Camped out in his car, slept on the beach and surfed California’s relatively empty lineups. Cruising up down PCH with cans of baked beans, a bag of oranges, weather maps, a quiver of homemade boomerangs, and a sleeping bag.
“He always wore the same clothes until they wore out. He bathed when he surfed, but the strong body odor was evident to everyone. His wool jacket glistened with fiberglass and embedded with balsa dust.”..John Elwell
Simmons was a ornery loner who preferred his gear to people it seems.
A brilliant mind that is partly or fully credited (dependent whom you talk to) as the “Father of the Modern Surfboard”
Hit by a car on his bicycle when he was 17, it left him with a seriously fractured elbow and a gimp arm. The Doctors’ instructions to Simmons were to regularly exercise the arm or he stood a good chance of losing it. While recuperating in the hospital a fellow patient told him to try surfing to strengthen is arm.
So as it was, Simmons first got on Tom Blake paddleboard in 1939 from there on out till the end of his shortened life he was surfing.
Simmons was a wealth of new information for surfers,” remembers John Elwell. “We were astounded listening to him about wave origin, second intervals, exact wave heights and where the best waves were in the world, although he had never been there. He had many charts of the world with notations on them. He wanted to build a sailboat, sail away and surf them. He said that all he would need was a hundred pounds of soya beans, some water and fishing gear. Then he told me, ‘Do ya know you can almost eat nothing but soya beans to live on?’
Simmons almost from the get go was interested in developing a better surfboard. He applied his scientific mind with full fervor into this endeavor. ( A California Institute of Technology student, got straight A’s but dropped out, said he was there for the knowledge not the credit.)
By the mid forties he was wrapping surfboards in resin and fiberglass and also began experimenting with a thinner noses and tails, concave bottoms, rounded rails and by 1948 he was making what he called Hydrodynamic Planing Hulls. It caught waves easily, was stable fast and easy to paddle and turn.
It was also around this time he started to experiment with Styrofoam. He figured out a way to sandwich the Styrofoam in between plywood and than resin and fiberglass. A full ten years or so before the whole polyurethane foam production boom.
And on it went, he eventually got fed up with the demands of shaping surfboards for customers and withdrew so he could concentrate more on surfing ( Windansea, Tijuana Sloughs) and his other interests, one being getting a Math degree at San Diego State and even doing a stint over in Hawaii, surfing Makaha, Sunset Beach.
In September of 1954 Bob was surfing Windansea and never made it in. It was about 8 foot and is speculated the he either hit his head on his surfboard or another surfer hit him. His Body was found three days later
Simmons life was cut short but his legacy lives on.
John Elwell a friend and historian along with Richard Kenvin created Hydrodynamica an independent film project dedicated to exploring and acknowledging the work of Bob Simmons
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