A great artiste, dedicated to his calling, a guru...

HE WAS

January 30, 1993

HE WAS a great artiste, dedicated to his calling, a guru of a powerful American culture. Yet he was alone when he died, except for his surfboards.

He was a beach bum, a hedonistic "hodad" in the local argot. He spent his life "hanging 10," searching for the perfect wave. If you were a surfer, or even one of the tens of millions of Highway Surfers who never set foot on a board, Dewey Weber was a god, the Pan of the Pipeline.

The Beach Boys' music and Hollywood movies promoted the Southern California surfing culture across the country. But Weber's pioneering hot dog acrobatics and his break-through development of the foam longboard combined to define, even to create, that culture.

A small, energetic towhead, laid-back but filled with bravado, Weber was the quintessential surfer who spent his life pursuing the endless summer of California and Hawaiian beaches. He was the undisputed champ of the 1950s and '60s, but his greatest contribution was changing the surfboard from a heavy, cumbersome plank of wood to a sleek foam-core, fiberglass missile more manageable and reliable. That helped the sport to grow rapidly. Weber became a legend.

His surf shop at Hermosa Beach was a popular hangout. The shop sold more T-shirts than boards, such was his cultural cachet. The 10-foot longboard gave way to the shorter, lighter board in the 1970s but Weber boards were still prized artifacts, their maker revered by young surfers -- and their fathers.

Bedeviled by alcoholism and personal tragedies, Weber died recently of liver failure. His summer ended, and his death evoked memories of an idyllic passage of yesteryear.

As a friend noted, "Struggling for youthful maturity in Southern California, we sometimes visited his shop. (It was a short haul down Pacific Coast Highway from the karate studio of another guru of macho adolescent hubris, Chuck Norris.)

"We met Weber once, and elevated our status on the beach by shamelessly recounting (falsely) how he had instructed us in some technical arcanum of the sport. The Weber name was magic."

After his competitive career, Weber kept ties with surfing competitions and the board industry. He lived the lifestyle, creating dreams for others and giving special meaning to the lives of those for whom the greeting "Surf's up!" was more than a weather report.

* * *

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Truth in resume-writing? Not from this crowd.

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