Along Came a Spyder
Surfer and businessman Dennis Jarvis joins the Hermosa Beach Surfer’s Walk of Fame and celebrates an iconic presence in local surf culture.
- Written byStefan Slater
Dennis Jarvis, founder of Spyder Surf, recently added his name—along with Chris Barela, Mike Benavidez and Derek Levy—to a formidable list of surf legends here in the South Bay. The Hermosa Beach Surfer’s Walk of Fame, a tradition that includes surf icons such as Greg Noll and Dewey Weber, honors those who’ve contributed significantly to the South Bay’s surf culture over the decades.
Dennis, who first learned to surf off the south side of the Hermosa Pier when he was 14, has made a tremendous impact on his local surf scene. Aside from operating the Hermosa Beach-based Spyder Surf for more than 30 years, he’s also shaped boards for some of the top professional surfers in the world, graced the covers of several popular surf magazines and even influenced Hollywood’s take on surf by serving as a technical advisor.
“You can’t pretend. If you say you do it, you got to do it,” says Dennis, adding that his personal and business philosophy are centered around hard work and dedication—it’s what helped him succeed as both a professional surfer and a businessman. His work ethic, he notes, stems from the first time he learned how to surf. Everything from his film and commercial work to the construction of his retail surf stores started with his goal as a child to become the best possible surfer he could be.
Dennis, an LA native, spent a great deal of his childhood down on The Strand. Though he was often in the water bodysurfing or playing around with a surf mat, he didn’t start surfing until a few friends from Adams Middle School in Redondo Beach invited him to paddle out one day.
Dennis purchased a beat-up, $15 junker board from a neighbor and donned an awkward pair of what he describes as “billowy trunks” and paddled out. Unfortunately, the surf knocked him around, and his friends gave him a bit of a beating for being a “poser.”
But he made a promise to himself that he would get better by the end of the summer, and it was at that point that Dennis began to understand the importance of dedication. If he was going to do something significant, he was going to have to go all the way. “I take that into every aspect of my life … I try to learn as much as I can,” he says.
He eventually befriended an older lifeguard named Billy Robinson who helped him not only improve his surf skills but also land a job at ET Surf. Dennis began to compete, faring well in a number of California events.
His surfing prowess attracted the attention of some local surf photographers, and Dennis was featured on the cover of several popular surf magazines, including the October 1982 issue of Surfer. “That was a pinnacle,” he says. “During that period it was a crown jewel in my career.”
Dennis had also been learning how to shape and airbrush, and eventually he would go on to shape boards for a number of notable surfers including Tom Curran, Allen Sarlo and Matt Warshaw. In 1983 he opened his first Spyder Surf shop in a cramped, 1,000-square-foot space on PCH in Hermosa Beach.
“For the first six months, there were a lot of days that were $5 days. Nobody would walk in, and no one knew I was there,” he says. “I learned that sitting there and reading a magazine wasn’t the best way to grow my business.”
Boosting his customer service skills helped him with that growth. “Don’t make them a customer,” he says. “Make them your friend.”
During the ‘80s, Dennis also dabbled in acting, which eventually led to a stint as a surf technical advisor on Point Break and additional surf work on other television shows and features. And yes, he taught Keanu Reeves and the late Patrick Swayze how to surf for Point Break.
“We don’t take the word legitimate lightly,” says Dennis, adding that he’s particularly proud of Spyder Surf—it’s still a “legitimate,” surfer-owned business that’s especially dedicated to its hometown surf scene. For Dennis, both his surfing career and his shop are based around a tough work ethic and a dedication to the community that taught him everything he knows about surfing. He lives and breathes every aspect of South Bay surfing.
“We’re homegrown. This is where it all began, and I live it every day,” he says.
More than a pipe dream.