IN THE annals of human behaviour, there can be few more bizarre occupations than climbing into a wet-suit, and paddling out into the chill waters of Cornwall or California to wait for a wave of the right shape to come along. Every time one sees them out there, clusters of tousled heads bobbing in the grey sea, surfers seem an increasingly odd fraternity, a race apart who float around for hour after dogged hour in search of a fleeting, erratic thrill. But for Dewey Weber, one of the sport's first millionaires, it was as natural as breathing.
Weber, an almost legendary figure among committed surfers, died in his bed in a tiny apartment at the back of his surf shop in Hermosa Beach, a seaside community in Los Angeles.
The response to his death in southern California, a society with more than its fair share of assorted celebrities, has been a measure of his stature, which extended far beyond the surfing world. Local television stations and newspapers ran lengthy tributes, accolades you would more commonly expect for an Oscar-winner.
His career was nothing if not unorthodox. Before becoming involved in full-time surfing, he had a brief spell in television advertising, working for a shoe company. He also became a yo-yo expert, a skill which earned him an appearance on the hugely popular Ed Sullivan television show. In 1960, he was selected for the US Olympics wrestling team, but could not compete because of injury.
But the principal reason for his success was his brilliance on a board. In the early days of long- board surfing, he was, by all accounts, the Pele of the waves. David Nuuhiwa, a two-time world champion, has described him as 'our little man on wheels, because he was short, but he could move around on those big boards like a little fly.'
Weber's star rose in the early Sixties when (assisted by the Beach Boys) surfing took off in southern California. He became known as one of the first surfers to 'Hang Ten' properly - to have all toes gripping the edge of the board. While the rest of his bronzed fellow surfers were cruising along in one position, arms by their sides, he pioneered the art of walking the board. He went into board manufacturing, and became known for his innovative designs. His company was soon exporting worldwide. But, as surfing grew, he eventually found he could not compete with the smaller short- board manufacturers.
His decline began about five years ago, when he injured his back while surfing. With his career on the waves virtually at an end, he became depressed and turned to drink. However, he leaves a name which will surely long be mentioned in awe by the heads out there in the ocean.