A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By Malcolm Gault-Williams
This Chapter Updated: 19 August 2007
(Image of Dewey Weber courtesy of LeRoy Grannis)
Aloha! And welcome to this chapter of LEGENDARY SURFERS.
Dewey Weber is a name synonymous with longboard surfing in the 1960s. Yet, he -- like many of his generation -- had his beginnings in the late 1940s and the decade of the 1950s. This chapter traces Dewey's beginnings and his demise.
Enjoy, spread the stoke, and -- if you have the time -- let me know how I'm doing.
Dewey Weber was born David Earl Weber on August 18, 1938 in Denver, Colorado. He went on to become one of the greats in surfing in the 1950s and a great in the surfboard manufacturing world in the 1960s. His stardom, however, began at an early age. When Dewey was 8 years-old, his mother took him to an audition where he won a part as "Buster Brown," the fantasy boy who lived in a shoe with his dog Tide. Dewey did in-store promotions as Buster Brown and by the age of 14 was a three-time National Duncan Yo-Yo Champion, appearing on the national television show "You Bet Your Life," hosted by Groucho Marx. In high school, he was a three-time CIF westling champion and an All-State performer at El Camino College.
The only child of a German working class family, Dewey was exposed to water at an early age through his babysitter. His father, Earl, was a truck driver and his mother, Gladys, worked at Denver's Nabisco cracker factory. At age 3, he had a babysitter who was also a lifeguard at a nearby municipal pool.
memories," Dewey recalled once, "are of being at the pool almost all of
the summer. By the time I was four, I could swim twice the length
of the pool underwater. It came very natural to me for some reason."
Whether it helped or not, Dewey had two webbed toes on each foot, a family
trait passed on to every other generation on his mother's side.
Manahattan Beach Surf Club, 1943-1948
The Webers relocated to Manhattan Beach during the war, in 1943. Dewey immediately adapted to the new surroundings:
"I spent my summers playing in the surf in the morning. The neighbor ladies had this little clique and every day they'd go down and fish off the pier. So, in the afternoon, I'd fish off the pier with my mom."
It was while he was up top, on the pier, that he began to notice what was going on in the surf off the beach. In 1946, surfers at Manhattan Beach amounted to the Manhattan Beach Surf Club whose members included Bev Morgan, Dale Velzy, Bob Hogan, George Kapu, Larry Felker, Jack Wise and Barney Biggs. The Father of the Modern Surfboard, Bob Simmons would occasionally drive down from Santa Monica to surf the pier and play ping pong with some of the guys. "I'd sit with my feet hanging over the end of the pier and watch them for hours," Dewey told one biographer.
Watching from above, Dewey watched Velzy, Hogan and the rest of the surf club work with drawknives on redwood and redwood/balsa boards underneath the pier. "The reason they were a formal club," Dewey recalled, "was so they could get the city to give them permission to build a clubhouse under the pier's bathhouse, among the pilings." They pulled it off and, at one point, the knotty pine clubhouse was about 40 feet long and 15 feet wide. It had a main room and a smaller room where the board lockers and shower were located.
Dewey was first noticed by Barney Biggs in the Summer of 1947. Dewey was nine and still up on the pier. Biggs called him down and asked him if he wanted to surf. "I'll never forget it," Dewey later recalled. "He gave me this old board. The thing was about 11 feet long and weighed about 110 pounds. It had a deep vee, hot curl-style tail and was made of solid pine and redwood."
the board to the water was an accomplishment, itself, for a 9 year-old.
Paddling out through the white water was even worse. "I thought,"
Dewey remembered, "'I'm never going to do this.' And I almost never
did. It took me two years before I ever rode a wave."
Thanks to the ground breaking efforts of Bob Simmons and then Joe Quigg in lightening surfboard weight, the balsa board era started to kick in at the very beginning of the 1950s. It was at this point that Dewey's dad realized his son was serious about surfing and agreed to loan him the money to get a board of his own. Dewey bought a used board from Bev Morgan for $35. It was a board Morgan, himself, had built, patterned after a Simmons prototype of the day. It had a big, round spoon nose to release water and discourage pearling. The tail was wide and concave, with two small skegs on each side. At 8 feet long, "Bev didn't like it," Dewey said, "because it was too short."
day I surfed Malibu I was 11 years old," recalled Dewey Weber to Dewey
Shurman. "Billy Meng, a very
historical guy in surfing who has gotten very little publicity, loaded
me up in his '34 Ford pickup and took me to Malibu. We surfed, and
then he got me a poor boy sandwich and said, 'You call this a poor boy.'
And he handed me a bottle of Coors and said, 'That's a surfer's beer, and
you may have half that beer.' And, Christ, that really lit my life
South Bay Surf Clubs
"We had a really good group of surfers back then in the South Bay," Dewey said with some pride. "We were the gremmies and we eventually started our own clubs to get away from all the old men, because they used to terrorize us. A lot of those older guys were really radical. It got to the point that they were beating up Greg Noll every day. He was just a skinny kid then."
Bing Copeland, who was another gremmie who would go on to make a name for himself as a surfboard manufacturer, remembers their treatment somewhat differently. "They pushed us around a lot," Bing conceded, "but they didn't beat us up."
Greg Noll, another gremmie of the time, also does not mention any beatings. In his case, particularly, it was sometimes the case of "the mascot terrorizing the master." Bing went on to tell about Noll coming to the beach with a little electric motor that made an annoying noise. As bait boy at the pier, Greg would arrive around daybreak to find some of the members of the Manhattan Beach Surf Club sprawled on the beach, passed out from partying the night before. Noll would sneak up on them and hold the buzzing motor close to their ears.
"They'd chase him around," Bing went on, "rub his head in the sand, that kind of stuff. But they were radical. They were the first to grow long hair and not wear shoes..."
Unlike groups like the Palos Verdes Surf Club, the Manhattan Beach crew had no club jacket. Instead, they had the leather thong.
"The guys that belonged to it," Dewey said of the Manhattan Beach Surf Club, "wore a leather thong around their left ankle, tied with a square knot. Anybody caught wearing a leather band around their ankle who was not in the club, got it. And I mean got it. This one kid had tried to join the club, but they wouldn't let him in. They caught him wearing a thong on his ankle. They stripped him down naked and tied him to a stop sign on a Sunday afternoon."
By the time
Dale Velzy opened his surfboard shop on Ocean Avenue and Manhattan Beach
Boulevard in 1953, a number of younger South Bay clubs had formed.
Two of them were:
• 17th Street Gang -- the "Hermosa Beach Seals" included Sonny Vardeman, Mike Bright, Steve Voorhees, Chip Post, Jeff White and Jim Lindsay [Greg Noll and Bing Copeland had made it into the Manhattan Beach Surf Club].
• 1st Street Gang -- included Dewey, Bibby Gibson, Richard Deese, Barry and Gary Stever, Wayne Coker, Roy Bream and Lum Edwards.
of South Bay's Hotdog Years. A parking lot now sits where LuLu's
White Stop Cafe once stood. Located a half-block down from the Velzy
shop, Dale and others used to hang out there, eat bear claws, drink coffee,
talk surf. Across the street was Oscar's Fish & Tackle Shop,
leveled years ago to make way for another parking lot. Long gone
are the old Manhattan Beach pier, bathhouse and the surfer's clubhouse.
"The only thing that's there," Bing said in an interview in 1982, "is the
fire hydrant that sits in front of where Velzy's shop was. I remember
sitting out there and tapping out a ring from a silver dollar. I
still have it."
Early Surf, circa 1953
Dale Velzy, a fine surfer in his own right, had both an eye for talent and a flair for salesmanship. The first board shaper to both advertise and sponsor surfers by providing them surfboards, Velzy noticed Dewey Weber and brought him into the fold early on. His first board for Dewey was a candy-apple red board to match the surf trunks Dewey's mother had made for him. While red would go on to become Dewey's trademark color, the Velzy board took his surfing to a higher level.
Around the age of 15, Weber benefitted by the mobility of some of the older surfers around him. Dewey's earliest memory of a riding the nose was on a trip to Palos Verdes Cove with Billy Meng.
"It was a really good surf day -- about six or seven feet," Dewey remembered. "The offshore wind was blowing hard and the waves were difficult to catch. When you'd paddle in and get to your feet, you had to be way up forward to drop in. I'd get up on the nose to drop in and make the thing get going. It was super exciting to me, because it was a whole new thing -- to see how long you could stay there without pearling."
With Meng in his canary yellow Model-T truck, Dewey branched out to surf spots like San Onofre, Trestles and Malibu. In the process, other surfers noticed him. While his contemporaries included Miki Dora (4 years his senior), Dewey remembered mostly the talk about Phil Edwards (one year his junior), down in Oceanside.
"We were aware of each other," he said in an interview in 1982. "People kept telling me to watch out for this guy down south. 'He wears Levi's and ties them with a rope around his waist,' they'd say. 'They call him the Guayule Kid after this place he surfs in Carlsbad.' And they'd tell him to watch out for this guy Dewey. 'He's this real short guy with blond hair and he's real husky.'"
Weber and Phil Edwards met one day, at Trestles, while Weber was on another
surf surfari with Ming. There was what Dewey referred to as a crowd,
that day -- four or five guys out. One of them was Edwards and Dewey
remembers they spent the day trying to top each other in moves. Edwards,
interviewed in 1982, didn't recall the session.
High School Rule, 1954-56
In 1954, when Dewey was a sophomore in high school, he got his first car -- a 1940 Ford sedan. Mobility at his own command broadened his surfing canvas:
"I used to ditch school and run off to Malibu in May and June," Dewey remebered. "There'd be perfect six-foot swells and beautiful weather. I'd have to roust Tubesteak out of his shack so I'd have someone to surf with."
"Everybody from up and down the coast would come there: the legends. The kahunas. The heroes," remembered Tubesteak, who became one of Dewey's lifelong friends. "They'd get out of their cars, step to the curb, and walk down to the beach. But they'd have their noses up in the air. Like, 'Here I am, the boy wonder from Swami's.' 'Here I am, the boy wonder from Trestles.'" Not so with Dewey. "He would always stop and talk with us -- if only to find out what the latest rumors were. He took the time."
In his high school years, Dewey ruled the roost at Mira Costa High. "We had a group at school that was mostly surfers and we ran the place," Dewey recalled. "The other group was the lowriders. Both groups were very close. They rode their motorcycles and hopped up their cars and we surfed. We came together against all the football players. It worked out great."
Like the lowriders, the Mira Costa High surfers had their own dress code: white J.C. Penney t-shirts, v-neck sweaters, white belts and black corduroy pants, angora socks and black and white buck shoes. Remember, this was the mid '50s.
surfers, Dewey went in for a number of extra-curricular school activities
including wrestling and springboard diving. Freshman year, he had
even tried his hand at quarterbacking. "I was really good at it,"
Dewey said of his handling of the football. "I just couldn't see
over the line." At 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 130 pounds, Dewey did
better with wrestling and received a varsity letter in the sport his freshman
year. "It was classic," he described. "I had this letterman
sweater down to my knees and a varsity letter, while a lot of these big
football players had taken four years to letter. I took a lot of
heat over that one."
Dewey Weber graduated from Mira Costa High in 1956. That summer, he started wowing people onshore with his showmanship. He was riding a Velzy 7'4" at the time. Dewey's main focus, though, was getting to Hawai`i. He worked as a lifeguard at Hermosa's old Biltmore Hotel, saving his money for his first trip to the Islands. "Mike Bright had come back and told us about this place called Makaha," Dewey recalled. "So, we went. There were 14 of us living in a two-room Quonset hut at the south end of the bay near Klausmeyers. Boy, I tell ya, that was a blast. We had one car for 14 guys and one ice box -- with little sections taped off inside for each guy. Buzzy Trent and Buffalo Keaulana took me under their wing, adopted me, more or less, and taught me how to spear fish and how to free dive. I'd dive every day, bring in a stringer of fish and trade those guys fish for eggs, butterscotch pudding, my share of the gasoline, my share of the rent." With Dewey that year were Gibby Gibson, Richard Deese, Gene Sedillo, Buddy Dobbs, Lum Edwards, Steve Smith and Bummy Kennedy.
"For Hawaii," Dewey told an interviewer, "I brought a really hot, light-weight, single bottom, double deck-glassed balsa wood board. It weighed about 20 pounds. It was real wide and had a big, deep fin. It was one of the best boards I ever owned. The thing just ripped and Makaha was the perfect wave for it."
But Weber's "flashy botdogging" style was the direct opposite of the style then ruling at Makaha. "You were supposed to stand erect and as still as possible," Dewey recalled. "It was considered dynamic." Dewey described how he would maneuver around Makaha surfers like they were slalom gates -- dropping deep in the trough in front of them, cutting behind them and kicking out over the top. He later summarized his approach in an interview with an East Coast journalist by saying: "It's a great thrill to toy with nature. To do things out on the waves you know you shouldn't do."
Predictably, Dewey Weber ruffled the feathers of more than one Hawaiian local. If it hadn't been for the protection of Buffalo Keaulana and Buzzy Trent, he would have been pounded on more than once.
But, Dewey's surfing style was being noticed in favorable ways, too. "People stood on the beach and pointed," he recalled. "You could see them pointing at you."
Dewey's first visit to the Islands is somewhat chronicled in Bud Browne's 1957 release, The Big Surf. From the film, a classic shot of Dewey surfing Makaha later became the symbol of the United States Surfing Association (USSA).
Next year, around the time Greg Noll, Mike Stange, Mickey Muñoz, Bing Copeland, Pat Curren, Del Cannon, Bob Bermell and Fred van Dyke broke open Waimea, on November 7, 1957, Dewey began branching over to the North Shore, also. "I remember pulling up to Laniakea. You'd look out there and see these nice little curving lines and it looked great. Everything was so clear and colorful and bright, you'd lose your judgement as far as distance was concerned. You didn't see until you started to get out there that it was a solid 20-foot plus. We did the best we could with the equipment we had. When we got home, we started building guns."
One memorable day in 1958, "The North Shore was blown out," Dewey recalled. "But then it cleaned up a bit so I went out at Sunset myself. It was 20-foot. I was doing head dips in 20-foot waves, climbing and dropping, cutting back and stuff. By this time, I'd designed a board on which I could do -- on a big wave -- darn near everything I could do on a small wave. I got out, after nearly drowning, and we drove over to Makaha and I paddled out. It was a solid 20-feet. Everyone knew I could rip small waves, but that winter proved that I could rip big waves. Gordie's got some film of me coming into where the bowl peels over -- two-thirds of the way to the bottom -- then driving up through the top and kicking out; going left into the curl on a 20-foot wave and turning right. For me, it's something I'll always remember."
this was the highlight of his life as a performance surfer in big waves.
"(Then) I went into business and it pretty much ended that whole thing,"
The Velzy/Weber Fallout, 1960
When Dewey was 22 and returned to the Mainland, in 1960, he lifeguarded for a little bit and can be distinctly remembered as perched up on tower wearing a Mexican sombrero, surrounded by kids. His 15-minute breaks would stretch into an hour as he demonstrated for the gremmies the finer points of his surfing style.
He also went back to work for Velzy. By this time -- with surf shops in Venice, San Clemente and San Diego -- Dale Velzy was known as "the world's largest manufactuer" of surfboards. His former partner, Hap Jacobs, had left to start shaping and manufacturing on his own. It was a time of revolutionary change in the surfboard manufacturing world. Polyurethane foam had finally been developed to the point where it was the preferred material over the rarer-to-score balsa.
During Olympic wrestling trials, Dewey dislocated his elbow and, subsequently, he lost his interest in that sport. Meanwhile, things were taking a turn for the worse at the Velzy shop:
"I'd hired a bookkeeper and paid her real good," Velzy began the story. "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 month 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 Havana 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."
This is where Dewey Weber came into the picture. "I didn't especially want to lifeguard," he explained. "I wanted to go to the Islands, so I built a couple of boards for myself. Some friends came by and asked me to build them boards. After I'd built about 15 in my dad's garage, he was having a fit."
Dewey convinced his father to loan him the $1,500 to lease the Velzy shop in Venice. "My whole plan was to build surfboards in the summertime, go to Hawaii until January, then to Mammoth and ski until May, then build surfboards all summer -- like I'd been doing for four years. But it didn't work out that way. I opened the door and boom! I had 30 orders."
Caught with the short end of the stick and not only the building going to Weber, but his blanks and tools, as well, Velzy has a different perspective than Weber. "There was a point when my business problems could have been cleared up," Velzy said, "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 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. I always liked the guy [Weber] 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 [Weber] he was in tears," said Donald Takayama, "crying on the outside, but laughing on the inside -- he had a garage full of Velzy's blanks."
Controversy continues to this day concerning this dark moment in surfing history. "There are lots of stories," said Tak Kawahara about how Dewey ended-up with Velzy's shop at 4821 Pacific Avenue, along with his tools and blanks. "It depends on who you talk to." Kawahara later joined Dewey as a shaper.
A good number of the surfers who were around at the time still refuse to go on record about the whole deal. Those that speak about it usually leave Dewey's name out of it, although they point to him as the culprit. While some say Dewey stole materials from Velzy to start his business, others say Velzy owed Dewey a large sum in commissions and Dewey took the blanks as payment.
"They were both very aggressive businessmen," summed-up Sonny Vardeman. "Let's just say they both went their separate ways."
"Dewey would never discuss it," his former wife Caroline said. "Dewey never had a bad word to say about Dale, other than he couldn't handle his money. He died without saying anything about the situation, and it's really a shame they couldn't reconcile before Dewey's death."
never spoke to Weber again. And even after Weber's death, Velzy spoke
bitterly about the start-up of Weber Surfboards. "I treated him like
a son," Velzy told Jeff Duclos. "I made him boards. Made him
manager of my shop. I gave him the world. Then, the next thing
you know, he's stabbing me in the back."
As polyurethane foam and fiberglass made surfing more accessible to larger numbers of beach and ocean lovers, Dewey Weber found himself at the right place at the right time. Surfing had gained such a popularity that, at the start of the 1960s, Hollywood was promoting it -- albiet in its own way.
Having studied under Velzy, Dewey knew the value of promotion. "When I started surfing in San Diego in 1960," recalled Jeff Duclos, "all of the guys rode boards by Gordon & Smith, except for one. He rode a pintail Weber pig board, which he'd bought out of the back of a panel truck parked on the bluff overlooking Crystal Pier, a short block from the G&S shop. We all envied him."
The van and its placement were no accident or chance occurance. Mike Hynson and Skip Frye periodically drove up to Dewey's place to party and shape a few boards. The boards were then loaded into a turquoise panel truck. Mike, Skip and Dewey and Caroline Weber would then head back down to San Diego to surf and sell their boards.
As time went on, business just got bigger. With large numbers of American kids wanting to surf, surfboard manufacturers found themselves having difficulty keeping up. It took an average of 6-to-8 weeks to deliver a finished board. While a lot of other shop owners were reluctant to make the necessary investments to increase production to meet demand, Dewey was not. After he brought Harold Iggy in to handle the shaping side of the business, he went on to hire others for production and sales in order to expand the business.
"Dewey was an aggressive businessman," repeated Sonny Vardeman, an early dealer for Weber Surfboards. "That was his surfing style, and that's the way he ran his business. He wouldn't just think about something, he'd do it. He was very energetic, but he wasn't hyper. He had his energy directed. He did things with flair, but he had an objective."
He bought special milling and profile machines developed by Harold Walker to streamline the manufacturing end. "By the time we got a blank," Tak Kawahara recalled, "it was milled and cut to shape, with the sides squared off. We'd [just] finish it and turn the rails."
"Dewey didn't come up with the idea of milling blanks," Kawahara clarified. "But he applied it and he advertised it. He had foresight. Surfboards were considered a piece of fine craftsmanship. Like fine furniture. Mention machinery and it wasn't considered soulful. It was like Bob Dylan walking on stage with an electric guitar [for the first time]. You've got to give him credit for thinking of the repercussions and using advertising to make it a positive."
"He was a go-getter. He got the market going," agreed Harold Walker, one of the first to have experimented with polyurethane foam before it became popular. "I had this van and every morning at 6 a.m. we loaded it up and off it went to Dewey's -- 60 blanks. We were running 24 hours a day then, with 25 to 30 guys working."
from the Velzy book, Dewey set himself up with Dial Finance to sell boards
on credit. By the end of 1962, over 25,000 surfboards were sold in
the United States. A good portion of them were Surfboards By Dewey
Weber. Following another Velzy-invented practice, Dewey began
recruiting riders for his surfboard line. Standouts included Donald
Takayama, who also shaped for him for a time; David Nuuhiwa; Ricky Young;
Jackie Baxter; Joey Hamasaki; Rell Sunn; JoJo Perrin; Bob Purvey; Randy
Rarick; Gary Propper; Mike Tabeling and Nat Young.
Many stories are told about Dewey Weber. In a foreshadowing of continued excessive alcohol use throughout his life, there is the image of Dewey greeting Gibby Gibson upon Gibby's return from the army in the early 1960s: "Let's go get a pitcher!" were his first words to his friend.
is the story told by Linda Benson of the time she and Dewey were surfing
Trestles in 1961. It's her favorite memory
of Dewey. The waves were six feet and perfect. Dewey wore his
trademark red trunks, riding a red board and ripping. The Marines
were on the beach firing their guns in the air to clear the break.
Dewey and Linda stayed out long enough to catch a few more classic waves
on a classic day, then were escorted off government property by the Marines
equipped with a tank.
The Weber Performer
got so successful at advertising his product that, at one point, his advertisements
were almost as eagerly awaited as his latest board design. During
the early days of the Weber Performer model, 15-year-old Bill Handler saw
one of Dewey's early ads and thought it was terrible. He had his
mother drive him to the shop and then went about telling Dewey that he
could do much better. Dewey's response was: "Let's see what you can
do," recalled Handler. "He liked what he saw and we sat down and
began working on an ad for The Performer. We tried to be entertaining
and to come up with something clever. I hated the hard-sell of the
day. Every ad was a guy riding a wave. So, the first ad I did
was a chess board. In the middle of the chess board was a Weber sticker.
The copy line was 'It's your move.'" The Performer ad campaign would
go on to become one of the most ambitious surfboard sales campaigns of
East Coast Barnstormers, mid-'60s
By the mid-1960s, Dewey Weber Surfboards had surf teams as far away as Oregon, Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, Virginia Beach, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Maine. While most manufacturers would merely visit their dealerships, Dewey would descend upon his sales regions with teams of riders, surfing exhibitions, and surf films.
The 1965 Weber tour of the East Coast set a standard for surfing promotions. The tour started at the first artificial wave pool called "Big Surf," in Tempe, Arizona. From there, it swung down and along the Gulf Coast through Texas and Florida and on up the eastern seaboard. Following the van filled with team members and Dewey and Caroline was surf filmmaker Jamie Budge. These "barnstormers" would pull into a surf town, meet with the shop owner or Weber Surfboards dealer, make in-store appearances for sponsors such as Laguna Sportswear, or appear at a local event like a boat show, set up a surfing contest and exhibition at the local beach and cap it off in the evening with a surf film at a local auditorium.
the East Coast, Dewey won the Governor's Trophy at the East Coast Surfing
Championships. The next year, he would win the Senior Men's Division
at the U.S. Surfing Championships held at Huntington Beach.
Downturn, late 1960s
As Velzy had done in the 1950s, by the mid-1960s, Dewey Weber had become the largest surfboard manufacturer. This time, though, it was not only of the United States, but of the world. At his peak, he was turning out over 300 boards a week. There are stories of Dewey and Harold Iggy walking into a car dealership in their bare feet and Dewey peeling off cash for a new yellow Porsche. Another story tells of Dewey buying Caroline a new gold Thunderbird as a wedding gift.
When the downturn came in the late 1960s, Dewey thought it was just temporary. He wasn' t alone. The other surfboard manufacturers felt the same way. "When we figured out that it wasn't," Tak Kawahara remembers, "it was too late."
"It's the same problem as today," Harold Walker added. "The product is under-priced. The margins are so small in the surfboard business that (when) the slightest mishap (occurs) the whole house of cards falls. Once the volume stops, you're dead."
as for all the other mass-production surfboard makers of the time, the
ride was over. "It went from selling everything you could make to
selling just local," recalled Bing Copeland. Dewey downsized
as fast as he could, butg he took heavy financial losses. When the
adjustment was done, he settled into a small shop in Hermosa Beach.
Earlier, trying to keep up with the trends in surfboard design, he'd tried
to transition into shortboards. Like Greg Noll,
who attempted to do the same thing, he met with no success.
Gone Fishing, 1970s
like Harold Walker, Hap Jacobs, Mark Martinson, Greg Noll, Del Cannon and
others of his age, Dewey decided to go fishing. In the early 1970s,
he built a two-man swordfishing boat called the Avispa and started logging
major time on the water. "Soon," wrote Jeff Duclos, "surf stories
turned into fishing stories."
In the early 1980s, a longboard contest circuit reformed along the Southern California coast and Dewey Weber was in it early. The circuit's beginning is marked by a contest held at Leo Carrillo State Beach -- otherwise known to surfers as Arroyo Sequit or just plain Secos. "The morning of the Oar House event," wrote Jeff Duclos, "shoulder-high waves were peeling off Leo Carrillo's Big Rock and, though Dewey hadn't surfed in nearly a year, his team members coaxed him into entering... To his surprise, Dewey advanced through his first heat with relative ease."
"I remember the last three heats," said John Joseph, "with less than a minute to go in each, and I'd say: 'Where's Dewey?' And out from behind the rock he'd come, on the nose, in his famous arch, moving across the face of the wave. In the inside, he'd do a big cutback and then move right back up to the nose. He made the finals -- and he hadn't surfed competitively in well over 15 years. There were some good surfers there that day. John Baker, JoJo Perrin, and J. Riddle made the final with him... He had the ability to come from out of nowhere. It was unique. It was a star quality he had."
"I surfed against Dewey in a lot of contests over the years," said Baker. "He was always the first guy in the water for his heats and he was a fierce competitor. But I remember that day well. He was just arching from the nose... thrilled."
In the very beginning of the longboard revival, Dewey sponsored the Dewey Weber Longboard Surfing Classic. "The whole '60s era of surfing seems to be coming back into focus," he told an interviewer in 1982. "It's really apparent in the music scene -- the kids have started the whole thing rolling. Older surfers are getting back in the water and our Weber Performer is making a genuine comeback. The business looks more solid now than it has for over 10 years." Although his words proved to be prophetic, Dewey never reaped any benefit from the longboarding revival no capture the magic touch he once had ontop a surfboard. By the 1980s, years of hard drinking were beginning to take their toll.
Dewey was part of a generation and more of surfers for whom The Life was defined in terms of a "surf all day and always party hard" lifestyle. In the end, excessive alcohol use can be directly linked to Dewey's loss of a profitable business and his loss of wife, friends and health. As the years went by, Dewey surfed more and more infrequently.
"A lot of us partied hard," Linda Benson declared. "Dewey had a choice. I'm a recovering alcoholic. I'm 17 years clean and sober. People tried to help him. I'd go down to his shop, but somehow he was never there. Alcoholism is a disease that (hides itself from you)."
"Surfing has a dark side," agreed Joe Doggett in an article that appeared in the Houston Chronicle after Dewey's death. "It's a maverick lifestyle; it attracts the renegades and cavaliers and one-eyed jacks. It has no place for the dull and ordinary. Surf stars, like rock stars, play hard and sometimes cannot control the power and the beauty that they possess."
In that year before he died," his former wife Caroline recalled, "Dewey told me about that first surf trip he went on with the older South Bay guys. He was 13 at the time. He talked about how they handed him a beer and he felt like he'd arrived, like he was finally accepted as a surfer, as one of the guys... 'How was I to know?' he said" of the ramifications of a life with alcohol.
When Dewey died in 1993, news of his passing went around the world. Newspaper and broadcast eulogies appeared virtually everywhere. The California State Senate adjourned in his honor. "His death," wrote Jeff Duclos, "reaffirmed something Dewey had completely lost sight of."
said Lance Carson, who knew him most of his life, "was that he didn't have
enough confidence in who he was. He had no confidence in his own
name. He was always trying to be something more, but he never had
anything to prove. He was already there."
Sources Used In This Chapter:
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