The prophet on a wave!
Now, it ain’t a tragedy by any measure, a man dead at eighty-two, but when a someone like Bob Cooper evaporates from this earthly plain, surfing loses an important strand in its DNA.
In these instances we turn to Matt Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing for his back story, why he matters.
Cheerful, freethinking regularfoot surfer originally from Southern California; popular throughout the 1960s, and regarded as the original surfing beatnik. Cooper was born (1937) in Santa Monica, California, the son of an aerospace engineer who died around the time of his birth. He was raised in the Los Angeles-area suburbs of Culver City and Mar Vista, and began surfing in 1952 at age 15, at Malibu; eight years later he was one of the first American surfers to visit Australia.
Cooper earned a reputation not as a contest champion or a big-wave hero or even a small-wave performer—although he had an appealing, loose-limbed style, and a fine sense of trim—but as an articulate, slightly eccentric surfing character. In “Bob Cooper: Prophet on a Wave,” a glowing 1964 Surf Guide magazine profile, he’s lauded for his “Mount Everest beard, radical sandals, spectacular shirts and tunic of a thousand colors,” as well as his ability to “remain composed and totally unaffected even at the most radical parties.” The Bob Cooper Blue Machine signature model, produced in 1967 and early 1968 by Morey-Pope Surfboards, was the only board of the era to feature an asymmetrical fin setup.
Cooper, who was a Mormon which led to him quitting surf contests ’cause they were run on Sundays (“I could have become a professional surfer. But I wanted the blessings that were there”), spent the last fifty years of his life living on Australia’s east coast, first in Coffs Harbour where he kept a surf shop (Cooper Surf Shop, naturally) then headed north to keep his bones warm on the Sunshine Coast.
Given his beliefs it’s likely Cooper is now exalted in a celestial kingdom, covered in divine glory.
“I can go back to surfing and it’s great, but it doesn’t give me the satisfaction that I get out of doing what I’m doing now. You know, wife, family and kids — eternal concepts. Knowing where I came from, what I’m doing here, where I’m going, what the purpose of this existence is and dedicating my life to it. And the more effort I put into it, the more rewards come back,” Cooper told The Surfer’s Journal in 1999.
(Side note: The author of the story, Mike Perry, gave your ol pal DR his start in the biz. Beautiful man.)
Lest he be remembered as too serious, Cooper also said he was, “famous in surfing for being famous; for having been around a long time; for having a beard.”