Dale Velzy is the first surfer Bruce Brown introduces in Slippery When Wet, Brown’s 1958 debut movie. Del Cannon is second. The camera loves both, but for very different reasons. Dale, with his crooked smile and Boozefighter haircut and a merchant marine tattoo on his bicep, is the lovable hustler on his way to a near-career-killing beatdown by the IRS. Cannon is handsome and innocent and reserved, with a hint of Buster Keaton around his soulful eyes. Dale was never again seen in a Bruce Brown movie. Del was featured in most of them. It’s easy to see why. Del looked and surfed like Phil Edwards’s understudy—Phil was every surf filmmaker’s go-surf surfer at the time, Bruce included—but was more accessible, more relatable, easier to identify with. Brown recognized the value of ground-level charisma. Phil was a surf god. Del, although cool in his own right, leaned a bit sad-sack. At the beginning of Barefoot Adventure, he steps in a fresh pile of dog shit and responds with nothing more than a weary “why me” tilt of the head.
“Del was a San Diego guy, a good surfer and a great swimmer,” Bruce Brown later recalled, “but he was really great actor! He had screen presence. He could get a lot done with just the slightest expression. And he’d do anything you asked.”
Bruce, as you can see from the video here, was happy to film Del riding waves—but he was even happier filming him in the short comedy bits that popped up every ten minutes or so during the running time of a surf flick, as a way to break up the wave-riding action.
Cannon was among the group of surfers in ’57 who rode Waimea for the first time, and was later known for making high-quality surfboards. Following his move to Hawaii, around 1970, he was a mostly-uncredited shaper for Lightning Bolt. But back in the sport’s pre-Beatles age, when hair was short and comedy was corn-filled, Del was known and appreciated as the boy-next-door barefoot adventurer who would pretend to step in a dog crap for our lowbrow comedy pleasure. He was one of us.