Guest writer Bobby Johnson pays tribute to a legend by surfing five Southern California spots, including the Velzy paddle out at Doheny. In the telling, Bobby opens a window into the soul of surfing.
Check out more photos from the tribute at Awe's link to the right.
My Tribute to Dale Velzy
By Bobby Johnson
I never personally met Mr. Dale Velzy, but with everything I’ve heard and read about him, it seems like I knew him just the same. When I heard of his passing, a few different thoughts went through my head, but I knew I wanted to show my respects to him if possible, especially if there would be a paddle out I could attend. I learned from Tom at the Longboard Grotto that there would be one on June 14th at Doheny State beach. He said that if you mentioned Mr. Velzy, the parking was free and talk of a Luau afterward. My work schedule had recently changed so I would have this particular Tuesday off. And with a deal like that I figured the event would be packed beyond belief and I would need to be there early. Things were definitely looking like I was supposed to be there. While we were talking, my wife Lia found a black “Surfboards by Velzy” T-shirt in my size (just came in that morning).
Since I would be making my way back down to Oceanside from Westlake Village, I could leave early enough to catch a few waves at Malibu as well. This thought quickly turned to thinking I could make this a personal tribute to Mr. Dale Velzy.
Lately I have been watching the first series of films Bruce Brown made, borrowed from my friend Munger. Bruce Brown’s movies have really been instrumental in shaping my life. “Endless Summer I” and “On Any Sunday” hit me hard when growing up-as a kid I was nuts about surfing and motocross racing. Later “Endless Summer II” would determine my very first “new” board, the Robert August Wingnut I model. In the intro on his first movie from 1958, “Slippery When Wet”, Bruce mentions that he used to work at night in Velzy’s shop, and how he and Dale used to talk about Bruce making a surf movie. Turns out Dale funded the project which gave Bruce his start in the movie business. Dale and his shop were featured in Slippery When Wet, as were several exceptional Southern California surf spots like Trestles and Malibu. Bruce’s second movie (1959),”Surf Crazy” opens by showing several more spots-Swami’s, Dana Point, and Rincon. The seed for my journey has now been planted-I blame (thank) Munger.
Next question is: How long does one stay at any spot? I determined that since Dale had been shaping for nearly 60 years, I would surf one wave for each decade (6), and one additional wave for a total of seven- in the Bible, the number 7 represents completeness. So now my journey was mapped out. I would surf Rincon, Malibu, Doheny (Dana Point), Trestles, and Swami’s, surfing seven waves at each.
Monday night the 13th, I read LongBoard Magazine, Volume 10, Number 6, In Trim section on Velzy by Paul Holmes. I revisit Velzy the man and remember the stories about his business dealings and generosity. Problem now is: I’m so stoked and worried about getting in the parking lot on time for the main event, I can hardly fall asleep.
4:20AM Alarm goes off. Get up quickly because I haven’t slept much anyway.
4:45AM Leave the house. Turn on the radio to get the traffic and weather report. Unfortunately, they are interviewing someone who is a friend of a cousin to someone who once saw Michael Jackson from 3 miles away and thinks they know how Michael feels about the trial outcome. Arghh!!! I turn on the CD player not knowing, or caring what disk is in. Peter Mayer’s “Stirring up the Water” comes on. Perfect. The music matches the mood of the morning. Besides, the weather doesn’t really matter for this trip, and there isn’t any traffic at this hour anyway.
5:30AM Arrive at Rincon (35miles). There’s not one car in sight. Should I check it out first, or just suit up and go? I’m going anyway so I put on my board shorts and dawn patrol top. I left my full suit down south, but I rode waves at Rincon in January before I ever had a suit- days of the inflatable canvas raft. Besides, it has more of the feel during Velzy’s days. Just as I finish getting dressed, a VW bus rolls up and parks next to me. We exchange “Good Mornings” and introduce ourselves. John is from Santa Barbara and tells me how good the surf was over the weekend. Shoulder high+ and only a dozen guys out. Wow, I don’t think the surf will be like that today. I tell him about my trip and he tells me to look for a display with some Velzy boards and an Indian blanket with a custom flathead V8 manifold/carb. set-up on top. He said it was from the guy who used to have the surf museum in Santa Barbara.
5:45AM I enter the water. It’s barely light out and I’m the only one out. It’s an eerie feeling being out here alone. I keep thinking about the scene in Bruce’s “Surfing Hollow Waves”. Reny Yater catches a wave at Rincon, looks over his shoulder, and sees a shark cruise through the lineup. Waves this morning are knee to waist high with a couple around chest high. I catch a couple of waves before another guy comes out. He’s got a Robert August “What I ride” model. It kind of looks like a scene from the movie ”Endless Summer II”, only darker and a lot colder. Air and water temperature are 59, not the 80’s they had in Costa Rica. On wave number 5, out of the corner of my eye I see some black things, pop up just before the trough of the next wave. Just as I kicked out over the top of my wave and turned to adjust my eyes I make out two seal heads. At the same time they turned and saw me. Apparently they hadn’t noticed me before and got pretty startled. I got two more waves and paddle in.
6:30AM Get out of the water. Think to myself, “That’s for your Mr. Velzy”.
6:45AM Back on the road, heading south on the 101 Freeway. Passing by La Conchita I can now see the slide area and what looks like water still coming out of the side of the hill. I offer up a prayer for those affected. I drive passed Hobbson’s beach and see a small pod of dolphins having breakfast. One was so excited he jumped out, did a quarter turn to the left in the air, and then landing on his side. I called Lia on the way back to give some ideas how to fix our computer/printer issues so she can turn in her school project tomorrow. I tell her I’m going stop by the house on my way to Malibu. I could always use another hug and a kiss from her.
7:15AM Arrive home, get my hug and a kiss. Look at the computer-printer issue but unfortunately I’m a computer moron, so she’s going to try and fix it her way. Steal another kiss on my way out the door.
7:30AM On the road again.
7:55AM Arrive at the ‘Bu (105miles). Parking is full on the beach side so I turn around and find a spot on the other side at the end. Another guy pulls up behind me, changes and unloads quickly. The crowd’s not too bad, for Malibu anyway. The guy who pulled up behind me is getting some great rides. I get my waves in, and my left shoulder’s starting to hurt. Last wave is the best. I take off, angle the board and climb towards the nose reaching the front third of the board. Crouch down and stretch my left foot to the nose for a cheater 5. I’m just dialed in and working this wave for everything it’s worth. The wave starts to close out on the beach and I bury the nose, the tail breaks out and swings around in a Hawaiian pullout. I can’t contain the stoke and shout out loud “That ones for you Dale”. The guy who parked behind me was paddling back out nearby and overheard me. He looked over with a big smile on his face. I got out, rinsed off and headed back to the truck. As I was packing up, the guy parked behind me shows up and is getting ready to leave. We chat and he tells me that he works for Jacobs surfboards (another Velzy link), and everyone at the shop is going to the paddle out except him. Someone has to hold down the fort. He confirms what Tom told me about directions and parking at Doheny.
9:00AM Leave Malibu. I hope I’ve timed it right and most of the traffic is done. 5 minutes later I’m slammed into construction traffic going at a crawl. Breaks loose after Big Rock and we’re off.
10:45AM Arrive at Doheny State beach (190miles). Just as Tom said the parking was free and there were still plenty of spots available. I see a few familiar faces milling around, George from Malibu was there. I met him at the paddle out for Ray “The Enforcer”. That was when I met Big Wave Dave Sweet. I had Lia’s Dave Sweet board with me that time and never knew the connection to Ray until then. Funny how things can work out sometimes. Walk out to check the surf. Water is an amazing green, with a little bit of texture on it. Looks like the south wind may start to build, so better get on it while I can. There are two main groups of people out, the one south of the rock has about 6 people who look like they might be learning, and the group towards the river mouth that has about 20. I pick to go between these groups so as not to get in their way. I’m just a visitor after all. I drift down a bit and a couple of guys move up from the pack. I’m now within ear shot and eves drop to hear their stories about Mr. Velzy and boards he made for them. Great stuff, and some gorgeous boards. The best was when one guy said he asked Dale to make him a more progressive board. He said what he ended up with was not what he considered a progressive design, and he said so to Dale. Mr. Velzy said “That’s the only way I make boards.” Kind of says it all doesn’t it? I took a few waves alone and then I started sharing waves with these other guys. Good group with a great vibe. Told them about the journey and they thought it was pretty cool. I got my seven waves and got out. Walked up to the sidewalk area to rinse off. Looked over to see Mr. Robert August himself chatting with someone. He saw me half staring and waved. After I showered and was walking passed he motioned me over to look at my board. I still get star struck whenever I try to talk to him or Wingnut-I swear I don’t know why, they’re such cool, easy going guys. Anyway, I try to tell him about the board, how I had it specially made by Mike Minchinton, and how well it works for me. I think he was stoked and proud just seeing how happy I was with it. As I walk away I pass by Donald Takayama. I’m getting pretty tired now so I go back to the truck to take a quick nap.
12:45 PM I call Lia to ask her to give me a call around 2 PM to wake me up. After about a 1/2 hour it gets really quiet, which wakes me up wondering if I’m missing something. The ceremony and paddle-out isn’t supposed to start until 3:00PM. Get out and head back to the picnic area.
1:30PM So many legends are arriving here and it feels like a reunion. There’s Greg Noll, Bing Copeland, LJ Richards, David Nuuhiwa , and so many others. I see a friend of ours, Mike N., and he introduces me to a lady who goes by the name Gidgit, yes the original. She introduces me to Jim (?). This just amazing, I’m getting sensory overload. I feel like I’m experiencing history in the making. The boards are starting to pile up as well. I see the display John from Santa Barbara was referring to, and a whole bunch of boards that were incredible works of art. The wood colors and grain, the shape and the finish are just awesome. Some representations of the various board and fin shapes Dale did were there as well. He was so innovative. I wonder how the V-fin really works. There were hot rods and woodies there in their own parking lot. There were pictures of him with horses and motorcycles and folks wandering around dressed like they were from each of these walks of life. Now I really wished I could have spent some time talking to Mr. Velzy since I have grown to appreciate all these things. I think back to how a guy named Todd wrote in the Harbour surf talk bb that he got the opportunity to do just that, and even better, got Dale to shape a board for him. Todd described the board on the site, but I haven’t seen one that matches the description yet. I meant to write that I was going, and see if we could meet, but I never got the chance. About this time I hear my name called out and I turn to see Ron (Awe F’shore). Man, he shoots some great pictures. We get to chatting and then I get to watch him work. I point out a few faces I knew. He got a picture of the Master, LeRoy Grannis. There was an area where the “other” boards were being gathered, and I noticed a Robert August “What I Ride” that was shaped by Mike laying there with a space next to it. I figured I should get its younger cousin to place next to it.
3:00PM The ceremony starts with Dale’s cousin singing the Eagles “Desperado”. Perfect song for this occasion. Other speakers from each of Mr. Velzy’s worlds get up to say something, but the sound system makes it difficult to hear what they have to say. Too bad, I know they all had a great Velzy experience to share with us all. The most amazing thing about this moment is there is such an upbeat feeling here. This wasn’t a memorial where people were sad or grieving, but a true celebration of life, a full one at that, and appreciation of someone who touched many lives in many ways. I will treasure this moment for the rest of my life. As I was walking back away from the crowd, I ran into Ron again and asked him if he knew Todd and where his board might be. He walked me over to a cool looking Harley orange and white board that I must have walked passed a couple of times earlier.
4:00PM There seems to be about 2000 people here, as this portion of the festivities were winding down. They asked everyone who was joining the paddle-out to go get ready and meet at the beach. I go to the truck and suit up, go to get my board and notice that Todd’s board is already gone. Shoot, I missed him. Grab my board and head to the water. There were approximately 700 of us trying to get to the water, as well as most of the other folks, making the trek across the sand difficult. There is standing water on the beach making a moat so there is only one spot where everyone can cross. Ron is standing there snapping shots of folks. He even got one of me. There were some people handing out flowers to take out, and one guy handing out packets made from tea leaves containing sand that actually came from Velzyland, in Hawaii. How cool is that. Funny how the first time I get to touch Hawaiian sand, I’m in California. I stuff the packet in my top and head to the waters edge. I wait for the incoming wave to settle, then dash out, launch with board outstretched in front, and land to catch the out-going backwash. All in one smooth movement. I paddle out towards the south east portion of the ever growing circle. My shoulder is really starting to hurt now, but I can’t slow down or stop. As I reach the far end I see a board I now recognize-Harley orange and white. “Are you Todd?” He says yes and I introduce myself. I see this as another Velzy day moment. The one person I was looking for in this lineup of 700, and I happen to go to the same spot he is. As the circle forms with people sitting rail to rail, it must be at least ¼ mile wide. You could feel magic in the air and how everyone is amazed at the size of the turnout. A couple of outrigger canoes paddle around in the middle, and there’s a guy on what looks like an old wood Velzy board piled high with flowers. Then we hear the roar of a propeller driven air plane getting louder. A WWII P51 Mustang comes flying close by, banks very hard and flies away-or so we thought. He came by once more. It was awesome. Everyone was asked to raise their hands in the air, and then we cupped and splashed water into the middle. I pull out the packet of sand and pour it into the water. Now there’s some of his namesake beach where he used to surf. Afterwards, we started to break up the circle and I headed towards the guy with flowers on his board. I hand the ones I had to him and say goodbye to Mr. Velzy. We all start to head for the beach. Todd and I are a little concerned how we’re all going to get out without some serious crashes occurring. We head towards the river mouth away from the pack. I loose sight of Todd, but I see Linda Benson about 50 feet to my left. Second Gidget sighting of the day (I believe she was Sandra Dee’s stunt double in the original movie). I catch the same wave as her and about 20 other people, including the girl who fell right in front of me. I make it to the beach and out of the water unscathed. Todd hits the beach at the same time and we run into Ron again. I think he said he took so many pictures he ran out of memory for his digital camera. Todd and Ron headed towards the luau, and I say my goodbyes so I can get to the next destination. When I get to the truck, the guy parked next to me is all smiles and stoked about the experience(we all were!). We had quickly chatted earlier, but now I introduced myself and told him about my tribute. He was impressed and told me about his Velzy experiences. David said Dale used to call him “The Bolsa Chica Kid” and that’s what Dale wrote on the board he shaped for him. He showed it to me and it certainly was something to be very proud of. What a beautiful board. I finish loading up and pull out.
5:10PM Leave Doheny heading for Trestles. The little bit of traffic there is, is really moving.
5:20PM Arrive at parking lot near Trestles(198 miles). Quickly pack up my suit into my board bag for the long hike down to Lowers. I arrive to find a group of kids packed at Uppers and what looks like a contest taking place at Lowers. There’s a drift wood structure where an older gentleman is changing after his session. He says that with the in coming tide, things are getting better and there is a good vibe in the water. The reason Lowers looked so crowded was there was some sort of school surf team practice thing going on. He also says that the kids with the short boards out in front of us are staying on the inside and being pretty cool, and that with my 9’6” I should have no problem catching the waves I needed. He wishes he could stay longer, but it’s his anniversary and he has to get home for a special dinner. I get the feeling he’s grateful that he has that as a reason he has to leave, and I wish him a happy anniversary.
5:50PM In water. I opt for the area just below Uppers where there are only a couple of guys on it. Good choice, the Velzy spirit is here as well. There are four of us on this peak and it’s just awesome. This is the best surf so far on this journey. Water is clear, slight evening glass, peak coming through and we’re taking turns without much needing to be said. I get three clean rides and my shoulder is now really starting to hurt. At this point in the game it’s becoming a goal just to get the 7 count in and move on. I paddle out to the outside and sit for a moment to rest. A California brown pelican flies solo just in front of me, inches above the water. They are so cool to watch as they adjust their altitude to fly just above the surface of the water. Ride number 4 comes along and it’s pretty cool. On number 5, I take off and it starts to section in front of me. As I was starting to make the section, one of the guys takes off in front of me, but there was enough room for the two of us. He apologized anyway, but I said “No worries, there was enough room. Besides, I only need two more for my goal anyway.” He looked puzzled at my remark, so I told him about the journey. I said I had started out in Thousand Oaks (most people know where Thousand Oaks is, but not Westlake Village which is right next door) and which spots I had planned to surf in Mr. Velzy’s honor. This young man was so stoked, I can still see the look in his eyes and the smile on his face. One other guy was giving me a hard time saying he didn’t believe I was really doing what I said. But when the next set came in, I told them to go ahead and take it. The first guy said “NO, you take it. We’ve got to get you to Swami’s.”. I thank them, get that wave and then the last one required. I rode number 7 in almost all the way in.
6:40PM Out of water. After I changed and packed up the board bag, I started walking back and another young man approached me and said he overheard I was from Thousand Oaks. He said he was from Westlake Village, and that he and his family were vacationing at the San-O campgrounds for the week. It was cool to talk to him as well, and I hope to surf with him again soon.
7:15PM Leave parking lot. Again, traffic’s not too bad and I can make good time.
7:40PM Arrive at Swami’s parking lot (231miles). Quickly change and head down the stairs to the beach. The water looks horrible due to the red tide. As the water washes over the front of my board it turns completely orange. Yuk. Within 10 minutes I’m getting a headache. The waves aren’t very good either. Peaky, disorganized wind swell. My shoulder is killing me and all I can think about is getting the wave count. Waves 2 and 3 pass. Wave 4 will put me over the hump. I look to the left to see a couple of dolphins strolling through the lineup. Seeing them takes my mind off my shoulder. Wave 4 comes and I take off, bottom turn, angle off and get dropped in on. Luckily this only happens once and the guy apologized. Oh well, it’s all good. It’s getting mighty dark, but I still get waves five, six and seven.
8:15PM Out of the water. As I exit the water I say out loud, “Thanks for a phenomenal day Mr. Velzy.” Head over to the shower, and spend what seems like forever rinsing off. Getting the dawn patrol top, and rash guard off is challenging due to my shoulder. Then drag myself up the stairs.
8:30PM Leave the parking lot. As I’m pulling out of the lot, listening to the radio, and replaying the events of the day in my mind, there is a strange, yet familiar sound coming through the middle of the song. It sounds like the emergency distress signal. But it’s not really registering in my mind because they usually test that on its own, not in the middle of a broadcast. Sure enough, it’s an emergency broadcast and they’re announcing a tsunami warning for San Diego county! Never thought I would cap the day off with that. Then I thought about the kid from Westlake and wondered how he and his family were affected by this.
9:15PM Arrive home (270miles). Grabbed a bite to eat enroute. Collapse on the couch and let dinner settle. I’m going to sleep well tonight.