With his backing band, The Del-Tones, Dale's live performances became huge local draws. 1961's "Let's Go Trippin'" is widely regarded as the first surf rock song (see 1961 in music). This was followed by more locally-released songs, including "Jungle Fever" and "Surf Beat". His first full-length album was Surfer's Choice (1962 in music). The album was picked up by Capitol Records and distributed nationally, and Dale soon began appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show and in films. His second album was named after his performing nickname, King of the Surf Guitar.
Though surf rock became the national sound in the U.S. briefly, the British Invasion began ruining Dale and others' careers in 1964. Though he continued performing live, Dale was soon set back by rectal cancer. He recovered, though, and retired from music for a time. In 1979, he almost lost a leg after being injured while swimming; a pollution-related infection made the mild injury much worse. As a result, Dale became an environmental activist and soon began performing again throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He tried to launch a comeback in 1986 (see 1986 in music) and was nominated for a Grammy, and the use of his song "Misirlou" in a Quentin Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction, effectively launched a comeback within a small but devoted audience. He has released several albums since.