The Guys Who Named the Sunset Cliffs Surf Breaks

by on December 10, 2018 · 25 comments

in Ocean Beach

Bob “lizard” Chapman, John Holly, Jim “Mouse’ Robb, Billy Chapman and Marsh Malcom. Photo by Albert C Elliott. 12/8/18 at the OB Library.

Originally posted Dec. 10, 2018

If you ever wondered about the names of the Sunset Cliffs surf breaks – these are the guys who named them.

Bob “lizard” Chapman, John Holly, Jim “Mouse’ Robb, Billy Chapman and Marsh Malcom.

If you’ve been surfing the Cliffs for a few years – like decades maybe – you might be fortunate enough to know these guys. They’re OB and Point Loma legends. And there they were at the OB Library, Saturday, December 8, just yakking it up about the good old days of surfing.

This photo is by Albert C Elliott.


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page December 10, 2018 at 2:19 pm

I would love to have these guys draw up a map of the spots with the names. I’ve been surfing out there for years but still don’t have all the names and locations straight. For example, from north to south, which is first, Subs or Abs? New Break is the next one south and north are north and south Garbage. The rest I’m unsure of.


triggerfinger December 10, 2018 at 2:31 pm

I knew a guy who drew a map once, the next day he had 10 broken fingers.


Geoff Page December 10, 2018 at 3:42 pm

I’m guessing that was meant as a joke. It’s not like any of the surf spots along Sunset Cliffs are secret any more, or ever were really. I’d just like to see an accurate depiction of the names.


George J December 10, 2018 at 4:06 pm

I have a book describing California’s surf breaks. Its map for Sunset Cliffs and Point Loma lists breaks in order from north to south as follows: Pescadero St.; Osprey St.; Bird Shit; No Surf; Indicator; Needle’s Eye; Luscomb’s; Rockslide; Lizard’s; North Garbage; South Garbage; Sub; Ab; South Ab; Newbreak; Chasm; 33’s; Pink House; Pillbox; and Ralph’s.

The book is entitled: Surfing California: A Complete Guide to the California Coast / Allan “Bank” Wright Jr. : Redondo Beach, CA : Mountain & Sea Publishing, 1985.


Tyler December 11, 2018 at 9:25 am

That’s correct, although South Ab is often referred to as Out of Sights.


Tyler December 11, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Also to my knowledge Sub is short for Subleo.


ACE December 12, 2018 at 7:52 am

The name “Subs” was from a large chunk of cliff that fell in to the water and looked like a “submarine”.. That is what the story was the other day.


Tyler December 13, 2018 at 7:40 am

Interesting. Thanks for sharing. I heard Scat called it Subleo once and wasn’t sure why… perhaps that’s his own nickname!


Melinda White December 23, 2018 at 10:13 am

Subleo is just a horked guys way of saying Sub Left. Theres an inside left at sub that you can ride almost to the cliff and its fast. It’s a way of saying Sub Left but not really saying the name so people don’t overhear you talking.
For the guy who said the cliffs were never really a secret didn’t grow up here, obviously. There was MAJOR localism for decades. There were constant brawls in the water and on the beach. Like Pitbulls when you come into their yard. Unfortunately, too many guys with not enough sea time go out there now when they really should be practicing on softer, more forgiving waves at a beach break before paddling out at a reef break.


Geoff Page March 11, 2019 at 11:13 am

Melinda, Localism and secret spots are two different things. The breaks along the cliffs are not secret and probably never were except for the very early days of surfing when everything was being discovered. But, for the cliffs, all a person has to do is drive Sunset Cliffs Blvd.and they are all easily seen. Localism is another matter entirely, that is locals trying to keep others out of “their” breaks. The one place where it has endured is New Break, the last easily accessible break along the cliffs.


Mick Moore March 21, 2020 at 4:54 pm

As a local having grown up surfing with Melinda, and her brother Mike, I have to agree with her. Thankfully, several of our secret spots are still secret and not mentioned above. The others are still a challenge to access, and when its big, most people stay away or just watch from the safety of the cliffs.

I still remember Mike White, Jim Akridge or myself yelling “Go Back” to some poor guy paddling over from North Garbage to where we surfing at Blue Moons/ Lizards, so we could continue to surf without the crowds that were floundering over at the next break.

You could tell just by how they paddled, that they shouldnt be at the cliffs, and would be better suited at Dog Beach where they wouldnt be a hinder to us or himself.

Sounds mean, but that’s how we handled crowd control in those days.

I still find myself “Barking” at some dope trying to drop in on me no matter where Im surfing. They seem to have forgotten etiquette or didnt have it to begin with. Just another sign of the times.

At least we still have Fencelines and 33’s to ourselves without any worry of penetration from outsiders.


Jim White February 10, 2021 at 11:16 am

Thanks for the breakdown. The only break that you left out that I can recall was Ules, in-between Chasms and 33’s.


sealintheSelkirks December 10, 2018 at 10:00 pm

I guess Dolphin Tanks was a later name added due to the buildings and tanks used in trying to turn dolphins into weapons?


Rich December 17, 2018 at 4:32 pm

I was a Cal Western student beginning September 1967…from the North

Garbage – looking up to what is now the parking lot, south of the streets (because we could see trash dumped up above)

Sub (named after the submarine shaped rock as noted above)

Ab (left)

South Ab (right)

Newbreak (mostly right)

Lighthouse (into the Navy area south of campus)



barbra rhoda March 7, 2019 at 1:46 pm

i believe there is a Surf.
place called ‘CHAPMAN’ is this true ? maybe tom chapman knows? or billy chapman?


Tom "lizard " Chapman March 7, 2019 at 9:14 pm

First my name ain’t Bob it’s Tom. Barbra Rhoda is my first wife and I’m surprised she didn’t know “Lizards” is named after me because I had a nickname and Billy Chapman my brother didn’t. There is Chapman’s.
We called Dolphin Tanks Moustache because it broke left and right and at that time Dolphin Tanks was a salt water conversion plant that was sent to Guantanamo Bay when Castro threatened to cut the water supply to the base.


Steve Farnsworth January 1, 2020 at 4:16 pm

Hey Lizard,

Still my favorite place to surf….just an all around great wave.


Jeff Hoke March 8, 2019 at 5:56 pm

A friend of mine surfed fence line at inside chasum a few time when there no surf just to get wet


Steve Morgan May 5, 2019 at 7:37 pm

The really cool thing about Submarine Rock is not only did it look like a submarine but it appeared to submerge. The rock would be dry at low tide and under the the water at hight tide. I have and old photo of “Submarine Rock” looking through the arch, which collapsed many years ago. The rock itself eventually eroded to a nebulous shape.


Cliff Moore February 7, 2020 at 1:13 pm

Tom was (maybe still is) a great surfer, a great San Diego Lifeguard, and a great restaurant manager (First Brigantine Shelter Island) … but he couldn’t drive a M48 Flame Tank worth a damn … Hey Big Guy from Cliff “Mt Hug” Moore


Mark Widner (Cisco) October 10, 2020 at 10:35 pm

Whatever happened to Johnny Riddle. I was at Cal Western fall 68 to spring of 70. Moved to The North Shore of Oahu the summer of 70 and never looked back. We surfed with a bunch of kids from Pt. Loma. Great crew! We called Johnny the newbreak kid and he hung out with ziggy, zagg, Steve Lisk, and countless others. BUNKER Spreckles was part of the crew for a while too.
That was a great time to surf the cliffs. No attitudes.

Aloha oe’


Ken Coffey May 7, 2021 at 11:17 am

Having departed from my Point Loma home and OB off W. Pt Loma Blvd., in 1970, I began my surfing interest moving to Carpinteria being four minutes from Rincon Point. My G&S served me well from 1965 thru the early 80s. Although I knew of John Holley and Billy Chapman, I wasn’t surfing at the time, but my brother Doug Coffey was along with David Allaire, Mark Fitzik, Steve Correia Billy Holt and Tim Wilson. I lived vicariously thru their Sunset Cliffs outings in uncrowded waves . I began surfing on the North Beach Jetty after high school , transferred my surfing to The Rincon and began a routine of water time still existing. Unfortunately I never had the privilege of the fun factor with all the the legendary figures from Point Loma HS. It was good to know at almost 76 years of age , who named the cliff surfing locations. SD has changed much in my 50 year absence with the exception of visits. Most notably friends and I waited in a long traffic line to Garbaage just to observe. We couldn’t find a parking place. Oh my, what 1/2 century can do to the popularity of a once crowd of maybe 12?


Frank Gormlie May 7, 2021 at 11:36 am

Hey Ken, thanks for joining the “conversation.” I knew all those guys: most of us were in the PLHS Class of 66 – your brother Doug, David, Billy and Tim. I actually met your dad while a boy scout; he approved one of my merit badges at your house.


sealintheSelkirks May 9, 2021 at 11:55 am

Interesting hearing these stories being part of the next generation of little surfer kids that paddled out at the Cliffs in the late 60s in my teens…and not being part of the ‘local’ crowd or knowing anyone out in the water got rocks thrown at me from the top of the cliff by people who hadn’t ever met me or surfed with me. And repeatedly had slashed tires and slashed seats on my bicycle along with having a cut chain hanging with no bicycle and board trailer attached a couple of times that I had to rebuild.

Come on, guys, it wasn’t about how well you surfed or how polite you were about not dropping in. Localism is tribalism which is kill the ‘outsider’ which has always been a really ugly part of our species history. Isn’t that what racism is, what hate the longhaired hippies was, what intolerance of anything different is? The ‘other’ is the enemy who will take what you have and that cannot be allowed. By accident of birth the Cliffs were private property!

If my parents hadn’t divorced I would have been Class of ’72 at PLHS having been born in OB…and been part of that legacy. But instead I ended up in MB with my granny still in OB so I did get to surf the Cliffs even with the harassment. And guess what? I was part of the ‘Middle Mission’ local surfer crew who harassed outsiders! Clairemont? Outahere! El Cajon? Take off! Santee surfers? Go HOME! And believe me it got especially bad at South Mission Jetty on big days. Not something I’m proud of.

And then there was the Surfer Motel/PB Surf Shop crowd at PB Drive, and the Crystal Pier guys who ran your ass over, and the Law Street gang that slashed car tires and broke off side mirrors. And of course we can’t forget the PB Point boyz where they also threw rocks at you from above and had punch-outs in the water just like Sunset Cliffs.

And like you, Ken Coffey, I followed my surfing into other places in 1987 and in other ways the last 34 years, and rarely got back to San Diego except to bury a couple of relatives. And the last one died in 2001 and I didn’t recognize the place. It was…overwhelming being there. There isn’t any reason for me to make the 2,000 mile trip again since those that I grew up with are completely scattered and gone because MB was taken over by the neighborhood destroyers aka ‘developers’ and all the lower income families were priced out. Belmont Park turned into a freaking mall even though Evans’ will specifically stated it was to be kept ‘for the children of San Diego to enjoy’ then his family broke it in favor of profits… Even Mission Beach School is no more! Guess there aren’t enough kids living in MB to justify one any longer.

But I saw skinheads with swastika tattoos out in the water in a couple places those two weeks I was cleaning up after my last auntie, and got stink-eyed more than once. Along with actually being told that Southside OB Pier was a local-only zone by some dude and that I needed to paddle in…until I threw a vertical lip bash on my mid-80s Seal Ding Repair shaped & glassed twinfin between the pilings and paddled back out. Then they started talking to me a bit…and realized that they remembered my shop on Sunset Cliffs when they were kids. I fixed their daddy’s boards. Funny how that works, eh?

But we can look back at those huge crowds of 12 other surfers on a good day rather fondly, can’t we? In some ways it’s all still there…somewhere…at least in our memories those days haven’t ended. I have a picture on my wall of me in a stand-up tube at Rockslide in 1982 taken by the Sonshine Surf Shop photo guy, lipping two feet right over my head, that makes me smile every time I look at it. I was doing their ding repair and happened to be out that day. This is what we take with us when we go, amazing memories. Ain’t it grand to have a picture or two on the wall?



Jay B Watts January 13, 2022 at 10:03 am

Really grateful for one of the finest wave “parks” on the west coast. Too many go outs to count since the first one in the fall of 1970. The sense of tribe was strong. Magical sessions with Bill Morgan, Jim Hart, Bob Digges, Bud Johnson, Art Sheelee, Rob Ard, Rob Curtis, Shawn Styles, Dallas Perdue, Mike Watson, Ken Montpas, John Ayres and Lance Dudek to name just a few.


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