Jose Angel was 43 when he died while free diving for black coral, maybe a suicide, maybe not, it’s a mystery gone cold. No goodbye note. No body, for that matter. Jose rolled off the edge of the boat holding a big rock to his chest to speed his descent, went past 300′ and never came up. That was 40-something years ago. Angel is remembered now, if he’s remembered at all, for two things. He’s the blurry goofyfooter on the cover of SURFER issue #1, charging a Sunset Beach drop, looking like a million bucks. And he’s the guy who, more than anyone, and again for reasons unknown, loved a great wipeout as much as a great ride. From deep in the pit on a huge Waimea set wave, Jose would snap to his feet, crouch for a moment as the wave jacked to vertical, then backflip off the tail of his board, right into the maw. “Or he did this thing,” surf buddy and diving partner Ricky Grigg said, “where he’d take an unbelievably hairy drop, make the hard part of the wave, then let the whitewater blast him. He’d kind of stick his chest into it, just to feel the power. Then let it destroy him.” Nobody really understood why. Jose never really offered an explanation. Or maybe he did, kind of. Asked in a 1965 surf magazine interview about the attraction of big waves, Angel said he liked the challenge and the discipline. Also, he added, “there is the possibility of self-destruction, which is always intriguing.”

Angel otherwise gave every appearance of being the sanest, nicest, most responsible man in Hawaii. Adored his wife and kids. Stand-up guy to his friends. Polite, friendly, articulate, easy to talk with, great sense of humor. Became a teacher, then principal, at Haleiwa Elementary. So apparently, and it wasn’t a secret, there was some kind of double-life thing going on. Jose spent ninety-nine-point-something percent of his life happily within the confines of family, neighborhood, work, but would carve some time now and then for a quick do-si-do with nullity. I won’t even pretend to understand it.

But here’s what I actually wanted to say about Jose Angel. Here’s the point of difference that, above all other points, likely death-wish included, that in my mind sets Jose apart from every other big-wave surfer, past and present. He came to the North Shore for love. He didn’t bring his girlfriend to Hawaii, she brought him. Jose met a Tennessee-born tomboy named Mozelle Gootch while at San Francisco State. He was a student, she was a teacher. She surfed. He did too, a little, but not nearly as well as Mozelle. She was five years older, and had a woody wagon, and Jose jumped in, and they drove to Santa Cruz to ride waves and fall in love. Mozelle broke his heart by taking a teaching job in New Zealand, but during a stopover in Honolulu she realized that this was where she wanted to live, and called Jose to tell him. “I’m coming over,” he said, and he did, and they were married before the year was out. For two years, while living in Honolulu, Jose was still Mozelle’s surfing sidekick, which was fine. Then they moved to the North Shore, and Jose discovered the power of big waves, and figured out that he could literally place himself inside that power rather then just dance on the fringe the way every other North Shore surfer did—and he fell in love again. Fifteen or so very good years followed. Leave it there.

  • Eric Pederson

    Jose, the icon, captured my imagination as a boy; he felt the large power of the sea, embraced it unafraid, took the late drops with such style, and he, too, shared that same, rare god-given mark of putting his right foot forward. And damn who did not want to look that good doing it.

    Never heard the background of how he got to Hawaii before. Beautiful.

  • Lnidne


  • Greg

    Was on Maui when he passed .. There is no memtion here that Jose and Ricky Grigg where there the week before and Jose diving for Black coral did the rock decent .. The boat had drifted and Ricky had lost the spot he went down .. Jose coming up out of view of Ricky swam in the channel between Maui and Molokai to Molokai … I’m not positive but I think Randy Von Temski was there when Jose swam to shore … a very rough and immensely challenging swim .. Ricky and Jose did the dive again and this time Jose never was seen again . Years later I was at Wiamia Bay filming some big surf , I was near the lifeguard tower .. There was a young man there and we started talking , I asked him his name, he said I am Johnny Angel, I said are you Joses son , he said yes … I filmed him and I let him know I was on MAUI when his father passed … It was a surreal experience .. He told me he was in the process of getting the Mike Diffendurfer surfboard that his dad had rode in the picture of the first Surfer Magazine … … Greg Person

  • clearfield

    Matt, I just sent this to Jose’s daughter, Shelly. She’ll love it!

  • Hank Minkey

    awesome read. thank you matt.

  • Ed Gross

    Great article. I knew a lot of the outward things done from some of the films & photos of the past, but didn’t know the history at all as you presented it here. Fascinating person. As the man said, “sometimes when you push the limits, the limits push back”.