“A dollar was a dollar and a wave a wave… I enjoyed myself.” – Dale “The Hawk” Velzy
What would you rather be known for? A board shape that became the prototype for one of the most widely utilized boards? Or a famous high-performance wave on the North Shore of Oahu, named in your honor? Fortunately for surf pioneer and master shaper Dale “The Hawk” Velzy, he didn’t have to choose. His long, legendary career made it so both were inevitable. He also might have been the first surfer to ever hang ten and even had a movie character (Bear, the shop owner and board-making guru in Big Wednesday) based off of him. Better yet, he did all of it with gusto — smoking Cuban cigars in a gull-wing Mercedes no less — in a the sort of flair a gait-ridden cowboy might boast in the wild west.
According to the Encyclopedia of Surfing: “‘Dale could out-drink, out-shoot, out-ride, out-shape, out-sell and out-finesse all comers,’ Surfer’s Journal wrote in 1994. ‘And he made it all up as he went along.'”
Shooting from the hip? Sounds like a cowboy to me.
Born in 1927 to a mechanic whose father built cabinets for none other than President Teddy Roosevelt, Velzy sauntered into the world with calloused, hard-working hands. EOS continues that he “began surfing in 1936, started shaping the following year, and was soon making balsa-redwood laminate surfboards for himself and his friends beneath the Hermosa Pier.” Eventually in 1955 he went on to dream up the pig, the aforementioned shape that became known the prototype for the longboard. And he didn’t stop there. Other well known designs included the Bump Board (1956), the Wedge (1962), and the Banjo (1963).
It wasn’t only the shapes and boards that became famous. The surfers who rode his boards make up a who’s-who list of legends in their own right, including the likes of Mickey Dora, Donald Takayama, Mike Doyle, Dewey Weber, and Mickey Muñoz. He even acted as the patron for Bruce Brown on the latter’s first surf film, Slippery When Wet, five years before Brown shot The Endless Summer.
Yep, his career was, in fact, the stuff of legends.
Velzy eventually died in 2005, of lung cancer, survived by two children. And while his fame might have waned by the time of his death, his impact was and is as noticeable as ever. ‘Twenty-two-year-old Brett McPherson(ph) says the new generation might not know his name,” Carrie Kahn reported on NPR, “but they know the achievements of the old-time surfers.”
The New York Times went on to write the most eloquent of obituaries for the man, the myth, the legend: “A gregarious man known for his love of horses, fast cars and beautiful women.”