Coming at you this afternoon from deep into the "W" pages and half-giddy at the prospect of wrapping up this massive EOS photo-remodel by mid-week—so giddy in fact that I have halted work in order to fire up this Joint and spend a few bleary-eyed minutes with you talking about surfing’s powerful Weber element, and by “Weber,” I mean “Weber” and “Webber” both, so let’s get into it.
Greg Webber. We’re not doing this in order, but laying my cards on the table here, this guy unwittingly did more than anybody apart from my 7th-grade English teacher (barred from the ocean for a full month after she gave me a “D” for the grammar unit; I still can’t diagram a sentence, Mrs. Fischer, you absolute battle-ax, but look at me and my successful nonprofit surfing blog!) to ruin my surfing life when he put Shane Herring on those flip-tip “rocker ship” boards in 1992 and literally warped the entire high-performance end of the sport. From more or less 1985 to 1991 I could not get a bad surfboard. Every shaper in my Rolodex could pump out a great 6'2" x 19" tri-fin during this period. Then Webber and Al Merrick loosed those little elf-shaped flippy-dippy boards on us and, folks, I was at sea, water up to my chest, teeth grinding, accrued skills bottled and shelved, for two years or more. Of course, to be fair, when the design correction finally came, the boards were better than they had been before. Much better. And remain so. But Greg Webber, buddy, you put me through it during the early Bill Clinton years, and I forgive but do not forget.
Dewey Weber, the Pete Weber of surfing, is, of course, the biggest Weber of all. I’ll leave it at that, but only because we’ve already talked so much about him, and you can click forth at will, although “Little Man in Paradise” is probably the best and I’ll quote just a bit:
The Dewey Weber story rests on that jutting sunburned lower lip of his. You get a quick glance at it in the shot above, just after the opening title, deplaning in Honolulu. Very lip-forward. A fleshy little beacon of determination. How easy to imagine him wearing the exact same face while winning the big yo-yo championship, or the conference wrestling title, or while running up the beach at First Point. What a fierce little man, absolutely intent on bending the world to his will. Which he did, for a while. Our own bleach-blond Napoleon.
Let’s not forget Carol Weber, Dewey’s wife, who I suspect did 800% more than she’s given credit for in terms of making Weber Surfboards the powerhouse it was throughout the 1960s, and, in fact, I wonder if maybe it was Carol who engineered or at least facilitated the greatest bit of surf-product placement in the history of surf-product placement, that of course being Mackenzie Phillips’ wearing an oversized Weber Surfboards T-shirt during her scene-stealing roll in 1973’s American Graffiti. The shirt arrived too late to reverse Weber Surfboards’ fortunes, sadly—but it was enough to goad hot-rodding John Milner (Paul Le Mat) into one of the movie’s best lines, when he turns off a Beach Boys song on the radio and says “I don’t like that surfin’ shit—rock and roll’s been going downhill ever since Buddy Holly died,” which by my reckoning makes him the youngest and best-looking grumpy old man on record.
Finally, we have two-time world champion Sharron Weber, my favorite Weber of all, no relation to Dewey although both were small and blonde and tough as nails. “Two-time world champ,” believe it not, undersells just how dominant Weber was, competitively, in the late ’60s and early ’70s. She was runner-up to Margo Godfrey in the ’68 world titles, then won the next two, in 1970 and ’72. She was a six-time Hawaiian state champ—picking up her first after she’d been surfing less than two years—and US champ in 1969 as well. Weber was a killer in a comp vest, in other words. And was easily, without question, the most ignored and forgotten A-grade surfer of her period, or any period actually. Nobody’s even close. Joey Hamasaki, a few years earlier, was in the same fix, both in terms of talent and getting all but blocked out in the surf media. But Joey was too nice, too quiet, and probably too Asian if we’re being honest, to get noticed. Sharron is the sport’s once and forever queen of overlooked. It’s become a thing unto itself, in fact. “I’m a secret surfer,” Weber later told writer Jen See. “I’m known in your magazines for not being known.”
Let’s stay a moment with Jen’s article, which ran in a 2020 issue of Surfer’s Journal, because in a few deftly-written sentences we learn of a heretofore unknown peak moment of Weber’s surfing life, followed by a major crossroads decision.
The 1970 world title did not change much for Weber, who returned to Honolulu. Time unrolled by in a succession of surf sessions and day jobs. Surfing at Ala Moana faded into winter on the North Shore. Gerry Lopez recalls hunting lefts with Weber at Velzyland, Sunset, and Pipeline. “I was watching what she did and trying to emulate it myself,” says Lopez. “She was one of the people you could really look at like, ’Oh man, that’s what you can do. That’s what I want to do!’”
Tourists [in Honolulu] meanwhile paid her for surf lessons. Weber gave a lesson to a Frenchman, who offered her a condo in Biarritz. With a free place to stay, Weber spent several months surfing from Guethary to Hossegor with friends from Hawaii, including Jeff Hakman and Lopez. The trip unfolded in a blur of partying, French wine, and surfing. While visiting her parents in London, Weber received a letter from Harold Friend, a tire salesman whose three sons she had taught to surf years before in Hawaii. He was opening a store in Honolulu and asked if Weber wanted a job. She accepted and returned to Hawaii.
Weber went on to win another world title, and not long after that take an unnoticed but nonetheless ballsy stand on racial inequity (after being given a free plane ticket to Durban for a 1974 contest, she found out that her brown-skinned Hawaii teammates would not be allowed to surf some Durban-area beaches; she gave the ticket back), but accepting that garage job in Honolulu in 1970 was the road taken, the choice made.
Years later, when Nathan Myers called Weber to get some info for her Encyclopedia of Surfing page, she reviewed her life and career in a cheerful no-bullshit voice, eye-rolling all the walls she and the women surfers ran into in the ’60s and ’70s, but also grateful for all the great waves and friends made along the way. No regrets. “I only know two things,” she told Nathan. “How to surf and how to change a tire.”
Weber, now 75, lives on Kauai. Still getting in the water, still changing tires.
Thanks, everybody, and see you next week!
PS: My dumb ass thought the “Water, water, everywhere” quote I smugly riffed on for the subject header, above, is from Shakespeare. Wrong. It’s from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Coleridge, and the only reason I spelled it “Rime” just now instead of “Rhyme” is ’cause I’m looking at the poem on my screen. They’ll give a Phi Betta Kappa pin to anybody.
[Photo grid, clockwise from top right: Pete Weber; Sharron Weber, 1969, photo by Brad Barrett; Dewey and Carol Weber, 1963, photo by LeRoy Grannis; pinup girl with Weber Grill, art by Gil Elvgren; 1967 Weber Performer ad; Shane Herring and Mike Rommelse with board shaped by Greg Webber, photo by Tom Servais. Shane Herring on a Greg Webber-shaped board, 1992, photo by Peter Aitchinson. Dewey Weber at Honolulu Airport, shot by Greg Noll. Weber stuffs Mike Doyle at San Miguel in 1966. Dewey and Carol Weber, by LeRoy Grannis. Mackenzie Phillips and Paul Le Mat in American Graffiti. Sharron Weber wins the 1969 US Championships. Winner’s photo, left to right: Jericho Poppler, Linda Benson, Sharron Weber, Margo Godfrey, Nancy Emerson. Weber photo with Bolt surfboard, 2020, by Mike Coots]