Long, Lost Sunset Cliffs Surfing Lore Comes to Shore at OB Historical Society Gig

by on October 25, 2019 · 3 comments

in Ocean Beach

Lizard Chapman and Mouse Robb

By Eric DuVall

A standing room only crowd at Water’s Edge Faith Community learned some long lost local lore and enjoyed some tall tales as Ocean Beach Historical Society presented The Original Sunset Cliffs Surfers on the evening of October 17.

Local surf pioneers Tom “Lizard” Chapman, Billy Chapman, Jim “Mouse” Robb, Marsh Malcolm, and John Holley reminisced about long gone days, hardly imaginable now, when there were no stairs down, and nobody out.  The engaging group detailed the “Surf Wars” of the early 1960s, when restriction of surfing to just a few local beaches, and actual licensing of surfers were seriously being considered by San Diego lawmakers.

The crowd at Water’s Edge. All photos by Steve Rowell

The highlight of the program was some beautifully restored color film from the late 1940s, with young men riding big redwood planks at now familiar breaks such as Ab and Luscombe’s Point.  The film was narrated by octogenarian local legend Mouse Robb who was in much of the footage as a teenage surfer.

John Holley, Billy Chapman and Lizard Chapman with mic.

The film also featured some images of sailing on San Diego Bay which included some shots of the 1947 downtown San Diego Skyline, a time when the El Cortez Hotel was, by far, still the tallest building in town.

Famous OB surfer Mouse Robb narrates.

The group traded stories from the early days and answered many questions from the enthusiastic packed house audience.  Fun origin stories of colorful surf break names were revealed.

Newbreak was a straightforward and obvious outlier.  Chasm’s, as one lower Sunset Cliffs break has been known for many years, was revealed to be a verbal corruption of Shazam’s, based on the comic book nickname of  1940s superhero Captain Marvel.

The guys who pioneered a unique bayside break wanted a name that they thought might leave others disinterested:  Ralph’s.  A break far outside, that only broke very rarely was known as Blue Moon’s.  That was a name one of us had not heard in forty years, at least.

And for next month ….

Ocean Beach Historical Society will conclude their 2019 Lecture Series November 21st with The Legend and Lore of the O.B. James Gang.  The multi-media presentation will focus on the efforts and escapades of a sister-in-law and five brothers, whose Ocean Beach Screen Printing shop was the epicenter for the origin of celebrated local traditions such as the OB Tree and the Ocean Beach Christmas Parade.    www.obhistory.org

Eric DuVall is the president of the OB Historical Society.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura D in OB October 25, 2019 at 6:33 pm

This was a great presentation. The guys had many funny and stories and the video of them surfing (and clowning) really got the crowd going! Tom Chapman also wrote up a short booklet about some of his surfer days. The OB Library now has 2 copies of this biography. So go check it out! and thanks OBHS for organizing this special oral history of our unique community.


John Hawley August 4, 2020 at 2:43 pm

Good to see John, Billy and Lizard still at the Cliffs and OB. Cool to find this site. John Hawley


james lintott January 15, 2023 at 8:47 pm

I remember when those guys were really great surfers. They would often go for an an after surfing breakfast at “The Village Townhouse”, on Newport. I was 14, and a total gremmie. My crew, and me were someh0w in there two times, and I was sort of watching those guys, out of the corner of my eye. Mouse ordered a short stack of blueberry pancakes. Ah…Blueberry Pancakes!…It was what the Kings of OB were having, and I presumed that this was a deep, mystical truth, like something with a hidden mantra that would unfold as I followed the surfers path. Years later, I found that Mouse had become a friend, and he was always very generous with sharing stories of his take on growing-up as a surfer, and being a local in OB. Much Respect to all you Kings who explored, surfed, and opened the door for the rest of us kooks.


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