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.