Dale Velzy, Hap Jacobs, Bill Meistrell and Bev Morgan at the original Dive N Surf Shop in 1954. (Photo credit: Encyclopedia of Surfing.)
In the ’60s Hap was building 100 boards a week, with a team of top talent including Donald Takayama, Lance Carson, Robert August and Mike Purpus.
21 December 21
From The Daily Breeze: Hap Jacobs, a craftsman who helped mold surf culture into what it is today and an icon among the early-day innovators who changed the surfboard-shaping industry as the sport’s popularity swelled, has died. He was 92.
Jacobs, who died Saturday, Dec. 18, was among the first crop of inductees to the Hermosa Beach Surfers Hall of Fame.
“I’m saddened, not only because he was an unbelievable craftsman, but he had the kindest heart,” said Dennis Jarvis, owner of Spyder Surfboards and founder of the Surfers Hall of Fame.
Dudley “Happy” Jacobs was born in Los Angeles before his family moved to Hermosa Beach in 1938, when Jacobs was in the fourth grade.
It wasn’t long before he was soaking in the surf lifestyle, getting a job at age 16 at California Surfrider in Manhattan Beach, swapping off and keeping surf mat rentals inflated. As a perk of the job, he’d take the mats out to catch waves. Jacobs started taking notice of a group of surfers – including South Bay hot shot Dale Velzy – on heavy redwood boards at the Hermosa Beach Pier.
After graduating from Redondo Union High School in 1951, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, where he started riding waves with others at Makaha, Hawaii, among them big-wave rider and South Bay pioneer Greg Noll.
It’s where he also met his wife, Patricia. The duo moved back to Hermosa Beach, where he started a carpenter’s apprentice at UCLA. It wasn’t long before he quit.
His first big move in surf retail was when he and South Bay diver Bev Morgan pooled their resources in 1953 and went into business to create Dive ‘N Surf in Redondo Beach.
He ended up selling his share to twin brothers Bob and Bill Meistrell, who went on to create the Body Glove empire.
Jacobs wanted to create quality surfboards, so he teamed up with Velzy to start the Velzy-Jacobs surf shop in Venice Beach. But by the early 60s, Jacobs had his own surf shop in Hermosa Beach. He called it Jacobs Surfboards.
“He was in the right business in the right place at the right time,” Sam Gnerre, a history columnist for the Southern California News Group, wrote about him once. “The surfing craze swept Southern California and the nation in the early 1960s and, for a while, Hermosa Beach was ground zero.”
But by 1971, as shorter, more progressive board designs started taking shape, Jacobs had sold the shares of his business.
He became a commercial fisherman for the next 20 years and operated the fuel dock at King Harbor, calling nearby Palos Verdes Estates home.
In 1991, Jacobs came out of retirement to return to board shaping, possibly because he saw a resurgence in longboarding, said Jarvis, who would have a shaping bay right next to Jacobs’ space in Hermosa Beach.
Even before that, Jarvis was no stranger to Jacobs’ influence. Like many other South Bay surfers, the first wave he ever rode was aboard one of Jacobs’ designs.
“My whole life revolves around that guy and what he did for me,” Jarvis said.
They became quick friends while working next to each other, Jacobs asking Jarvis advice on contemporary shortboard designs while the older shaper shared stories and his passion for his longboard craftsmanship.
“All the bells and whistles, he didn’t get. He knew to be successful, he’d have to get it,” Jarvis said, noting they’d sit down over lunch to talk about tri-fin setups and shortboard designs. “That’s when I fell in love with the guy. He was open to learning about new concepts and innovations.”
Jarvis described him as “confidently mellow” and “full of love and light,” a jokester with a goofy side that always made people smile. He shaped up until just a few years ago.
Jacobs, along with the likes of Greg Noll and Dale Velzy, made the sport accessible to the masses, shaping tens of thousands of boards in the late 50s and 60s that were sent around the world as surfing gained in popularity.
“You take a look at the labels out of Hermosa Beach,” Jarvis said, “there’s no one who can touch the legacy of the first inductees many years ago.”
Peter “PT” Townend, who recently created an installation at the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum called “Finding California Surf,” talked about Jacobs’ influence and the importance of remembering the early icons.
“We’re losing them all, there’s not too many of that generation left,” he said.
“I think it’s incredibly important,” Townend added. “It’s really good to go back and reflect on the influence these guys had. Those guys were the pioneers of what we have for a surfboard building industry today.”
Besides the Surfers Hall of Fame, Jacobs was also inducted into the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame in 2002.
A post eulogizing the South Bay legend on the Jacobs Surfboards Facebook page described him as a hero and a teacher. He had two sons, Dean and Kent, four grandchildren and three great grandchildren according to his grandson Mike.
“Hap wasn’t afraid to chase his dreams and he proved it,” the post said. “He always pushed us to be better. He gave us the drive to pursue our own dreams and live our best life trying to follow in his footsteps. Just by simply being himself.”
- AUTHOR: LAYLAN CONNELLY
- SOURCE: THE DAILY BREEZE
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