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Surfing History

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Dale Velzy, The Hawk- by Mark Shoemaker

In February 1989, Surfing magazine published the surfboard Shapers family tree. Well deserved at the top is Duke Kahanamoku who inspired turn of the century surfing revivalists. At the top of his own branch is Dale Velzy, the man who was most responsible for inspiring South Bay surfers and shapers that led the Southern California surfing movement of the 1950’s and 60’s.  He was the first person to sponsor surfers, advertise surfing in a big way, and put surfboards and surfing within the reach of the average kid on the beach. 


Born in 1927 in Hermosa Beach, he was nicknamed "The Hawk" as a boy for his knack in spotting quarters in the sand. On heavy wooden surfboards in the 1930’s he surfed with the best riders of the Hermosa, Manhattan and Palos Verdes Surf Clubs. In 1949 he began shaping and repairing Bob Simmons boards in his Hermosa Beach garage. As a leading member of the raucous Manhattan Beach Surf Club, whose club headquarters were under the Manhattan Beach pier, Velzy became the first commercial shaper of redwood/balsa combination boards. For beach break surfing conditions, fins were positioned to the rear of the boards, "Bob Simmons made them light," Velzy said, "I made them turn." 


Eventually, members started complaining about too many shavings in the clubhouse and Velzy moved his operation to Venice. Early in 1953, with surfing gaining popularity and order for boards increasing, Velzy partnered with fellow Hermosa Beach surfer Harold "Hap" Jacobs. First working out of the Venice shop, they eventually rented a little shop space up the street from the Hermosa Beach pier, and built custom boards under the Velzy-Jacobs label that sold for around $75 (collectors now pay thousands for these “wall hangers”). 


In 1955, the  “Pig” board emerged to satisfy the demand of the “hot dog” era. Turning by bending and pushing was now a breeze, walking the nose was something every good surfer could do, and even the head dip and quasimodo (squatting low with fists forward) came into vogue. Before their partnership ended in 1960, Velzy-Jacobs boards were sold at surf shops in Venice, San Clemente and San Diego; Hap Jacobs had his own shop at 422 P.C.H in Hermosa Beach. Also in the early 1950’s, Greg Noll, Dewey Weber and several other legendary South Bay surfers and shapers who were inspired by Velzy, gained their own position on the Velzy branch of the tree.


The Hawk shaped with numerous other surfboard manufacturers up and down the Southern California coast, and still works full time shaping surfboards and making traditional Hawaiian paddleboards in his backyard-shaping studio. Dale Velzy has indisputably left his colorful mark on the surfing world and Hermosa Beach history. The museum surfing exhibit will chronicle his achievements and antics, along with surfboard and memorabilia displays. 

Greg “Da Bull” Noll: Surfing & Movies - by Mark Shoemaker


Greg Noll is the most famous big-wave surfer.  As a boy, he came under the influence and tutelage of Dale Velzy and became an excellent shaper of short, lightweight balsa boards. Noll was one of the hot Malibu stylists of the mid-'50s, but it was his paddling that earned him a spot on the U.S. lifeguard team that went to Australia for the 1956 Olympics at Melbourne.


In 1953, Bud Browne the first serious surfing film producer started showing his films in high school auditoriums. Inspired by those movies, and thinking it would be fun to show everybody back home what the Australian surf looked like, Greg bought a Bell & Howell movie camera from the pioneer snow skiing movie maker Warren Miller. Greg hounded him for help on how to make films, what kind of equipment to use, how did the camera work?" Fledgling camera work in Australia set the stage for making surf films on a regular basis.


On the North Shore in November 7, 1957, Greg and a small group of big-wave riders surfed Waimea Bay for the first time. He named Velzyland in thanks to Dale Velzy who sponsored him and made his boards; he also named Pipeline. His black-and-white striped trunks became a cultural icon, emblematic of big surf and fearless commitment. In 1958 Noll and friends surfed, and took movies, up and down the coast near Mazatlan, Mexico. Back home, they edited the film, and designed narration after Warren Miller's, which was done live. Greg then rented the Pier Avenue Auditorium, which became the mecca of surf films. Friends helped pass out fliers, sell tickets, and usher people. 


“That first “Search For Surf” from the Australian and Mazatlan trips created a mob scene," recalled Sonny Vardeman. “People lined up around the block, waiting to get in. We had no idea how many $1 tickets we were selling; my pockets were full of bills. The auditorium held three hundred people, but there were at least four hundred. The aisles were packed and the Fire Marshall was raising holy hell threatening to close the place down. Greg cranked up the Hawaiian music, got the film rolling and everyone quieted down to watch and listen. It was a hype job and it worked. He'd run the movie two or three nights in a row. A buck a person filled the auditorium to overflowing every night. From the proceeds of that movie, Greg bought himself a new Volkswagen van - he was the talk of the town”.


"A year or two later, Greg rented the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, which held about five thousand people; it was a pressure-packed, raucous crowd the first night. Greg had the music going before the film started. People got even more worked up. Prior to the film, Greg would usually go up on stage, introduce himself and tell a little about where the film was taken. This evening, the crowd was just going crazy, and Greg was up on stage, getting pelted by beer and soft drink caps. He finally retreated and turned on the film and, again, everyone settled down at once. 


Greg produced four “Search for Surf” epics over seven years. In 1964 he stopped making movies and parlayed his reputation and considerable shaping skills into a big, state-of-the-art surfboard factory in Hermosa Beach. He succeeded in forming a business alliance with Miki Dora to manufacture and sell “Da Cat” surfboards, creating one of the most successful ad campaigns in the sport's history. "I was making up to 175 boards a week, 60 to 70 employees, advertising, dealers, up to my neck in shit and sinking," he says. Nonetheless, Greg “Da Bull” Noll starred in the boom era of surfing and counts himself as "the luckiest guy on the face of the earth" for being able to do "just what I loved to do."

The Surfers Walk of Fame consists of bronze plaques on the Hermosa Beach Pier. Initially honoring 16 pioneer and 7 charter members of surfing -  Mike Purpus is one of the charter members. Through their radical changes of board design and evolving techniques, these surfers made riding the waves a new sport for fun and competition. This article on growing up in Hermosa Beach is in Mike’s own words.

Growing up in Hermosa - A Mike Purpus Story

I was born in 1948 at the Queen of Angeles Hospital in Los Angeles, but as far back as I can remember it all started in the Valley of Hermosa Beach right below Saint Cross Church. My father bought the two-bedroom house for $5,000 and then was sent overseas in the Navy. My mother worked all day for the telephone company and both my grandmothers achieved sainthood by taking care of my younger brother Tim and I. My grandfathers passed away before we were born. We did not have much money to live on so my mother raised chickens in the backyard and my brother and I sold the eggs to the neighbors in the Valley. My brother and I loved our little plastic Dough-Boy Pool in the backyard until my Mom got three ducks that refused to let us use it. If the ducks and the chickens were not enough, my Mom got about 15 pheasants. They broke out of their coop and crapped all over everyone’s clean laundry in the neighborhood twice. Egg sales went way down so Mom rang their necks, chopped off their heads, and we ate fresh pheasant for the next three weeks.


When I reached ten we moved to 30th Street and my Dad bought me my first surfboard. Pete Briggs and Ron Garner were my neighborhood friends so we all started surfing together. My Uncle Charlie bought me materials to build a go-cart. I built a wooden cart on wheels to put empty pop bottles in and collect the deposit. My friends and I spent all day retrieving pop bottles off the beach. I would pull the cart along the Strand from Longfellow all the way to my Grandma Purpus’ house at 4th Street where we rinsed the sand out of our valuable days work and then cash them in at Mickey’s. We got a nickel for the quart, three cents for the pint, and two cents for the twelve ounce bottles. Grandma Purpus bought her house from Mickey’s brother, and my Mom and Dad went to school with their kids, so I was always treated like part of their family too. A sauce sandwich, spaghetti sauce on a French roll, was only a dime and we loved them.


I went to Pier Avenue Junior High School along with Mike Stevenson, John Baker, Bill Collins, Alfred Laws, Dru Harrison and Billy Ray James; his father was Juicy James that owned the coffee shop and surf mat rental on the Strand a block North of the pier. Juicy would give us free coffee and donuts after surfing. John Bakers father owned the City of Redondo Fishing Boat and would give us free candy bars and sodas when we paddled out to him. All the surf movies premiered at Pier Avenue Auditorium through the 60’s and 70’s. Surfers would line up out in front ending in front of the Police Station. Every Friday and Saturday night Hermosa Avenue was the place to cruise and Foster’s Freeze and Winchel’s Donuts at 15th Street was the hangout. It was exactly like “American Graffiti” through the 60’s and early 70’s.


I went to Mira Costa High School where I was on the water polo team with some of the best surfers in the country. Jimmy Craig won the 1964 United States Surfing Championships at Huntington Beach in ten-foot waves. Larry Bark coached the team to first place in the CIF Championships several times. Mr. Bark was my General Business, Typing, Driver’s Training teacher and coach. During a big south swell we put our boards on top of the Driver’s Training Car and went to Malibu. The other students had to wait in the car until Mr. Bark and I finished surfing. The other students took turns driving home while I slept in the back seat. The following weekend he took me surfing at San Onofre with Toby Earlinger, and Mr. Williams who also taught at Mira Costa.


I went to El Camino for a few years taking business and art classes. I got A’s in Ceramics, but was average in everything else. The teachers let me slide because they knew my Mother and respected her as a good artist. My pro surfing career took off and so did I by traveling around the world with the pro contest circuit. I have been to many fantastic places but always came home to the South Bay because it’s the only place that has a little bit of everything.

Leroy Grannis - by Mark Shoemaker

Grannis is famous for his surfing photographs, and was active on the surfing scene in Hermosa. From the New Yorker magazine, "You don't have to know the difference between a rail grab and a tube ride to appreciate a great surfing photo.  There's something thrilling (and hair-raising) about the sight of a tiny human figure gliding down the curl of a wave that's breaking several stories above his head. Grannis, a surfer himself, captured the thrill in the photographs he began taking in the early 1960's, long before the sport became a phenomenon and he became one of its legends. Nearly all of the color images here are from that relatively innocent time, and the best of them have such you-are-there immediacy that you can practically taste the saltwater spray." 


Born in Hermosa Beach, California in 1917, he began shooting surf culture images on 22nd Street in Hermosa in 1960 as a hobby at the suggestion of a family doctor – “Doc” Ball. His work immediately appeared in the important surf culture magazines of the time including Surfer, Reef and Surfing Illustrated. He quickly became one of the sport’s most important documentarians, voted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame as the number one lensman in 1966, awarded SIMA’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 for his legendary surf photography and most recently, featured on the cover and within Taschen’s Surfing: Vintage Surfing Graphics. 


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