Cheerful, freethinking regularfoot surfer originally from Southern California; popular throughout the 1960s, and regarded as the original surfing beatnik. Cooper was born (1937) in Santa Monica, California, the son of an aerospace engineer who died around the time of his birth. He was raised in the Los Angeles-area suburbs of Culver City and Mar Vista, and began surfing in 1952 at age 15, at Malibu; eight years later he was one of the first American surfers to visit Australia.
Cooper earned a reputation not as a contest champion or a big-wave hero or even a small-wave performer—although he had an appealing, loose-limbed style, and a fine sense of trim—but as an articulate, slightly eccentric surfing character. In "Bob Cooper: Prophet on a Wave," a glowing 1964 Surf Guide magazine profile, he's lauded for his "Mount Everest beard, radical sandals, spectacular shirts and tunic of a thousand colors," as well as his ability to "remain composed and totally unaffected even at the most radical parties." The Bob Cooper Blue Machine signature model, produced in 1967 and early 1968 by Morey-Pope Surfboards, was the only board of the era to feature an asymmetrical fin setup.
Cooper lived in Australia from 1964 to 1966, returned to California, traveled to the U.K. in 1968, won the European Surfing Championships, then moved permanently to Australia in 1969. After living for almost 25 years in Coffs Harbor, New South Wales, where he owned and operated Cooper Surf Shop, he moved in 1993 to Marcus Beach, Queensland. Throughout, he was a devout Morman; while never a proselytizer, Cooper said that Mormonism, not surfing, was the unifying and driving force in his life.
Cooper appeared in a small number of surf movies in the late '50s and '60s, including Slippery When Wet (1958), Surfing Hollow Days (1962), and Strictly Hot (1964); he also wrote about 10 articles for the American surf press in the '60s and early '70s.
Cooper allowed that he "hung a pretty mean ten in the early '60s," but said that he was "famous in surfing for being famous; for having been around a long time; for having a beard." The celebrated Cooper beard, as noted in a lavish 37-page Surfer's Journal profile in 1999, originated as part of a draft-dodging ruse.