Dewey Weber, Hotdog Jesus

Dewey Weber, Malibu. Photo: LeRoy Grannis
Dewey Weber. Photo: LeRoy Grannis
Dewey Weber, Sunset. Photo: Don James
Dewey Weber
Dewey Weber, Hermosa. Photo: LeRoy Grannis

Surfing's performance standard in the mid-'50s was being reset almost month to month at Malibu, and the surfer doing the most to push things along was a flashy half-pint peroxide-blond high school wrestling star named Dewey Weber. Like Velzy, Weber came from a blue-collar Hermosa Beach family; his father drove a truck, and his mother was a factory worker. By the time he completed his first year of high school, Weber was already famous three times over—first as a pageboy-coiffed model for Buster Brown Shoes, then as a national yo-yo champion (earning himself a spot on Groucho Marx’ You Bet Your Life TV show), then as South Bay’s first freshman all-state wrestler. He was a natural in the water—three of his toes on each foot were webbed together—and began surfing at age nine. After getting his driver’s license at 15, Weber all but lived at Malibu during the summer months and was one of Velzy’s top test pilots; two years later, when Velzy handed him a pig prototype, Weber was set to become the First Point’s flashiest surfer.

As Matt Kivlin had done a few years earlier, Weber viewed the Malibu beachgoers as an audience in want of entertainment. But where Kivlin got attention by riding the point like Sinatra finger-popping his way through Witchcraft, Weber pounded it out like Jerry Lee Lewis—hands and elbows chopping the air, feet blurred as he ran for the nose, stopped, and just as quickly backpedaled. There was a kind of grim overcompensation to Weber’s surfing. At 5' 3", he was small, pale, and nearly humorless, with a tight little mouth that pulled into a grimace during a hard turn. But there also was a manic pleasure in the way Weber surfed, a showmanship that recalled the physicality of Waikiki’s Scooter Boy Kaopuiki, who used to run and leap across his big hollow board at Canoe’s like a hopped-up vaudevillian. Weber was also the first surfer to fully understand the value of costuming: his mother made him a pair of bright red trunks, and Weber bleached his shock of already-blond hair to a radiant yellow-white.

When he was 17, and got his first pig surfboard—colored red to match—Weber became the show. Surfers got out of the water to watch him ride, which only made him surf  that much harder. “People stood on the beach and pointed,” Weber once said. “You could actually see them pointing.”

The term “hotdog” originated on the ski slopes, but Weber embodied the word so thoroughly that he came to own it—for better and worse. By the end of the decade, he was far and away the sport’s most camera-ready star, and as a dedicated surf media took shape, Weber became the celebrated “Little Man on Wheels.” There were some holdouts. Older surfers in particular thought Weber had done nothing but burn rubber across the finer points of style and form. “A mature man,” lifeguard and pioneering Malibu surfer Sam Reid said, his mind’s eye no doubt fixed on an image of Weber punching through a double-time reverse-shoulder cutback, “will never remain a hotdogger.”

Weber didn’t care. He loved the theatrics of surfing Malibu on a hot summer afternoon; the control he had over his board and the beach audience. For the rest of the fifties Weber’s turns just got sharper and his feet only moved faster.

At just 17 years of age, Dewey Weber became the show. Red trunks, bleached-white hair, blinding foot speed. “People stood on the beach and pointed,” Weber once said. “You could actually see them pointing."