Fearless surfer from Haleiwa, Hawaii, described by fellow big-wave pioneer Greg Noll as "the gutsiest surfer there ever was." Angel was born (1934) and raised in San Francisco, California, and became a casual surfer while attending San Francisco State College. He took to the ocean in part because he had severe skin allergies, and seawater provided quick and easy relief.
In 1955, Angel followed wife-to-be Mozelle Gooch to Hawaii; she was at that point the more accomplished surfer of the two. But Angel, a brawny goofyfooter, immersed himself in the powerful waves along the North Shore of Oahu, and by the end of the decade he'd earned a singular reputation as a thrill-seeker who loved a thumping wipeout just as much—maybe even more—as a completed ride. "He'd take an unbelievably hairy drop," fellow California transplant Ricky Grigg recalled in 1993, "make the hard part of the ride, and then just step off the board and let the wave blast him; just destroy him."
Angel was also one of Hawaii's best free divers; without scuba tanks, he was able to descend more than 300 feet below the surface. Once, after Angel was separated from his boat following a long dive off Maui, he swam 13 miles to the island of Molokai, then hiked four miles to the nearest phone. In 1974, however, while diving for black coral near Kauai, he came up too fast and suffered a case of the bends (nitrogen bubbles in the body tissues caused by rapid decompression), which left his right leg partially paralyzed and slowed down his wave-riding.
On July 24, 1976, Angel and Grigg went diving at a place called Shark Ridge, off Maui. Angel dropped below 300 feet, and never came up. Grigg later said that Angel probably misjudged the dive and blacked out. Shelly Angel, Jose's oldest daughter, thought her father took his own life. "My dad was never going to grow old gracefully," she said in 1993. "He needed to go out with a bang."
On land, Angel was easygoing, gentle, polite, and helpful; he began working as a teacher at Haleiwa Elementary School on the North Shore in the late '50s, and eventually became the school's principal. He appeared in more than a dozen surf movies, including Surf Safari (‘59), Barefoot Adventure (‘60), Cavalcade of Surf (‘62) and Waves of Change (‘70). Angel was featured on the cover of the first issue of Surfer magazine, in 1960, dropping into a giant wave at Sunset Beach. Angel was married twice and had four children.