Local artist, 77, inducted to Surfer’s Walk of Fame
Blaine artist Bob Hogan used to get out of high school before noon in 1949 – his senior year – to go surfing near his Manhattan Beach, California, home. A born waterman, he discovered the sport while fishing an off-shore reef in a dinghy he’d made himself.
“We’d bring back rockfish and halibut. One day some guy offered us $5 for our string, and we thought that was pretty good.”
But he also would see surfers glide by on a solid 10-foot redwood boards, and thought that was pretty good, too. He got into it, to put it mildly, and after a lifetime on the water Hogan was inducted into the Surfer’s Walk of Fame last month as a part of the festivities at the Legends of Surf weekend in Hermosa Beach, California.
Hogan, 77, was present at the beginning of a scene romanticized many years later by the Beach Boys, practically back fence neighbors from Hawthorne, California, but in Hogan’s day it was work. He was a lifeguard for Los Angeles County with responsibilities much like those of a paramedic on a modern fire department. In his 15 years working the beach he had some roles many would see as glamorous – he was relief captain on the Baywatch II that years later became the basis for the popular TV series – but also was routinely sent to dry land medical emergencies.
Still, his first love (aside from his wife Carol) was and continues to be the water. His scrapbooks have photo after photo from the glory days of surfing in the ‘60s, buff young guys handsome enough to advertise shirts, carrying boards that look like small airports compared to those in use today. He knew some of the sports legendary figures, Doc Ball and Tom Blake, inventor of the hollow board, Bev Morgan and Jack O’Neal, developers of the first commercially available wet suit, and board makers Dale Velzy, Bing Copeland, Bob Simmons and Greg Noll, who along with Don McPherson introduced Hogan at the induction ceremony. He was the first person to surf the big breaks of Lunada Bay in Palos Verdes, equivalent to a first ascent in mountaineering. “You have to climb down a pretty steep cliff just to get there,” said Carol.
The 5’8” Hogan is still at his competition weight, 160 pounds, and exercises three times a week at Whatcom Fitness. “Some of my friends actually did get the odd role as an extra in some of the movies,” he said, not willing to admit as to whether that ever included him.
Hogan has been in on the sport long enough to see the technology change over and over again. “We all surfed, but the boards used for that and for rescue and for paddleboard competitions are different,” Hogan said. “A surfboard is solid, and has shrunk from 10 feet down to seven or eight feet today. A paddleboard is hollow and a lot longer, up to 20 feet, and the rescue boards we used are in between.”
In 1955 he started the longest paddleboard race held in California where competitors paddle 35 miles from the Catalina Island isthmus around a buoy and to the base of the Manhattan Beach Pier. He last competed in the race forty years later, in 1995, the year he contributed a carved trophy to race sponsors for the top finisher over 60 years old. His is the first name on it.
In the first race he got lost in the fog when his escort boat turned to avoid a kelp bed. Eventually he came up on a fishing boat that told him he was near what is now Marina Del Rey, eight miles off course. He finished second and third in what became known as the Catalina Classic in 1957 and 1958 before getting involved in building a long distance sailboat in his backyard, a 33-foot wooden ketch he named the Discovery.
Along with his wife Carol and their two kids, Rob and Sharri, they sailed down the coast and throughout the South Pacific, touching at the Galapagos, Easter and Pitcairn Islands, Tahiti, the Marquesas and Tuamotus groups. Along the way they’d survived a hurricane and lived off wild goat meat from Galapagos.
They did it all with celestial navigation, using a sextant, as GPS was still decades away, of course. They stopped in Panama where Bob built a self steering vane for Discovery. “Outside the Panama Canal you see all these freighters converging on you, all heading for the entrance.” He was once invited up on the bridge of a 1,200-foot ship where he asked the captain how much luck he’d have seeing a small boat. “Not much,” the officer laughed.
“We kept running into people we knew,” Hogan said. “In Puerto Rico, we motored in and saw a guy on a surfboard who looked familiar. Turned out to be Chris Watts who was down there in the Peace Corps.”
In Hawaii they motored into the fuel dock at a marina in Honolulu’s Ali Wai small boat harbor and immediately ran into an old friend who tossed Hogan his car keys and said “These are to that VW over there. See you in a week.”
The stop in Hawaii lasted 34 years, he said, after which they went back to LA for a time before settling ashore in Blaine in 2006. There are literally hundreds of stories generated by the sailing venture, as well as the triathlons and a 12-week cross-country bike ride in 1981. “Halfway through Minnesota I told him I needed to see an ocean,” said Carol, “and he just said ‘OK, then pedal faster.’”
After the Hogans came to Blaine as liveaboards in 2000, Bob struck up a conversation with southern California native and long time surfer Richard Sturgill who again found a link far from home. Hogan’s daughter was named for a business partner of Sturgill’s father.
Bob’s art can be seen in local shows, the next one coming up on Mother’s Day. And he’s working on a book, “the closest thing a man can do to have a baby,” he said. The working title is “I Did it My Way.”