The Guys Who Named the Sunset Cliffs Surf Breaks

by on December 10, 2018 · 20 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.


{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar 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.


Avatar 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.


Avatar 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.


Avatar 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.


Avatar Tyler December 11, 2018 at 9:25 am

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


Avatar Tyler December 11, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Also to my knowledge Sub is short for Subleo.


Avatar 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.


Avatar 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!


Avatar 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 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.


Avatar 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.


sealintheSelkirks 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?


Avatar 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)



Avatar 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?


Avatar 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.


Avatar Steve Farnsworth January 1, 2020 at 4:16 pm

Hey Lizard,

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


Avatar 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


Avatar 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.


Avatar 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


Avatar 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’


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