.' Dale's only comment was, 'Nice glass job.'"

"Velzy has always been fast and he's got loads of style," Hap Jacobs said. "We had a great partnership and we never argued about anything. In our Venice shop most of the boards were made to order. Customers were always calling on the phone to see if their boards were done yet. Dale is the greatest salesman in the world. I think he's so good because he really likes people... so he's tell anybody that their board was ready and say for 'em to come on down. On Saturdays we'd end up with twenty-five people fighting over whose board was whose. Sometimes I'd wonder how Velzy was going to work it all out, but he did and everyone would go home happy. Boy, he loved to sell. Once he even sold my own personal board."

Recalling that board selling incident, Velzy said, "There was a hot guy from Hawaii who stopped by our shop on his way to the airport and he needed a board. He was a friend of mine and I really wanted him on one of our boards. He offered to pay $125 cash for one, and this was when we were getting $75 for 'em. So I looked around and there wasn't anything in the shop except for this bump board of Haps... The guy was real hot on it, so I let him have it.

"When Jacobs showed up for work I told him, 'Hey, I sold that old board of yours for $125.'

"Hap didn't say a word and he wouldn't talk to me all day. It was the most upset I'd ever seen him get.

"Finally he came up to me and said, 'Hawk that was the best board I ever had. How could you sell it?'" Dale replied, "What are friends for... I got a hundred and a quarter."
 

.. The San Clemente Shop

"Rennie Yater used to work for me in San Clemente," recalled Velzy. "He was the best, most consistent shaper I ever had. The trouble with him was that everything he'd make was for himself, ya know, real thin. I'd have to tell him, 'Rennie, this guy weighs 190, leave some meat in it, okay?'

"Yater was always fishing, but he never brought us any fish. Finally one day I said, 'Rennie you cheap bastard, when are you going to come across with something to eat? What's the deal here. I'm giving you a job and you're always out fishing.' A couple of days later, I woke up at dawn because of the most god awful racket outside my house. I got out of bed to see what was making this weird clicking sound. I opened my front door and the noise got louder, but it was too dark to see anything. Man I was curious as hell, so I decided to walk across my lawn to see if the sound was coming from down the street. All of a sudden I had the sharpest pain in my foot. I looked down and there was this goddamned lobster hanging off my toe. As I'm prying it off, I discover that my entire lawn is covered with little live lobsters, and they're all clacking away. Yater never said a word."

"In the San Clemente shop," recalled Yater, "there was a window where you could see into the showroom from where we were building boards. One day Al Nelson and I were buried up to our waists in wood shavings while we were shaping. There were so many orders that we didn't even have time to clean out the stalls. Al motioned towards the window and I looked up and there was Velzy waving his arms and selling away in the showroom. He never stopped going."

"The San Clemente shop was an odd deal," attested Doug "Spanky Aunger, "and you never knew what was going to happen next. Not only were the employees unique specimens, some of the customers were completely off of the charts. Once this grease ball from El Monte showed up in this candy apple red lead sled. He orders a board painted the same color as his car. Velzy has no problems with any of this because he never met a dollar that he didn't like. So we build the thing and the guy comes on down to pick it up. Everything's fine except that this auto jockey demands that we drill four holes through this brand new board. Some of the saner heads tried to explain to the guy that the holes would let the water into the wood core and destroy the board. The boys in the back room were becoming a little agitated, but the Hawk nods and the deed was done. The guy went outside and bolts the board to his racks and drives off happy as a clam. A couple of us still had questions, so Velzy was kind enough to explain, 'You see, this guy is never going near the ocean, he just wants the board permanently attached to his car so he's always ready to go cruising.' Dale thought it was a fine idea, he told us, 'That way it will not fly off on the freeway.' The Hawk, what a piece of work, I love the guy. Hell, I named my dog after him."

"I lived in the balsa loft for about a year-and-a-half in the late '50s," continued Spanky. The shop had a full assortment of unique individuals with some of them being so bent that they were really odd. Put it this way, a few of them were so strange that they couldn't ever fit in anywhere else, but the Hawk, he welcomed them all. He was heart."

"This woman came in with her son," remembered Takayama, "and she drove a new Cadillac and was wearing a full-length mink stole. She wanted to buy her son a used board. John Creed and a bunch of us were there watching Dale. The kid wanted an 8'8" board, but there weren't any used ones. In fact, every board in the shop was over 9'. So Velzy sneaks up on her, smooth like, and just embarrasses the shit out of her. Ya know, 'Honey the fur, the Caddy, the diamonds, your exquisite beauty and your fine son all match up, but the used board, hey that's all wrong. What kind of class is this?' So the lady says, O.K., how much is a new one, and Dale tells her 135 bucks. Now that was a high price for back then. And the kid's still insisting that he needs an 8'8", so the Hawk pulls down a board we all knew was 9'4", and starts measuring it with a yardstick. Dale slides it along doing the calculations out loud, 'Yep, it's a perfect 8 foot, 8 inches even.' The kid and the lady walked out with their new 8'8", which was actually a 9'4", and Velzy had all the money. He goes, 'That's how you sell a board.'"
 

.. The Sweeties

"Velzy is the most wonderful-hearted, generous person," recalled Mickey Muñoz. "Whenever he'd scam, it wasn't malicious, maybe he put a couple of people on the wrong boards, but not very many, and that could have been an honest mistake. He was really good to all us kids, and gave us jobs when we needed them and gave us money when we needed it, took us surfing and gave us surfboards. Dale was interested in a lot of different things; cars, leatherwork, horses, ping pong and archery. He used to take us all bow hunting in Malibu, he was one of the guru's of it. Velzy loved to party and loved the ladies. One of his famous axioms though was, 'I used to be into old horses and young women, now I'm into older women and younger horses."

Velzy was in his prime," recalled Donald Takayama, "with wining and dining all of his beautiful women. He was single then and really on top of his surfboard building. He had girls all over the place, he'd bring 'em in and show 'em off to everybody. 'What do you think of this one, small kid, nice, huh?' Then off he'd go and be back in a couple of days with another one. Velzy loves to enjoy himself."

"The sweeties were always there," admitted Velzy. "I used to ride them to the beach on my horse. Later they'd want to ride in a nice car. I love women, I'm still friends with my two ex-wives. I met Fran when I was riding to my friend's horseback wedding. I had some pints in my saddlebags for the party and I came up on her fast. She said, 'Whoa, where are you going in such a hurry?' So I told her and she came along, and we've been together ever since. Fran can ride, shoot and cook. Now that's a deal."

"You learned early on," said Spanky, "that when people showed up looking for the owner to fake it. My father came down one day to see how his son was making it, out on his own in the big world, and he asked to meet my boss. Right off I played it as 'the proprietor was on vacation.' So we're walking outside and there's Dale, big as life, lounging; all laid back on the rear of the 300SL with a bowling ball death grip on the butts of these two nubile eager fifteen-year-olds. They are all entwined, and my dad's pushing me about his identity, 'Who is this lech, son?' He never really bought the mystery stranger bit. The five years I spent at Velzy's were entertaining, eccentric, extreme and educational. When people ask about my schooling, I tell them I graduated magna cum laude from the University of the South Coast and that Dale Velzy was the dean."

Mickey Muñoz recalled learning the Velzy way -- by doing. "He wasn't prepared or maybe he really had something else to do. He handed me this surf movie and told me to go take it to this hall in Culver City to show it to a couple of kids. I drove up there from San Clemente and walked into the auditorium, and it's completely jam packed with 450 engineers and their sons, and I am supposed to be the entertainment. I'm pretty good one to one, but when the odds go to 400 to one, I start to get nervous. I fumbled through the intro and turned the movie on and melted into my seat where I mumbled a semi-narration."

"The Mongoose is a great salesman," Velzy said of Muñoz. "He can work with the surfers, parents or the kids. I used to send him to schools. Man, he really hated that."

Pat Curren told of another time, after Velzy's son was born and old enough to put on a board. "Velzy came into the factory and you could tell right away he was pissed off," recalled Curren. "He was fuming and mumbling, 'Goddamn it. I can't fucking believe it, my own son is a goofy foot... shit. I take him surfing for the first time and he stands up wrong...' So Dale starts talking to me. 'Ya know, I've never known a goofy foot that was worth a... Hey Curren, you're not a goofy foot are ya?"
 
 

The Taxman Taketh, 1959

"I'd hired a bookkeeper and paid her real good," said Velzy. "I told her you take care of the business end and I'll take care of making them and selling them. I had five shops and two factories going and I was selling 150 to 200 boards per week. The recession hit in 1959, and between buying out Hap and my divorce settlement, things were tight. People were telling me to cut back and I said fuck that, when it gets critical is the time to go forward. I was selling boards for $85 that cost me $75 in materials and overhead to make. I thought that I needed to sell more boards and that volume was the key to success. Then I started the 11/10 plan with Dial Finance. This was before plastic, and the idea of buying a board for eleven dollars down and ten dollars a months was beginning to take off. My creditors were all okay and things looked good until the fucking State came down on me for sales tax. Then the Feds hammered me which scared all of the creditors and that was it. They sold everything at auction including other people's consignment boards and repairs. Man the government didn't give a shit about anybody. Hell, I'd been paying 'em all along, but when the State started pressuring me it triggered a chain of events that couldn't be stopped."

"I came to work at the San Clemente shop one morning," recalled surfing stylist Henry Ford, "and it was padlocked shut. A legal notice was attached to the door and we were stunned, no one had a clue what was going on. The Hawk drove up in his Mercedes and says, 'Hey Fordy, what's the deal.' When I read to Dale, 'By the judges order, closed for non-payment of taxes' part on the notice, he was totally surprised. All Velzy could say was 'What taxes?' The guy was a real surfer. No one was a businessman back then. Things like business plans might as well have been from Mars. Our lives were about how much fun you could have. None of us were keeping score. You can imagine how much success the Hawk had in trying to explain that to the tax court."

"Dale had a bunch of higher paid people that weren't really pulling their weight and were sucking money out of the company," added Mickey Muñoz. "The bookkeeper would tell him that each board he sold was costing him money. Velzy would reach into his pocket and pull out a wad of hundred dollar bills because he'd have just sold six boards on a Saturday morning at the shop. He was smoking dollar Havanah cigars, wearing diamonds and driving a Gullwing Mercedes. The Hawk would tell her, 'What do you mean? I've got plenty of money right here.'

"Our business meetings were held at Joe Kiawes Restaurant in San Pedro. It was a very famous gathering spot for displaced Hawaiians, dock workers and other rough-tough guys who'd eat poi and pu-pus. We'd start out in Dale's personal Gullwing Mercedes and end up at Joe's having wonderful business meetings. Things were wide open and loose. We'd party a lot. Nobody was really in the system. When the IRS came down on Velzy, he was the biggest surfboard builder in the world. He went down big time."

"We knew Velzy had to be rich," Mike Doyle related in his book Morning Glass, "because he drove a Gullwing Mercedes and wore a big diamond ring. Anybody as slick as the Hawk had to be rich. One day late in the summer, some guys in three-piece suits showed up at his San Clemente shop. Henry Ford told me they were from the IRS. At the time I didn't even know what that meant, but I knew the padlock they placed on the shop door was big trouble."

"There was a point when my business problems could have been cleared up and I still thought I could work it out. I planned to go back to my Venice shop and rebuild. I still had loads of orders and I knew it was only a matter of time till the economy would right itself. But then I got a call from my landlord. He thanked me for my ten years of business and told me he was sorry that I was out of business. I said, 'Hold on here, what are you talking about?' He told me that my employee [Dewey Weber] had taken a lease out on my shop. Things at Venice had been strange for a while. I'd sent my sister there to watch over the place, but the numbers never added up right. Between some used boards being sold on the side and a few new boards which were being built off of my books and sold by the same couple of factory guys, I already knew Venice was out of balance. So I went up there to talk."

Velzy went on to give some details of one of the more bizarre betrayals in all of surfing's rich history. Not identifying him by name, Velzy told of his falling out with Dewey Weber:

"I always liked the guy," Velzy said, "and he was a great surfer. I was paying him $200 a week to manage the shop which was a lot of money at the time. I asked him to level with me and all I got was double talk. I ended up holding the chicken shit up to the ceiling by his neck and telling him, 'Look you little bastard, you didn't have to lie, if you'd been straight with me I could have made you a partner.' He was crying and lying as the other guys there broke it up. Shit, it's not what he did, but how he did it. I never spoke to him again, he didn't have the guts to apologize."

"When Dale fired the guy he was in tears," said Donald Takayama, also choosing not to mention Weber by name, "crying on the outside, but laughing on the inside -- he had a garage full of Velzy's blanks."

By the time the Velzy-Jacobs partnership abruptly ended in 1959, they were knocking out approximately 160 custom boards. They sold for between $75 and $80. In 1960, Velzy had three shops -- at Venice, San Clemente and San Diego -- cranking out boards and billing himself as "The World's Largest Manufacturer" of surfboards.
 
 

Bruce Brown

Before the IRS cleaned him out and he was living on the high horse, Velzy drove gull-winged Mercedes, was ostentatious in his wearing of gold jewelry and gave all the better surfers boards for self-promotion. He took a particular interest in surf films, which Bud Browne had been cranking out every year since he began in 1953.
 

.. Slippery When Wet, 1957

Around 1956 or earliest '57, wrote Nat Young, Velzy "took a keen young surfer-shutter-bug named Bruce Brown into a local camera store, peeled off a few thousand dollars, and bought Bruce all the equipment to shoot his first movie, Slippery When Wet [1957]. He even bought all the hot surfers tickets to go to the Islands to star in Bruce's movie."

One of Bruce Brown's most vivid memories of Velzy was when, "My wife and I had gone up to San Francisco," said Brown, "for a movie showing that Jack O'Neill had sponsored. Early one foggy morning, Pat and I went for a walk along the beach. It was really gray, cold and no one was around. The two of us were going across the sand and it was sort of nice and real quiet. In the distance through this heavy fog we saw two black dots and we were curious what they were. As we got closer, we could tell that they were two people, but not much else because of the fog. We thought it was odd that anybody was here because this place was so desolate. Finally the two figures emerge from the fog and it's Dale and Bunny Kahanamoku both wearing black tuxedos, hard shoes and smoking big Cuban cigars. Pat and I were completely surprised. 'Hey Hawk, what are you doing here?' Velzy never missed a step and kept right on walking. As he passed us he said, 'Working on a big deal kid.'"
 

.. General Veneer

Pacific Systems Homes, the manufacturer who had built the first redwood and balsa Swastika boards before WWII changed its name to General Veneer following the war. In addition to supplying veneer, General Veneer imported all the South American balsa. Competition for the Equadorian balsa was stiff.

"One day," recalled Gordon "Gordie" Duane, "a balsa shipment had just arrived at General Veneer and I was the first guy on it. I checked it out with the pencil test and the quality was good, so I picked out about 2,000 board feet. I was feeling pretty pumped up about my big score and in drives the Hawk. Without ever picking up a piece, Velzy tells the owner, Dick DeWitt, 'Fine load this shit, I'll take it all.' Dick says, 'Oh so you want that entire bale?' Dale grunts, 'Yeah, I need every piece you got. I've got orders.' And son of a bitch, the Hawk took every stick of balsa in the place. There wasn't any more wood in California for two-and-a-half months."

Velzy was surfing's first successful entrepreneur. "One day," recalled Bruce Brown, who started making surf movies in 1957, "Velzy came over and says, 'Brucie, you've got to loan me $2000 to buy this wood over at General Veneer. The balsa is just beautiful, really choice, the best I've seen in years.' He also lets me know that he's got some orders from some big shots and that he'll pay me back in a couple of days. So I gave him the cash figuring that since he started me out, it was the least I could do. Two weeks pass and there's no word from Dale. Then two months go by and still nothing. Anyhow a couple of years later it's Christmas and there's a knock at the door. I open it and there's the Hawk. He strolls past me carrying this giant hand-crafted table and talking a mile a minute. 'Bruce I've been thinking about you and Pat being over here alone and it being the Yuletide and all. I just thought I'd bring you this small token of my esteem. I made it special for you from a piece of the O.K. Corral. If you look at it sideways, you can see the buckshot gleaming in the light. Isn't it wonderful.' Velzy was really purring on about this table and how bitchin' it was. He never once mentioned the money he owed me, but Dale did let it drop in passing that such tables were known to sell in Hollywood to the moguls for a couple of grand. Since I didn't care about the money and it really was a nice table and all, I proposed a Christmas toast. Hawk downed it and was gone. He looked like Santa Claus making his rounds."
 
 

Down But Not Out

After his partnership with Jacobs ended and the IRS took him down to nearly nothing financially, Velzy kept shaping. Not all the work was glorious.

"One day Hobie tells me that he's got a bunch of orders for me to do if I want them. I like to work so I think, what the hell, and I go on over to their factory. Phil's in charge and he takes me over to where all the blanks are lined up and he explains the procedures to me, 'You get the order in the morning, you draw a plan shape on it and you have to finish every board you outline. The only rule is that you have a quota of four a day.' And I said, 'Fine, now which template is which model, and where do I work?' Edwards takes me over and gives me a spot to shape and shows me the templates and where the tools are kept. I said, 'O.K., I have my own tools, the only question remaining is how much do I get paid?' So Phil runs down all the models -- 'The Edwards model pays $35, and I do all of those. The Corky Super Mini and Joyce Hoffman models pay such and such, but our in-house guys shape those.' Finally I said, 'Great, now what's left for me.' He points to this pile of orders and mumbles, 'These boards are eight dollars.' 'Wait a minute,' I said, 'what do Ralph Parker and Terry Martin get for those same orders?' Phil says, 'Twelve.' So I went, 'Then why in the hell do you think I'd work for eight?' Phil says, 'Because you're just starting out.' I thought it over a bit, and then I told him, 'O.K. Edwards, if it's an eight dollar board you want, then it's an eight dollar board you'll get.' So I just dove in and did 'em, it was all no frills power shaping and I cranked out eleven a day. I made it through the winter that way, and one day I thought, 'Shit, there's got to be a better way.' So at 2 a.m. one morning, my buddy and I loaded up my truck and his station wagon with about thirty blanks. I took those over to my Surfboards by Dale shop in Newport. At my shop I was teaching a bunch of guys how to shape so I knew this would be a good experience for them. The students skinned them and helped outline them, and I'd fine shape and finish them off. The next morning at 2, I took them all back and grabbed a bunch more. After a month of this everything was fantastic. The students were stoked because they were progressing, Hobie was pumped because the orders were flying and my check was enormous. Some of the other shapers were a little ticked off because I was really pulling down the meat and they started to complain.

"Jim Gilloon, the factory manager, took me aside one day, and asked me, 'How do you get all these boards done, it's impossible for one man...' So I told him, 'I never sleep. Is there any problem with them?' Jim says, 'No.' So I said fine, give me more orders, I've got work to do. Shit we were cranking those fuckers out. The quality wasn't all that great, but they were only supposed to be $8.00 boards, and a lot of them were 9's. Hell, they weren't the best, but they were as good as Hobie's were anyhow. The other shapers were screaming that I stole all of the ammo. When they'd show up at work at 4:30 or 5:00, I'd be long gone. I had two guys sweeping, two guys skinning, two guys sanding and me finishing. I'd rented a giant dumpster and all of the shavings were in there so the guys at the Hobie factory couldn't figure it out. Every morning there'd be a pile of finished, shaped boards, and all of the latest orders would be gone. Gilloon was going crazy, 'Velzy, your checks are too big, something's not right.' So one day Hobie, Phil and Dovetail drove up to my shop. They got there and all the windows were blacked out, and there was a sign that said Pacific Coast School of Shaping on the door. They opened up the door and went nuts. 'What in the hell is going on.' Alter looked around and said, 'I want all these boards back tomorrow unfinished, and you are no longer working for me.' I went, all right, and the next day I was back at work in Hobie's shop and started shaping them down there. Phil says, 'I don't know if Hobie wants to keep you.' I said, 'Well, I'm finishing these up. I've already outlined them.' So I did those and grabbed some more for the next day and the next. Hobie came in and says, 'Hey, I've got to lay you off.' So I said O.K. and kept it up. Then I noticed that the orders came in and the blanks weren't glued. Man, now I really had it because I'd get the blanks and finish them before they were even in the system. I kept it going for a couple of months that way. Gilloon couldn't even figure out how I did it for a long time after they fired me. Finally he said, 'Look Hawk, I'm not going to give you any more checks.' Hobie pouted for a while, but finally he said I was the easiest guy to hire and the hardest guy to fire."
 
 

After the Shortboard Revolution

"Around '70," Craig Stecyk recalls, "during the design transition period, I worked at a factory in Santa Monica. The place was cranking out a half dozen different brands as well as a bunch of contract jobs. The accent was on building the cutting-edge stuff for the here and now. Wayne Miyata was the manager and there was a built-in critical audience of guys like Mike Perry, Jeff Ho, Wayne Inouye, Bob Moore, Riddle, Boyum, Boler, Skip Engblom, Glenn Kennedy, Bruce Grant, John Orlando, Robbie Dick and Gary Holley always floating around the area. There was no slack in the scene. The Hawk would appear unannounced at the factory and cover everybody's overflow orders. Velzy was doing all these different styles of boards and producing spot on cues. He was the cowboy sorcerer locked away in the middle of the night mowing miles of foam with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys going at maximum volume.

"One payday we were all sitting around doing the basic deal, ya know, a few beers with a crap game going in the back, and a couple of aspiring starlet-types auditioning for the surf team stars. A hotshot journalist from the leading surf mag was up paying a visit. Now this cat was a little trendy and more than a little impressed with his own shit. So the guy's walking down the rack checking out the finished boards doing the full-on connoisseur bullshit trip. Finally he picks this clean, little gun up and starts going on about what a progressive surfboard it is. When the guy found out that Dale had made it he was speechless. I guess he was surprised because at that time the Hawk was so underground no one knew he was still around. Anyhow he comes up to Velzy and asks, 'When did you start shaping short boards?' Dale eyed him curiously and flatly responded, 'Son, I've been doing it for years.'"
 
 

Velzy's Shaping

"Velzy is the master," declared Lance Carson. "He's way out in front of everyone else. Look at all of the top shapers he taught. It's not just his fine craftsmanship that separates him, it's his knowledge of hydrodynamics. People just don't get it, maybe his style is too different. A couple of years back Dale sent his first Malibu Express boards to this glass shop. With the shaped blanks he attached a detailed diagram and instructions on where to place the fin. When the guys at the glasser read it they said, 'No way, Velzy really messed up, he's got it backwards.' And being so smart they went ahead and glassed the fin on the nose. I don't think people will be able to appreciate Velzy until after he's gone. He's done too much for them to comprehend."

Joe Quigg credited Velzy with "turning California's kids -- his 'gremmies' he called them -- on to surfing in a big way."

"A couple of years later [after the Simmons Era] Dale started building all these little boards for kids and everything went crazy. Suddenly out of nowhere you had thousands of these kids out there running around. I think that's where the whole thing started with Velzy and his kids. You couldn't even sell a board in the sixties unless it looked like a Velzy board."

"What Velzy did," continued Quigg, "all along the Strand, from Hermosa to Manhattan and Redondo, was get all the little kids who wanted to surf onto his small boards. He got children 12 years and older out into the big breaks for the first time. These tiny kids were, well, tiny, so Velzy inadvertently made a lot of the first really small boards. But by doing so he really popularized the sport. He was really smart, Velzy. He was the first guy to sponsor surfers, the first guy to advertise in a big way, and the first guy to put surfboards -- and thus surfing -- within the reach of the average kid on the beach. Yeah, if you ask me, it was Velzy and his gremmies who started the whole mass surfing phenomena thing in California."

Was Velzy influenced a lot by Bob Simmons? "I think so," said Rennie Yater. "His boards were not like Simmons'. Velzy's boards used the natural rocker of the balsa wood, not scarfing on the nose so much like Simmons'. Hobie did quite a bit of the scarfing. He actually put bellies on the bottom to give more curve to the bottom. Then he could cut more into it. 'Scab Bottoms' we called'em. He also did some scarfing on the nose to get more kick into 'em.

"Most of Simmons' boards were used at Malibu and the Santa Monica Bay area. We rarely saw them down in San Onofre. The production line -- foam core, plywood deck, balsa wood rails -- we saw those boards occasionally... that was as far south as they went for years...

"Of course, Simmons' boards were hard to ride, cuz they were so extreme. I mean, he went into twin fins, concave bottoms, cuts in the rails..."

"Without Velzy," said Donald Takayama, "there wouldn't be a modern day longboard. Basically what the shortboard people are making with the wider tails and the abruptly pulled in noses are just a takeoff on Dale's bump boards."

"Velzy was a combiventor," declared Quigg, "he wouldn't go steal an idea like some guys would, Dale would evolve these crazy combinations. He tried lots of things. I remember one afternoon when I showed up and Velzy was worked up over this board he had just shaped. He really thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The board had a straight tail which was the complete opposite of what I was into. Later at Malibu he let me try this 'bump' thing and on my first wave it pivot turned off its outline point and just took right off. It really worked and it was really different. Look at the modern boards everybody's been making for the last ten years, they're just smaller versions of Velzy's pointed nose, wide tailed pig boards."
 
 

The School of Velzy

"We were all kamikaze pilots," said Henry Ford about the gremmies that grew to be legends, apprenticed under Velzy, "going on our last mission and Velzy ran the airport."

"Everything I am today I owe to Velzy," attested Donald Takayama. "He started me off in the surf industry and I never left. He gave me five bucks, a shirt and a board, and told me to go surfing and sell some boards for him. Dale made me the first professional. Yeah, it's all his fault."

"Of all the surfers I knew," said Velzy, "Mickey Dora was the greatest. He had fantastic balance like a high wire walker and a pure style. His side slipping, turning, stalling and noseriding were all beautiful. In the islands he rode the shit out of big waves, but he didn't care much about them. Dora was interesting to shape for because he had a concept about what he wanted... 'You see my friend, it needs to fit in the pocket...' That's how it was for him."

"Velzy was a cowboy," Dora simply stated.

At one time or another, Velzy hung out with Duke Kahanamoku, Henry Kaiser, movie producer Darryl F. Zanuck, Jackie Coogan, Marilyn Monroe, Peter Lawford, Arthur Lake, Anthony Quinn, Perry Como, David Niven and Gary Cooper. He was a working cowboy on the Eureka, Lachner and McNear ranches and is skilled in tool making, saddle making, blacksmithing, leather working and "cooking chuck." He has crafted boards for surfing greats like Duke Kahanamoku, George Downing, Rabbit Kekai, Chick Daniels, Joey Cabell, Mickey Dora, Blackout, Bobby Achoy, Harry Robello and Blue Makua, senior. "The standards and practices Velzy initiated have become the basis of the modern surfboard industry."

A partial list of former Velzy employees include: Kemp Aaberg, Robert August, Spanky Aunger, Larry Bailey, Bill Barr, Barney Briggs, Duke Brown, Del Cannon, David Cheyney, Bob Cooper, Bing Copeland, Pat Curren, Richard Deese, Mike Diffenderfer, Mickey Chapin Dora, Mike Doyle, Carl Eckstrom, Larry Felker, Bruce Gabrielson, Allan Gomes, Kimo Hollinger, Harold Iggy, Hap Jacobs, Bobby Jensen, Ed "Tweet Tweet" Johnson, Johnny Jones, George Kapu, Wayne Land, Brucy Meyers, Wayne Miyata, Bev Morgan, Mickey Muñoz, Al Nelson, Greg Noll, Raymond Patterson, Robert Patterson, Ronald Patterson, Mark "BK" Reynolds, Johnny Rice, Allan Seymour, Don Sockwell, Rick Stoner, Donald Takayama, Ken Tilton, Tubesteak Tracy, Butch Van Artsdalen, Dewey Weber and Reynolds Yater.

"The Hawk has been from the outhouse to the penthouse and back again," declared Greg Noll in his book DA BULL: Life Over the Edge. "Never, ever, despite all he's gone through has he changed. Life's hard, you've got to guard your ass to keep from getting screwed. There are so many whores around that people think it's okay. Velzy's not that way, he's maintained his integrity, he'll walk out before he'll sell out."

"All I've tried to do is to have fun and do whatever it was as good as I could," summed-up Velzy, who dwells with his wife "in a cowboy palace of a house in San Clemente surrounded by rods, cast iron stoves, Winchesters and redwood logs... When the spirit moves him, he'll produce a prime piece of the shaper's art. These exercises run the gamut ranging from a one piece hot curl rendered from a log to a 45 piece balsa redwood laminate with quadruple undulating curved stringers or sleek composition core racing paddleboards. These boards function as art and command the same sort of prices."

"Looking back," said Velzy, there's nothing I would do different except that I'd just do more of it. As far as my boards go, I figure they speak for themselves."


Sources Used In This Chapter:

Bev Morgan, Bing Copeland, Bruce Brown, Bud Browne, Craig Stecyk, DA BULL: Life Over the Edge, Dewey Weber, Donald Takayama, Greg Noll, Harold "Hap" Jacobs, Harold Iggy, Henry Ford, Hobie Alter, Joe Quigg, Kemp Aaberg, Lance Carson, Larry Gordon, Mickey Chapin Dora, Mickey Muñoz, Mike Diffenderfer, Mike Doyle, Morning Glass, Nat Young, Pat Curren, Phil Edwards, Reynolds Yater, Rick Stoner, Robert August, Ronald Patterson, The Surfer's Journal, Tubesteak Tracy, Wayne Miyata.


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