Farewell, Bob Meistrell
Only a certain kind of person can be a waterman. It’s a title that’s coveted in the surfing world.
- Written byStefan Slater
Merriam-Webster defines “waterman” as “a person who makes their living from the water,” but amongst surfers, it has a different meaning. A waterman is a person who lives for the ocean.
A true waterman views the ocean as his center, his guiding force in everything he does. A waterman commits his life to the ocean, mastering every aspect, no matter how trivial or convoluted. He lives to protect and cherish the ocean, and it becomes his home, a part of his family, for the rest of his time on this world.
And when the day comes that a waterman passes on, the ocean will still be in his heart. That love never falters, not even at the end. Being a waterman is embodying pure devotion. And it takes a determined, confident and—above all—loving individual to live that kind of life.
I never met Bob Meistrell, but I can say confidently and wholeheartedly that he was a true waterman. Most knew him and his twin brother, Bill (who passed in 2006), as the founders of Body Glove International. But they were also passionate divers, surfers and boatmen.
As children, they built a dive helmet using a five-gallon vegetable can, a piece of glass and a length of gardening hose, and then they tested it together in a pond in their hometown of Boonville, Missouri. After moving to Manhattan Beach as teens, they worked as lifeguards and picked up surfing, eventually becoming friends with surf legends like Hap Jacobs and Dewey Weber.
And aside from helping create some of the first wetsuits for surfers, they were also members of the surfing and diving halls of fame. Bob helped teach celebrities like Lloyd Bridges how to dive for TV shows like Sea Hunt.
Bob had a thing for submarines too. He worked closely with Don Siverts and Curt Siverts to create the “Snooper” subs, using them to explore the waters off the South Bay and hunt for shipwrecks. Bob was a part of the team that discovered the gold-laden S.S. Brother Jonathan, a paddle steamer that sank off Crescent City, California in 1865.
Bob participated avidly in watersports until the end of his life. He passed away on June 16, at the age of 84, onboard his 70-foot yacht, The Disappearance, near Catalina while helping plan a paddleboard race. The cause was a heart attack, according to his family. Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Patty, sons Robbie, Ronnie and Randy, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
The South Bay lost a waterman in June, and we as a community should look to the ocean and remember Bob Meistrell for who he was: a caring man, loved dearly by family and friends, who passed away doing what he enjoyed most in life.
Stefan is a writer, surfer and regular contributor to Southbay magazine.