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Manhattan Beach OKs 'First Known Surf Shop' Plaque

Mar 09, 2023 10:46PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Clockwise from top left: Two images of the original Velzy surf shop; the proposed location for the plaque outside The Strand House, and the Velzy logo. Images via city of Manhattan Beach.

The Manhattan Beach City Council has given the green light to a plan by the South Bay Boardriders Club to install a plaque at the site of the "world's first known surf shop" on Manhattan Beach Blvd.

In 1950, Dale Velzy opened what appears to have been the first known retail surf shop, located at 117 Manhattan Beach Blvd., the current site of The Strand House.

The approximately 12"x16" plaque will be installed in the cement outside the Strand House, to the south of the actual sidewalk, and just to the east of the fire hydrant in that spot (see bottom right photo above).

As proposed, the plaque will read: "Dale 'Hawk' Velzy opened the world's first known surf shop on this location in 1950."

The South Bay Boardriders Club will cover the costs of creating and installing the plaque.

"Part of our mission statement for the club is to honor and celebrate the rich surfing history we have in the South Bay, and this is obviously a big part of that," Tom Horton, the president of South Bay Boardriders, told the council. 

The plaque is a collaborative effort of Jacquelyne May, Bing Copeland, Matt Velzy, John Leninger, Roy Bream, and the South Bay Boardriders Club. 

The spot on the edge of the sidewalk that was chosen is "where the kids used to gather," May told the council.

But Was it the *First* Surf Shop?

But was Velzy's shop truly the first surf shop? Horton said that the group had researched the question extensively - including consulting with Manhattan Beach native Matt Warshaw, author of the Encyclopedia of Surfing - and had concluded that it was the first.

But local historian Gary McAulay told the council that the claim to being first was not a certainty, and that other surfing icons also claim to have had the "first" surf shop.

"We have no documentation as far as we know," said McAuley. "I think it might be disputed, so please take care exactly what we cast in bronze for another of Manhattan Beach's historical plaques."

The council briefly discussed the possibility that the claim could be disputed, and the ramifications of immortalizing the claim in a plaque.

But Mayor Steve Napolitano noted that there are plenty of amicable disputes among surfing towns, such as which town owns the handle "Surf City."

"I invite a friendly rivalry," said Napolitano. "If another city wants to claim [the first surf shop], bring it on. Let them show that history is on their side. I’m not afraid to put it out there and say, 'Hey - we’re going to claim the first until someone can prove otherwise.' Because it’s just a friendly thing. No one is hurt or negatively impacted by this."

The project is expected to run on a relatively quick timeline. The city will first need to draft an agreement with the club, and plan for the installation, said Eilen Stewart, the city's cultural arts manager.

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