Flashy bleach-blond surfer and boardmaker of the late '50s and '60s from Hermosa Beach, California; a hotdogging icon; founder and owner of surf industry powerhouse Weber Surfboards.
Weber was born (1938) in Denver, Colorado, the son of a truck driver, moved with his family at age five to Manhattan Beach (just north of Hermosa), and began surfing four years later. He was already a minor celebrity, having been hired at age seven to dress up as the cartoon character Buster Brown in a national advertising campaign for Buster Brown Shoes.
Early in his surfing life, Weber met and became friends with board manufacturer Dale Velzy, 10 years his senior, and it was the new wide-backed Velzy "pig" design, developed in the mid-'50s, that allowed Weber to develop his prototypical hotdog style. Soon he was the hottest thing on the coast. "In the late '50s," Malibu favorite Lance Carson later recalled, "on his best days, nobody could touch him." The tiny but well-muscled Weber (5' 3", 130 pounds) rode in a bowlegged stance, and used jitterbugging foot speed to race up and down the deck of his board; he was soon nicknamed "the Little Man on Wheels." Weber also had a keen sense of leverage, and was able to turn with more power than his diminutive frame would suggest.
Best remembered for his small-wave performances, especially at Malibu, Weber also rode well in the bigger Hawaiian surf. He further stood out by using candy-apple red surfboards and matching trunks, and by peroxiding his already-blond hair to an incandescent platinum white. Weber was featured in nearly every surf movie of the late '50s and early '60s, including Slippery When Wet (1958), Cat on a Hot Foam Board (1959), and Walk on the Wet Side (1963). Following up on his early Buster Brown fame, meanwhile, Weber was a three-time national yo-yo champion by age 14, and performed on the Groucho Marx-hosted television program You Bet Your Life. In high school he was a three-time all-league wrestler, in junior college he was all-state, and in 1960 he made the finals of the Olympic wrestling team trials before dislocating an elbow.
Weber Surfboards opened in 1960 in Venice, and soon became the sport's second-most popular brand, following Hobie Surfboards. Weber meanwhile became a hard drinker in his off-hours, lived up to his media billing as "the surfing millionaire" by purchasing a gold Ford Thunderbird as a wedding gift for his new bride, and by walking barefoot into the local Porsche dealership and paying cash for a new bright yellow 911. He continued to be a force as a surfer, placing second in the 1964 United States Surfing Championships, earning a slot in the 1965 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, making the finals of the 1965 and 1967 Malibu Invitational, and winning the seniors division of the 1969 U.S. Championships. In 1966 he was inducted into the International Surfing Magazine Hall of Fame.
After Weber Surfboards took a sharp dip in popularity following the shortboard revolution of the late '60s and early '70s, Weber built a two-man swordfishing boat, spent most of the daylight hours at sea, and drank heavily in the evenings. As a coda to his surfing career, Weber inaugurated the Peff Eick/Dewey Weber Invitational Longboard Classic at Manhattan Beach Pier in 1981, an event that has since been described as marking the beginning of the longboard renaissance.
Weber was married once and had three children. When he died of alcohol-related heart failure in 1993 at age 54, sleeping in tiny living quarters in the back of his surf shop, it was reported in the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, and on ABC, NBC, and CNN.
Weber's hometown of Hermosa Beach commissioned a bronze sculpture of Weber in 2008; as of 2013 it remained under construction. Little Man on Wheels: Surfing Legend Dewey Weber, a biography, was published in 2012.