Bob Simmons, Gnarled Genius

Bob Simmons, Malibu. Photo: Bob Prosser
Bob Simmons, 1953
Simmons board, 1951. Photo: John Elwell
Bob Simmons (below) and Joe Quigg, Malibu

Surfboard design rocketed forward in the postwar years. It was a group effort, but Bob Simmons, a knobby misanthropic engineer from Pasadena, was the person who got things started. Simmons was strange, brilliant, and experimental, permanently ungroomed, and often angry—he once answered some bullying by a group of Palos Verde Cove locals by splitting open the decks of their hollow boards with an ax. He died by surfing misadventure at a young age, which helped secure his place in the top rank o...

Surfing was an empirical pursuit for Simmons. He never daydreamed about Waikiki, or strummed a ukulele, or wore a Hawaiian shirt. He just wanted a better, faster board, and to that end he attacked furiously with numbers and formulae.