Vale Sidney Robert Cooper (1937-2020)
Some years ago, when I had a surf arts and memorabilia shop in Noosa, the legendary Bob Cooper used to drop by every so often for a chat and a ferret through the piles of old books and magazines. Every now and then I’d catch him looking up at the high walls of art and vintage surfboards with a barely perceptible smile of contentment, as if he’d come home again to an old school surf shop of the kind that had been his life’s blood.
One day he loped in and told me quite excitedly that he had something in his truck to show me. We went out to the street and he opened the back to reveal something that looked like a ten-foot kneeboard. “Awesome,” I said. “What is it?”
“It’s my belly board,” he said. “That’s all I got left. You come into this world a kook, and you go out a kook. Just gotta hope you did okay in the middle.”
Sidney Robert Cooper, who passed on Sunday after a long battle with cancer, did more than okay in the middle, and he went out not as a kook but a true legend of our sport, industry and culture. But way beyond that, Coop was a warm and genuine human being who went out of his way to provide a guiding light to those who needed it. An affable eccentric at face value, the original “surfing beatnik” was within a man of great wisdom and spirituality.
He touched a great many lives, mine included, and in the hours after his death there were many expressions of gratitude for his help and guidance. One that moved me was from surfer/shaper Josh Constable, who wrote: “Bob’s belief and guidance sent me on the path I’m on today. He was the guy that pushed me to start my shaping career building boards for the waves and the approach I wanted in my surfing. I will always remember him saying there’s no better feeling than building a board for yourself and getting to surf it in perfect Noosa zippers.”
In the ‘60s, Bob did exactly that, arriving in the place that became his final rest via an upbringing in Los Angeles and a surfing apprenticeship at Malibu with the likes of Matt Kivlin and Miki Dora. A bearded guru in sandals long before it was fashionable in surfing circles, Cooper crossed the Pacific, learnt the surfboard building crafts at the emerging Brookvale factories and then headed north to surf the perfect uncrowded waves of Crescent Head, Angourie, Byron, Burleigh and ultimately Noosa, shaping boards for Hayden Kenny at Alex Headland.
He was bi-coastal for several years, before settling permanently in Australia to raise a family with Dutch-Australian wife Wils. Alarmed that Noosa was growing too quickly, Bob chose Coffs Harbour as his base, building a thriving surfboard manufacturing and retail business there. In 1993, his five children grown, he and Wils relocated to Marcus Beach, just south of Noosa.
Bob had a shaping bay under the Marcus home, and when I interviewed him at length for our 2016 documentary, Men of Wood & Foam, I had to drag him out of it and brush him down for foam dust. Then, sprawled on a generous couch, a big man with a big story, he had us captivated for hours.
Bob Cooper was never vocal about it, but he was a committed Mormon most of his life, and he once said that it was his religion, not his surfing, that was his bedrock. Be that as it may, for me he exemplified the qualities that all of us as surfers should strive for: lifelong stoke, tempered by humility, love and understanding.
// PHIL JARRATT