Bob Townsend- Same World, Different Era



It isn’t really even ironic, now that I’m so deeply involved in my ‘real surfers’ project, wherever it’s leading, that I should unexpectedly run into real surfers in odd places. There was the mailman delivering to a paint store Bremerton who, seeing the surf decals on my work/surf van, had to tell me about his surfing days. There have been several others approaching me with surf stories at several different gas stations.

Each ex surfer would get a sudden mad glint in his eye when giving some brief career resume, with an emphasis on some high spot; some session on some magical waves.

There was a homeowner, several years ago, in Port Ludlow, sort of the La Jolla of Jefferson County, Washington state, who told me, back in his Southern California days, he briefly had an employee who founded some sort of surfboarding magazine.

“John Severson?”

“Yeah; that was him. Nice kid.”

I probably- okay, definitely- do bring surfing into most conversations. So, checking out a possible painting job in the same Port Ludlow, a house on a beautifully landscaped bluff falling away and down to a lovely lagoon, some twisty finger of the ocean, it shouldn’t be surprising that, when the homeowner said he wanted to go back to San Diego, after I asked “Why? It’s summer;” after he said he has a house in Rancho Santa Fe, after I said, “If you ask people in La Jolla where the rich people live, they’ll say Rancho Santa Fe;” after he said, “Well, that’s not us;” and after I asked, sort of off the cuff, “Do any surfing down there?” he turned and said… “Used to.”

Okay, so Bob Townsend graduated from San Diego High in 1050, a year before I was born. He started surfing on a paddleboard in the late 1940s, “With a cork on the front so you could let the water out once in a while.” He went to college in Santa Cruz, but, other than that, never surfed north of San Onofre, never wore a wetsuit.  His last board, ridden somewhere around 1959, was a redwood/balsa combo.

Whoa! I was impressed.

Asked where he surfed, he listed Sunset Cliffs, Blacks, Windansea, Swamis, and San Onofre. He knew where Pipes is located, but never, apparently, bothered with Tamarack, any of the North County beachbreaks; and didn’t even consider heading north to, say, Malibu.

“Why would I?”

“Well,” I’m thinking, “Because you could.”

What I did say was, “When I was a kid, going down 101, through the little towns; it was magical. You could still see the ocean past the houses. When we’d go through Del Mar, my father or mother would always say, “Desi Arnaz lives here.”

“Nice guy,” Mr. Townsend said, chuckling a bit; “I sold him a car once.”

Hanging around for over an hour to give a five minute estimate, I had to ask Bob if he remembered there having once been a pier at Cardiff Reef, across from Don Hansen’s original surf shop.

“Yeah, and there was another one in Del Mar.” “Really? Where?” “Over by that restaurant.” “Like, 15th street?” “Guess so.”

I’m not sure if the former car dealership owner (Townsend Lincoln/Mercury, Mission Valley- he sold in in 2006) was just tired of our northwest winters or missed his family enough to miss out on our northwest summers. We agreed San Diego is so much more crowded than back when I was a kid and he was surfing point breaks and deep reefs. 

“I remember hearing, late 50s, I guess,” I said, using an example I often use, “that there were 100,000 people in San Diego proper, another 100,000 in the rest of the county. If I thought it was crowded back in the late sixties…”

“This all brings back great memories,” Bob said. “You know, it was a life style. We used to head out, camp on the beach. Great.”

Later, when I absolutely had to get to another project, Bob told his wife that the painter is from San Diego, actually lived in Mission Hills, Fort Stockton Drive, same street they’d once lived on. She was busy preparing for their drive south, their house over the lagoon on the market. “And he surfs. Up here.”

Last question: “Do you think there’s kind of a code of, I don’t know, honor, in being a real surfer?”       


“Yeah. Me, too. I’ve tried to, anyway. I mean, real surfers don’t…”

I didn’t have to fill in any details. We both nodded. I wrote up a quick quote, said his real estate agent could check out my work, let him know if he should send a check.

“Just call me,” he said, handing me two business cards. “Use this number.”

Still trying to visualize someone riding a heavy board at Sunset Cliffs, I had to ask; “Maybe it was New Break.”

He hadn’t recognized that name. “Over by the college. It’s supposedly super localized.” “The college wasn’t there then.”  

No, I guess not. But there were those magical.waves on mystical reefs; waves that only get bigger, glassier, more forgiving with time.

UPDATE: Bob Townsend called me on the cell phone the other day; introduced himself as “Your old surfin’ buddy.” No, I hadn’t primed and painted the section of railing. It had been raining, a heat spell on the way. He and his wife had made it to San Diego. Yes, I’ll get it; if not the next day, the day after that. Yes, I had mentioned my brother-in-law, Jim Scott, is the real estate broker with the longest business presence in the Mission Hills area. Did he need a real estate agent? He did. 

I had a couple of new questions to ask Bob, partially because I’d been talking to Keith Durrock about his father. Keith’s dad is somewhere in age between me and Bob. He surfed, had been a lifeguard in the Pacific Beach area, and, according to Keith; “It was a whole life style thing. Besides surfing, he and his friends dived for lobster and abalone…it was a different era.”     

So, “Did you do any of that?”

“We all had crowbars with us at all times.”


“For prying the abalone off the rocks.”

So, in my constantly evolving creating and storing mind pictures, I’m adding wetsuitless divers in the kelp, crowbar at the ready.

And the water’s so…your picture might be a bit different.

Blink, back to now.


3 thoughts on “Bob Townsend- Same World, Different Era

    • Thanks, Steve. Man, I always just wanna go surfin’. I have to go right now, pull away from a webcast of surfing in El Salvador, and go give a painting bid to a guy I stayed on the phone with too long the other day because we started talking surfing. Hopefully some color artwork is coming.

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