Memories of Hermosa Beach pioneer surfer and surfboard builder Hap Jacobs
by Mike Purpus
[Editor’s note: Pioneer surfboard builder Dudley “Hap” Jacobs passed away Saturday, Dec. 19, at his home in Palos Verdes. He was 92.]
Hap Jacobs learned to shape in 1953 from his good friend Dale Velzy, after returning from a tour in the Coast Guard. Velzy would take old, 12- to 14-foot, plywood paddle boards and cut them down. Velzy was the first board builder to put his name on his boards and the first to open a surfboard shop, just up from the Manhattan Beach pier. Hap, Greg Noll, Bing Copeland, and Rick Stoner hung out at the shop. Velzy couldn’t remember their names so he called Hap Gremmie 1, Greg Gremmie 2, Bing Gremmie 3 and Rick Gremmie 4. That’s where Gremmie came from.
Hap was Dale’s favorite, even after he started making boards on his own in the back of Bev Morgan’s dive shop in Redondo Beach.
Hap was making boards for a lot of the South Bay’s top surfers. Morgan needed a name for his store, and asked Hap to help him out. Hap said, “You take care of all the scuba divers, and I’ll take care of the surfers. Let’s call it Dive N’ Surf.
About this time, Bob and Bill Meistrel scored a big contract from the Navy to invent a dive helmet, and wanted to work with Bev. There was not enough room in the store for everyone. Bob Miestrell told me he went up to Dale Velzy’s Surf Shop and talked Dale into asking Hap to be his partner.
Hap told me one of the hardest things he ever had to do was tell his mother Velzy was his new partner. His mother thought Velzy was a bad influence.
They opened a shop in Venice and called their boards Velzy and Jacobs. It worked because Dale had all the best surfers from Malibu, and Hap was making boards for the best South Bay surfers. When “Gidget” came out they couldn’t handle all the orders.
Hap said Dale wanted to hang out with all the Malibu movie stars while he made all the surfboards. This led to Hap asking Dale if it was alright to part ways. Hap opened Jacobs Surfboards at 422 Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach. It was the nicest surf shop of its time, complete with carpeted floors. I loved hanging out there. When I wasn’t surfing I was ogling the new surfboards, and the awesome Jacobs Surf Team photos on the wall. My friends, and I talked about the day our photos were going to be up there.
One day, when I was 13 years old, I stood staring up at Hap Jacobs, who looked like Charlton Heston getting ready to part the Red Sea in the “Ten Commandments.” I said “Hap, I want to be on the Jacobs Surf Team.” Hap squinted and rubbed his chin for the longest minute of my life. I almost wet myself before he said, “I heard you are pretty good. Your team shirts will be ready next week. You get one free board, and have to trade it in when you get another one. You better take care of it.”
My friends couldn’t believe I was on the Jacobs Surf Team. My Mira Costa social status went way up.
I ordered a surfboard with nine stringers. It had three balsa wood and six redwood stringers. The blank, alone, was more expensive than a new surfboard. Hap made it for me, anyway. It worked great until I started getting little dings in the nose that I should have patched. Then it happened. Two weeks after I got the board,I pearled on a 6-foot wave, and the fiberglass on the bottom of my brand new, very expensive surfboard peeled halfway down. I took the board back to the shop.
That night at dinner the doorbell rang. My dad answered it. It was Hap. My dad invited Hap to join us but Hap declined, asking to have a private word with me. My dad said, “Sure Hap you are almost one of the family.” Hap took me outside, pinned me against the front door, and lifted me two inches off the ground, pinching a nerve on the side of my neck. Hap told me if I ever treated a new surfboard like that again I would never get a new one from him or anyone else. He asked if I understood. I was in too much pain to speak, so I shook my head yes. He set me down, and told me to patch my dings.
That winter the Redondo Breakwater was 8-foot, with shape. All of the South Bay’s best surfers were charging it. I was following the surfers out on the rocks to jump off when Hap grabbed me, and asked where I was going. I told him out on the rocks to jump off. He shook his head saying, “No you are not. You get enough dings without the rocks. If you can’t paddle out you should not be out there. I will show you how to paddle out.” We jumped in, right next to rocks where the rip current pulls you out. If a set comes you might have to roll one or two times. But it’s safer and faster than jumping off the rocks.
Two years went by, and Hap had me surfing in all the contests. My friends and I were members of the Windansea Surf Club that went to Hawaii every Christmas. Kent Layton, Don Craig and I wanted our own big wave photos to hang on the shop wall, more than anything. I asked Hap to make me a big wave gun. He said “Are you nuts? I am not making a big wave gun for a 14-year-old kid who might go out on a big day. He let me and my friends take used guns out of the back of the shop. Mine was a 10-foot-5 brown rocket that I could barely lift.
Makaha was 15-feet and good when we paddled a mile out. We each caught about five waves, in the hopes Leroy Grannis would get photos of us.
“Leroy would sit in the bowl with his camera in a wooden recipe box. He’d pull it out to get the shot, then put it back in the box and paddle furiously for the channel.
After a big set, he stopped us from paddling back out. He and Hap were friends.
He said, “I got photos of you, and I am not shooting you anymore. You kids are way over your head, and I don’t want to have to save you if you wipe out. It’s not fair to the pro surfers out here, either. ”
Hap couldn’t hide the fact he was impressed when Leroy’s photo of me on the big, brown Jacobs gun was made into a poster that hung next to a Farrah Fawcett poster in college book stores all across the country.
The Oceanside Invitational Surfing Championships was the biggest contest on the California coast. Only the top 30 surfers in the world were invited. I was the fourth alternate, and the last to be picked. After I made it all the way to the finals the announcer asked Hap why I was the only surfer in the water who did not have his own signature model. Hap said, “If he wins this he will.” I won, got my own model, and was on my way to Australia to make a 20th Century Fox Movie about the shortboard revolution.
I returned with a little Aussie V-bottom surfboard that became Hap’s best selling surfboard. Hap sent me all over the United States selling Jacobs Surfboard. I loved it. I didn’t care if there were waves or not. I met people I’m still friends with today because of Hap.
One day, Hap and Velzy ran out of redwood to make the stringers that hold the surfboard’s rocker. Dale told Hap not to worry, he knew a place where they could score good redwood really cheap. Velzy picked Hap up at midnight and they drove to Palos Verdes. The Palos Verdes police could never figure out where all the stop signs went. Hap made me promise to never tell that story. But I don’t think he’d mind now, even though it proves his mother was right about Velzy. ER