South Bay Surf History
The History of Surfing in the South Bay
Curated by: Mark Cole
with assistance from:
Special Thanks to Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing
The History of Surfing in not only the South Bay but for the entire Continental United States began in 1907 when Henry Huntington brought George Freeth to Venice Beach and then to Redondo Beach and paid him to demonstrate the art of surfing to those visiting the new Redondo Beach Plunge. Born in Honolulu, HI, Freeth was also an early lifeguard who pioneered several lifesaving techniques and was commended for saving the lives of seven Japanese fishermen off Venice Beach. Unfortunately Freeth lost his life at the young age of 35 during the global Influenza pandemic of 1919.
John Heath “Doc” Ball was born and raised in Redlands, CA, but moved to Hermosa Beach in 1917 and began to perfect his photography techniques. He opened his Dentistry practice in 1934 and was one of the founders of the Palos Verdes Surf Club. Ball never drank or smoked, and was one of surfing’s first healthy lifestyle advocates. He published the all time classic “California Surfriders” book featuring 150 of his most iconic photographs.
Leroy Grannis, known as the godfather of surf photography, was born and raised in Hermosa Beach. After serving as a supply pilot in WW2, Grannis returned to the South Bay and perfected his water photography techniques. Some of his early images were featured in the 1946 book California Surfriders, by Doc Ball. Grannis quit shooting professionally in 1971 and was quoted saying “I didn’t like the way the magazines were going. They were making heroes out of druggies and guys with big mouths, so I bailed out.”
Dale Velzy was born in 1927 in Hermosa Beach. He began surfing in 1936 and after serving in WW2 he began shaping surfboards in Manhattan Beach. He set up what was then the first “Surf Shop” — and was an early pioneer in the transition from wooden surfboards to far lighter designs using foam, fiberglass and resin. Velzy was the undisputed “King of Surf Retail” during the 50s with a skilled team of shapers helping with production and the best sponsored riders using the new and improved equipment. Velzy also pioneered an interesting form of accounting that has been used by many a surf shop or brand over the years and in 1959 his shops were shut down by the IRS.
Bing Copeland was born in 1936 in Torrance, CA. He learned to shape surfboards from Dale Velzy. After serving in the US Coast Guard during WWII, he joined Rick Stoner for a six-month surf cruise across the pacific. After returning home to the South Bay he opened his shop in Hermosa Beach in 1959 and went on to become one of the most popular shapers of the 1960s decade.
Dewey Weber was born in Denver, CO in 1938 and moved with his family to Manhattan Beach in 1943. Known for founding the “hotdogging” style of surfing – he was untouchable in the late 50s. He opened his own shop in Venice in 1960s and became the second most popular brand following Hobie Surfboards. The statue at the Community Center in Hermosa Beach is based on a Leroy Grannis photo of one of Weber’s powerful cutbacks.
In 1954 Dale Velzy partnered with Hap Jacobs and opened the Velzy-Jacobs surf shop in Venice Beach. Jacobs moved with his family from Los Angeles to Hermosa Beach in 1938. He was a founding partner in Dive ‘n’ Surf along with Bev Morgan and the Meistrell Brothers. He was widely regarded as surfing’s finest craftsman, and his shop was called the “Notre Dame Cathedral” of surf shops.
Greg Noll moved with his family from San Diego to Manhattan Beach. Noll grew up surfing in the South Bay where he refined both his board shaping skills working under Dale Velzy and his big wave technique at Lunada Bay in Palos Verdes. Noll moved to Hawaii in 1954 where he earned his “Da Bull” nickname for his iconic style. Many believe he rode the biggest wave of all time during the infamous 1969 El Nino winter at Makaha.
Twin brothers Bill and Bob Meistrell, born in Missouri in 1928, moved to Manhattan Beach in 1944. The brothers joined with Bev Morgan as partners in Dive ‘n’ Surf, one of the first Dive/Marine/Surf shops. The brothers were tinkering with various methods to stay warm while surfing cold winter swells. They discovered a material used to help insulate refrigerators, “neoprene” — thus inventing the first practical wetsuit. They called the suit the “Body Glove” and soon after in 1965, the world renowned watersports brand was born.