The Ballad of Dale Velzy

The boardmaking cowboy would have been 88 today

Dale Velzy died of lung cancer, at 77, a little over ten years ago, and you have to marvel that he actually made it that far. Look at the last bit of footage in the clip above. The man's got a Marlboro lit up in his surfboard factory; smoke dancing in and out of the benzoyl peroxide fumes, a hanging cigarette ember just out of the frame, no doubt looking for a still-hot resin bucket to dive into. My God, what a fine line it is between panache and folly.

Keep that in mind when you think of Velzy and his friendly rival Hobie Alter. Velzy made the best surfboards throughout the 1950s, but could sooner levitate than balance his books. Hobie's product, meanwhile, was maybe a half-step behind Velzy's in terms of performance, but he ran his accounts like a Brigham Young CPA. Hobie had panache to burn when it came to numbers. Sales-wise, the two men duked it out for years, although there was little actual contact between them. Here comes Dale finger-steering his Gullwing Mercedes into the San Clemente shop parking lot, late morning, bleary-eyed, a pint of Johnny Walker Black riding on his hip. And there goes Hobie out of his Dana Point shop, having put the finishing touches on his fourth shaped blank of the day, taking a break with a tall glass of milk and the the LA Times business section.

You know what happens next. The IRS blitzed Velzy in 1960 and left him standing on the sidewalk in his underpants and nothing else, while Hobie went on to earn millions--back when a million meant something.

By any rational means, you gotta say Hobie played it right. On the other hand, troubadours in the coming post-apocalyptic world will sing hour-long ballads about Dale Velzy, the brokedown wave-riding cowboy, while Hobie will forever be remembered as the Henry Ford of Surfing.

Take your pick.