By Carley Dryden, Daily Breeze
Hap Jacobs wasn’t going to be pleased.
The surfing legends gathered in a Redondo Beach restaurant Thursday evening jokingly predicted that the iconic surfboard shaper might even get back in his car and drive off if he sensed something was up.
More than 100 of his current and former team surfers and friends from across the country gave a surprise tribute to Jacobs — a surfboard shaper by trade, but arguably the shaper of the surfing culture in the beach cities and beyond — at Captain Kidd’s in Redondo Beach.
In true form, the humble Jacobs spoke few words, standing seemingly in disbelief with a sheepish grin, as grown men cried tears of joy and thanked Jacobs for changing their lives.
“He is probably the most respected surfer on the planet,” said Jeff “Peff” Eick, who bought his first surfboard from Jacobs’ shop in 1956. “He’s a wonderful, wonderful man, kind and generous and unassuming.”
John Grannis, son of iconic surf photographer LeRoy Grannis, called Jacobs an excellent surfer and true gentleman.
“This is great,” he told a fellow surfer. “We’re celebrating someone’s life while they’re still alive.”
Surfing legend Mike Purpus started out on the Jacobs surf team when he was 14 years old.
“It was the biggest honor as a kid to be a member of the Jacobs surfing team, because the best guys from around the world were on that team,” he said. “Hap started it all.”
Jacobs, 83, began crafting surfboards nearly six decades ago. Today, his work is credited with helping shape the sport’s history.
The rise in popularity of the Jacobs Surfboards brand directly correlated with the golden age of surfing, marked by short swim trunks, heavy wooden boards, beach party movies and Dick Dale songs.
The Palos Verdes Estates resident was tapped in 2003 as a charter member of the Hermosa Beach Surfer’s Walk of Fame, a series of bronze plaques embedded on the municipal pier paying tribute to the laid-back beach town’s surfing legends.
Surfers on Thursday called Jacobs a “master craftsman,” whose innovative construction and attention to detail still rank him as the most respected board shaper in the world.
“His boards are the best,” Purpus said. “They’re always the best quality and his shapes are progressive, even way back when.”
Jacobs, who was raised in Hermosa Beach, got his introduction to surfing by catching waves beneath the Manhattan Beach Pier with canvas mats filled with air.
After a stint in the Coast Guard in the early 1950s and as a carpenter’s apprentice at UCLA, Jacobs went into business with Bev Morgan, a local diver. Jacobs shaped the surfboards, Morgan designed and manufactured the rubber wetsuits. They called their Redondo Beach store Dive N’ Surf.
While most boards were still being made with balsa and redwood, and covered in a crude protective coating of cheesecloth, Jacobs began experimenting with fiberglass and foam. Not only were his boards well designed, they were lighter.
“The first boards guys were riding were terrible,” Jacobs said in a 2011 interview. “They were made from heavy, hollow wood.”
He sold his stake in the store in 1953 to Bob and Bill Meistrell, founders of Body Glove, and partnered in 1953 with legendary surfer Dale Velzy. Together, they opened surf shops in Venice and San Clemente, selling hundreds of boards a week. The Velzy-Jacobs brand grew quickly.
Jacobs opened his own store in 1960 along Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach. He developed the iconic red-diamond logo — still used by his son, Kent, a shaper in Hawaii. Jacobs had a team of riders and managed a staff of four shapers. Business began to swell.
Jacobs was able to grow his brand while many of his competitors struggled to balance surfing and running a business, said Matt Warshaw, a noted surf historian and Manhattan Beach native.
“A lot of what made Jacobs was that he had a business head,” Warshaw, author of the Encyclopedia of Surfing, said in a 2011 interview. “He kept it together when a lot of the guys around him just lost it. He was quietly back there making boards, giving everyone the straight deal.”
Some weeks, Jacobs would sell more than 115 boards from his store.
Jacobs quit shaping for about 20 years after selling his stake in the business in 1971, taking up commercial fishing instead. But by 1991, he was back in his shaping bay in Hermosa Beach, where he remains today, crafting some of the finest boards in the world.
“When you pick up a Hap Jacobs board, you can feel the history in it,” said Spyder Surfboards owner Dennis Jarvis, who has been shaping boards for more than 30 years. “Through the years, people have tried to copy what he has done, but he’s still doing it.”
On Thursday, one by one, icons of the local surfing world stood before Jacobs, recalling memories of surfing on his team in the 1960s and ’70s and thanking him for “his generous spirit, his humility.”
“He’s like my surrogate father,” Purpus said. “He’s the nicest human being out of all the surfers in the world.”
One man walked up to Jacobs and placed his hand on his shoulder.
“This is the man who changed my life,” he said.
Jacobs was presented with a book of letters and photographs contributed by his former surfers, along with a signed surfboard. Organizers said they had been trying to put together a tribute for nearly a decade.
Jacobs sat quietly by his longtime love, wife Patricia, struggling to find words.
“This is the biggest surprise ever,” he said. “I don’t know what to say. It’s just amazing.”