The Wildfire Session

By Jody W. Wood

I think it happens to everyone who surfs. Sometimes you just get tired of the crowd, have a few off sessions in a row, or maybe even feel like you are just flat out wasting your time sitting there bobbing around, and blowing the few waves you do get. I know it happens to me now and then. It had been a couple of years since I last felt that way, until just recently.

Thanks to my job here at South Coast and the fact that I live a block from the beach, I can surf almost every day of the year if I want to. And I usually get in the water a few times a week, at least. But, back in October I was going through a bit of a funk, both surfing and in my personal life. I’m inclined to believe they go hand in hand at times. Maybe you’re thinking too much about the rest of your life, or paddling out with the idea of blowing off some steam, and then you leave the session more frustrated than when you started. I did that for about two weeks straight. I couldn’t blame it on the surf. I watched other people getting good rides. I fell on a few waves I would normally make. Got hog-tied by my leash on a close-out set. Argued with some hot head who wanted to fight with everyone around. I just flat out got bummed on surfing. I remember walking home telling myself, “I’m going to take a break from surfing for a few weeks. It’s just not fun right now and I might as well be doing something that is rewarding, rather than frustrating.”

This was at the beginning of the week that San Diego County was being ravaged by wildfires. Nothing but bad news all day and all night. The streets and shops of Ocean Beach were packed with people temporarily displaced due to evacuations. Every kid in town was out of school and in the line-up. And I live for the winter days when the tourists have gone home, groms are in school, and there are ten people in the line-up instead of fifty.

Then the next morning, although I wasn’t really interested in getting in the water, I took my obligatory walk to get some coffee and check the surf. I couldn’t beleive what I saw. Santa Ana conditions, glassy, clean lines like we haven’t had in quite some time. Back at work, I realized I couldn’t pass up the chance to get back on track and get some good waves in on my lunch break.

Paddling out into what looked like a town meeting for a crowd, I was greeted with smiles and hellos from a gang of friends already soaking up the goods and hooting it up for each other. My first wave I took all the way to sand and was smiling ear to ear. The funk was lifted. I was back to surfing like I at least kind of know what I’m doing and having a great time with my buddies. Back to what it’s all about to begin with. I think we all do it time to time. Recapture that feeling, Remember why we love the ocean and why we commit so much time and engery to doing something we love. Because it’s unlike anything else in this world.

I remember thinking to myself, “So many people are dealing with the what might be the biggest losses of their entire lives, and I am so grateful to be out here in the water, doing what I love, and regaining perspective on my own life.”

I realized once more, no matter what’s going on with you, someone else probably has it a lot worse. Rather than dwelling on our own misfortunes, we should simply find a way to learn and grow from it. And, if the way we are lucky enough to do that is by having one of the best surf sessions of the year, then so be it. I’ll take that any day of the week.

Be respectful in the water and out.

Local Legend: Jim Robb, aka Mouse

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.