Vale Sidney Robert Cooper (1937-2020)

Phil Jarratt
Swellnet Dispatch

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.

Beatnik Bob at Noosa, the only surfer who could make cossies look cool

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 

Comments

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 8:36am

RIP Bob

One of those guys that was universally adored, which speaks volumes of his personality and humanity, but then you have Bob's contributions to design, discovery, and culture. Quiet fella who lived a big life.

Bob's influence on Australian surfing has been documented in many places, from Nat Young's 'History of Australian Surfing', to Mike Perry's extensive bio in TSJ (plus Phil Jarratt's defunct 'Australian Surfer's Journal') 'Bob Cooper: Further Down the Line', and also an extended interview with Andrew Crockett in his book 'Switchfoot II'.

There's a passage in the Switchfoot interview where Bob is thinking out aloud about Australia, and says he might actually appreciate Australia more than Australians, which sounds arrogant until he explains that he'd seen Southern California get overrun by development so he didn't take the wide open spaces of Australia for granted. 

I only interviewed him once, that was for an article on asymmetrical boards. Lot of people think Carl Ekstrom invented the asymm but someone told me Bob had one on his first trip to Australia in 1959. 'Yep,' he said when I spoke to him, and he told me all about his extended infatuation with asymms but he made it clear he wasn't seeking to rewrite history.

If you've got time today I'd urge seeking out one of the above articles (only a $4 paywall on TSJ piece) and consider Bob's legacy.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 8:39am

Are you there PB?

Mindora's picture
Mindora's picture
Mindora commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 9:18am

He was the first person to run aboriginals in surfing ads, early 70s Cooper Surfboards, and probably the first person to run aboriginals in ANY ads.

Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67's picture
Surfalot67 commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 10:07am

RIP Bob. Super cool guy, he bought a couple of Vicco winter wetties of us in Coffs mid eighties when we ran out of coin on a trip up the coast as stinky grommets. So sad to see another legend pass on.

peterb's picture
peterb's picture
peterb commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 11:27am

I've been borrowing Cooper's sluggo shot for many years, even asked him if it was ok. I first saw him with John Severson when they wandered down the beach at Neilson Park one weekend when the beaches were as big as the other day. He was wearing his black bowler hat, Severson was in town to promote Big Wednesday and when he put the show on at Anzac House in College Street someone busted both the glass doors in their hurry to get inside, then Kevin Brennan hopped up onto the stage and played the fool until everyone threw things at him. Some time later at Currumbin I saw Cooper in the carpark picking up everyone else's rubbish and putting it in the bin.
Then there was the time I trailed Algae Reid up to Noosa and got a pass into the house Cooper shared with McTavish and Russel Hughes .. he was in the kitchen drawing something on a couple of sheets of butcher's paper, never could figure out what it was. Admirable fellow, Bob Cooper, all of us thought at the time.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 1:22pm

Cool obituary PJ.

RIP.

Watashi wa metabo oyagi desu.

warddy's picture
warddy's picture
warddy commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 2:54pm

Lovely article ...
I remember the Cooper Ads in Surfing World magazines in the 70’s .., I think ...
A man from kinder times
RIP Bob

Optimist's picture
Optimist's picture
Optimist commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 3:18pm

In the early days of his Coopers Coffs shop he sold Surfboards and muesli. I liked Bobby , he was alright.

Brad Ferrier's picture
Brad Ferrier's picture
Brad Ferrier commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 3:55pm

Phil Jarrat. Coopers Pass(ing)

Phil, well written as usual, keep up ya good work, I enjoy when you put pen to paper, or these days, finger to keyboard. All the best. BF

larry.lynch's picture
larry.lynch's picture
larry.lynch commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 4:08pm

Bob Cooper was part of the bloodline of surfers at Malibu in the 1950s and learnt his surfboard making trade off one of the best in the business, Dale Velzy (1927-2005) and later Rennie Yater (1932), the Santa Barbara
pioneer of the ’spoon’ design.

When asked by Andrew Crockett (SwitchFoot surfing books) why he left California in the early 1960s to live in Australia, he said the following.

Bob Cooper : 'Civilisation. People. You know they have their rights to property and privacy and to not have their sense of respectability disturbed by half clad people living in tents on beaches…stepping on the ambers of cooking fires that were buried in the sand and burning their feet, they would go to the cops or something. Pretty soon you get ordinances and things about where you can park what you can do. There is no free access to the beach in California anymore. There is a parking meter or a situation where you have to conform or you can park 6 blocks away and walk. When we went to the beach, you could drive from Malibu to say Palos Verdes and you could see the beach, now you can’t. You have to drive down through a gate, where you have to have an annual pass, there is a gatekeeper, and they have prongs where if you try and back out, your tyres blow out…all that stuff is really insulting if you never had to deal with that. Chemical toilets, regulators parking, regulated camp grounds…and here is this thing we used to utilise so freely and it meant freedom…now it is all gone over there. Totally gone. And you know, it is creeping in here, in Australia, too. It is an over usage situation. That’s why I came up to Noosa. To me, Noosa is the end of the road. This is where the surf effectively stopped and the road along the beach stopped. It’s the end of it. And I thought, well maybe it will last a little longer up here and you can take the ferry and go across to the island and get a little whiff of what it used to be like. Now they are expanding the freeway coming up this way and it feels like I am going to die at just about the right time!' (laughs)

From the Hodaddy_Surf Facebook page.

billie's picture
billie's picture
billie commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 9:47pm

Epic quote. Thanks for sharing.

Billie

jelli's picture
jelli's picture
jelli commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 5:37pm

Always had intelligent and spiritual conversations with Bob. He was always very supportive of community and environmental programs and loved the idea of blending environmental initiatives and surfing contests. Seen Bob and Scotty paddle out at a local point in big cyclone swell in early eighties. Both on old mals. Sure am glad I got my 1976 richie west cooper 5' 8" twinnie repaired. Cheers Bob.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 6:38pm

Scotty Dillon?

They'd be an odd couple wouldn't they? The God-fearing Mormon, and the goateed hot-rod driving wildman.

Robo's picture
Robo's picture
Robo commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 6:34pm

RIP Bob. Funeral is in Coffs next Monday.

https://www.nbnnews.com.au/2020/02/17/surfing-legend-mourned/

freeride76's picture
freeride76's picture
freeride76 commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 7:34pm

Bob Cooper : 'Civilisation. People. You know they have their rights to property and privacy and to not have their sense of respectability disturbed by half clad people living in tents on beaches…stepping on the ambers of cooking fires that were buried in the sand and burning their feet, they would go to the cops or something. Pretty soon you get ordinances and things about where you can park what you can do. There is no free access to the beach in California anymore. There is a parking meter or a situation where you have to conform or you can park 6 blocks away and walk. When we went to the beach, you could drive from Malibu to say Palos Verdes and you could see the beach, now you can’t. You have to drive down through a gate, where you have to have an annual pass, there is a gatekeeper, and they have prongs where if you try and back out, your tyres blow out…all that stuff is really insulting if you never had to deal with that. Chemical toilets, regulators parking, regulated camp grounds…and here is this thing we used to utilise so freely and it meant freedom…now it is all gone over there. Totally gone. And you know, it is creeping in here, in Australia, too. It is an over usage situation. That’s why I came up to Noosa. To me, Noosa is the end of the road. This is where the surf effectively stopped and the road along the beach stopped. It’s the end of it. And I thought, well maybe it will last a little longer up here and you can take the ferry and go across to the island and get a little whiff of what it used to be like. Now they are expanding the freeway coming up this way and it feels like I am going to die at just about the right time!' (laughs)

Very prophetic. Sounds like Byron now or many other former surf/fishing villages that are starting to groan under the weight of numbers.
It can't be stopped, sure would be nice to slow it down.

I was up Noosa way end of Nov. I couldn't find one house I used to live in 30 years ago.
Not one, they'd all be been bulldozed for McMansions.

RIP Bob Cooper.

Another good one down.

jelli's picture
jelli's picture
jelli commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 8:00pm

surfing adventures transcend many philosophical boundaries.

69longboarder's picture
69longboarder's picture
69longboarder commented Monday, 17 Feb 2020 at 9:10pm

I hope he went thinking and knowing he had the best of it . A cleaner, simpler time. Where the world could be yours and it was ok if you were the only one who knew it.
R.I.P BOB.

Pete Matthews's picture
Pete Matthews's picture
Pete Matthews commented Tuesday, 18 Feb 2020 at 10:35am

legend - next ride begins..

spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack's picture
spuddyjack commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 2:49pm

Vale Bob,

A free thinker who truly lived his life his way and who presciently knew (way ahead) of the nasty reality that overpopulation, excess growth and fucked up rules were condemning us to.

May his spirit soar.

Stay salty

stewraz's picture
stewraz's picture
stewraz commented Wednesday, 19 Feb 2020 at 6:31pm

Created my account just to comment on this and day I wish I knew this bloke. I hope when it comes time for my own curtain call that someone has even half as many good things to say about me.

I got into surfing late (mid 20s), didn't know anyone who surfed, just went and got a second hand 6'6" fish and got amongst it. I am probably still a look but fuck I love the Stoke.

tonks's picture
tonks's picture
tonks commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 8:48am

A life well lived,a true legend of the sport.May you Rest In Peace with all your surfing buddies!

wavecruzer's picture
wavecruzer's picture
wavecruzer commented Thursday, 20 Feb 2020 at 10:30pm

Thank you, PJ.
RIP Coops

WellInformed

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Friday, 21 Feb 2020 at 3:52pm

The dying of old surfers. Sounds like a gem of a bloke, and thanks Phil for working up some nice words and for other contributors.

Humility is a bit out of fashion these days, we need to hear more about it so we can remember what it was.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet commented Tuesday, 25 Feb 2020 at 10:28am

For a short time, The Surfer's Journal have removed the paywall on their 40 page story on Bob Cooper, written by Mike Perry. Doesn't have all the original photos, but still a highly recommended read.

Bob Cooper: Further Down the Line