Shapers

Local Legend: Jim Robb, aka Mouse

by Robb on September 14, 2007

By Jody W. Wood

Have you seen this man? Jim Robb has lived and surfed in Ocean Beach since 1940. He moved to Mission Beach from Ohio when he was just two years old, and from there his family moved a little south to his long-time stomping ground. Most know him as “Mouse”, and if there is any such thing as a local legend, he is the definition.

Mouse started surfing 66 years ago, back when boards were made of balsa redwood and weighed 80-plus pounds. Short boards didn’t exist There was no such thing as a leash, or even wetsuits, for that matter. He learned to surf on a hand-me-down Skeeter Malcolm board that was eleven feet long and weighed 87 pounds. Mouse only weighed about 67 pounds himself, at the time.

Back in 1959, Mouse helped found the U.S. Surfing Association, and was head of judging throughout the 1960s. Back then, he also competed in tandem surfing contests and won second place in the World Championship of Tandem Surfing in Oceanside in 1964, where he competed against the likes of Mike Doyle, Hobie, and Pete Peterson.
Mouse also ran surf contest for ten years right here in Ocean Beach, along with Bob Baxley, during the sixties. They once sold 600 entries for $1.00 each, for a two-day contest in Ocean Beach. Mike Hynson was in the 14 and under division.

Mouse is friends with, or knows, all the big names in southern California surfing history. He’s been spotlighted in several books about surfing and surf culture, and was featured in Newsweek Magazine in 1964 after taking second place in the World Championship of Tandem Surfing.

He helped Linda Benson organize the Women’s Longboard World Championship in Ocean Beach and has been involved with surfing longer than most of us have been alive.

Mouse is a South Coast team rider and southern California surfing ambassador. I recently sat down with Mouse to get his thoughts on his longevity with surfing and how things have changed over the years.

What keeps you going, keeps you getting back in the water year after year?

It’s good exercise and I get to hang around young people, that keeps me going. If I hung around only people my age, I’d probably die. Surfing is the greatest. If I couldn’t surf, I’d get pretty awnry.

What is your favorite place to surf?

Luscombs is my favorite place to surf now. My all-time favorite spot is Ab.

What kind of boards do you ride?

I ride a 9′ South Coast shaped by Robin Prodanovich and an 8′ Moab.

Do you still surf contests or just for fun?

Last year I surfed the Gathering of the Tribe contest at Trestles. There were 1,100 entries in the three-day long event.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your 66 years of surfing?

The most obvious changes were board design and materials, the evolution of the shortboard, and of course, wetsuits, leashes and crowds. In the 1970s, board design was revlolutionized. I started riding an 8′ Surfboards Australia, when most people were still riding 10-11′ boards.

What were your thoughts on shortboards when they first came about?

I remember thinking, ” Those things will never work.” But, then I rode them and it was fun, but it felt like too much work, after gliding into waves so easily on the big logs I had been riding. I admire the agility and the things shortboarders can do. I wish they had came around when I was a little younger.

How do you stay in shape for surfing?

Well, I run the beach a lot and paddle 5-10 miles, three times a week.

Who are a few of your current surf buddies?

Rick VanWoy, Ken McCrobie, and Doug Smith. And the other 80 people out there.

What do you think about the crowds of today?

It seems like we are getting more and more beginners in OB. I remember when I was learning, every wave felt epic. But, the old guys wouldn’t let us surf with them. There was a certain etiquette in place. If we bragged about our ride, they would dunk us under the water and tell us, “if your wave was good, the people watching would be telling you about it, you don’t need to tell them how good it was.” Back then it took a year to learn how to turn the planks we were riding and we had no leashes so one mistake sent us swimming for shore. I think people should learn to surf without a leash, instead of ditching their board every time a set comes through. Half of the crowd now probably wouldn’t stick with it without a leash.

By Jody W. Wood

Robin Prodanovich is a San Diego-native, long time surfer and shaper, down right nice guy. He’s been shaping custom boards now longer that most of the guys in the lineup have been alive. He’s seen a thing or two in his days and I always enjoy talking boards and surf with him. I had the chance to ask him a few questions about his recent travels and thoughts on boards and design and here’s what came of it.

Robin, you’ve been shaping for several years now and have seen trends in design come and go. What shapes are you currently stoked about and/or riding yourself?

After 35 years of shaping I’ve made myself some really good boards and I’m totally stoked on the board I’m riding right now. It is a 6’2″ x 20.25 five plug quad/tri-fin design. The board can be ridden as either a tri-fin or a quad and I’ve been riding it exclusively as a quad fin in surf from knee high to a foot or so overhead with exciting results. I designed the board for groveling but it has better than expected range.

If you had to pick one board to ride all summer long what would it be?

Definitely the one I’m currently riding, I don’t think I would change a thing.

You recently visited Costa Rica. What was the highlight of the trip for you?

I loved everything about Costa Rica, the people, the weather, the lack of biting bugs, the cool 1 hour flight in the little 12 passenger airplane from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez…but the definite highlight was walking through the jungle, stepping out onto the beach and seeing Backwash going off at two feet overhead with light offshore wind and flawless conditions with just a few people in the line-up. I surfed until dark with both of my kids.

How was the surf while you were there?

We were on the Osa Peninsula and the surfed ranged from a couple of feet overhead to waist high toward the end of the trip. The point break Pan Dulce was really fun, nice long ripable waves; Backwash had some juice and Matapalo had its moments. I’d give the surf an 8 out of 10.

What would you say have been your major influences in your shaping career?

My father for teaching me how to work efficiently, Gordon and Smith for giving me nine years and hundreds of boards to learn how to shape, Mike Eaton for teaching me the importance of bottom contours, and designing and shaping surfboards for South Coast Surf Shops for the last 20 years.

Have your surfing influences impacting your shaping?

Yes, definitely. I ride shortboards exclusively (I don’t own a longboard) and am amazed at how great a well shaped/designed board feels under my feet. But at the same time I’m watching other surfers in the water to stay in tune with the demands that are being placed on the modern shortboard design. I’m always looking for improvements.

You’ve shaped for a number of different board companies, as well your own label. Was there any one time in your career that was pivotal in how you shape and design or more of a gradual process?

I would say the process was gradual. Year after year, board after board, learning something new every day.

Again, you’ve seen changes in design, technology, and technique throughout your career. What do feel was the most drastic or redefining point in design evolution?

Without a doubt, Simon Anderson’s 3-fin thruster design sent shortboard performance to a new level. The use of carefully placed bottom contours and highly refined removable fins has bumped performance to yet another level.

Robin, thank you for your time and I look forward to seeing you again around the shop or in the water.

Come in to South Coast Surf Shops to check out one of Robin Prodanovich’s designs, including the Swegg, Mod Quad, Quad DT, DefCon3, DefCon4, CR3 longboards, Reality Check and many more!

Read Robin’s shaper bio with photos.

By Jody Wood

We’ve seen “Quads” popping up lately in magazine photographs, a few pros riding them, and some of the guys from around the shop are stoked on them lately. They are boards with four fins, two larger side fins and two smaller rear fins. They differ from a “twinzer” in that the two smaller fins are positioned behind and between the side fins, closer to the tail of the board, rather than beside the side fins, along the rail. The quad fin set up isn’t exactly a new concept. It’s been around for years and in some regions remains the standard fin placement on most boards.

“Quads” pretty much fell off the face of the earth in competitive surfing with the design of the tri-fin, but surfers have a way of revisiting the past sometimes in search of something missed along the way. Maybe with hopes to improve upon it, or just ride something not everybody in town rides.

Larry Ricci and Robin Prodanovich, both South Coast shapers and designers, recently got together to revamp some designs and get some new school quads on the racks and in the hands of local surfers. We talked to Larry about the designs and here’s how that went down.

Quad fin set ups seem to be making a comeback as of late. What’s with the recent popularity?

“Surfboard design will always continue at its own pace in adherence to what surfers are willing to accept. It usually takes a bit of mainstream validation from a prominent surfer/shaper relationship for a design to gain enough popularity for more and more shapers to create their own versions. The quad fin has been around a long time and, if they are designed right, work great in a wide variety of conditions.”

What kind of feeling do you get from a quad, as opposed to a tri-fin or twin fin set up?

“Less drag and a more positive feel when turning hard on rail. You can ride higher on the wave, draw different lines, and push harder off the bottom, especially backside, without worrying about losing your grip and spinning out. You can change direction quicker, without as much tail pressure. It frees up your surfing.”

Talk about the different board types you have shaped with quad set ups.

“The quad-fin concept can be applied to any surfboard design. It has been proven to work in one foot slop and thirty foot open ocean waves. Here at South Coast, Robin Prodanovich and I have recently designed quad-fin hulls for small to medium size fish, performance short boards, mid-size hybrids and eggs. We are always fine tuning, as there are many ways to utilize the quad-fin set up.”

With the birth of the tri-fin, many thought the quad was obsolete. Is it the change in board design over the years that helped bring it back?

“As time goes by, proven contemporary design concepts can be blended with older, previously unpopular ideas to produce something fresh, new, and thought provoking. Look at how many shapers have embraced the quad-fin set up and are eager to develop their own designs.”

What kind of feedback are you getting from surfers that you have shaped custom quads for?

“The feedback has been very positive, detailed, and unsolicited. They are eager to tell us about how the boards work and the fun they are having. The boards are loose when they want them to be, they have drive when they need it, and they ride well in the pocket and out on open faces. It’s very inspiring.”

If someone would like to try one, or order a custom, what do they need to do?

“We have a few demo models available now, and are currently building more to offer a wider variety to surfers who are interested in riding one. If a surfer wants to order one, give me a call. I’d be happy to walk them through the process.”