Bob Meistrell Passes Away

The world has lost a great person and a friend to so many Family, Friends, and Collegues in the watersports world.  With heavy hearts the Meistrell family is sad to announce the passing of Bob Meistrell, waterman, adventurer and the co-founder of Body Glove International and Dive N' Surf Inc. He had a wonderful life, and would have been 85 next month.  He lived his motto of "Do what you love, love what you do." until his last day when he was on his boat, The Disappearance. He was coming back from Catalina as the lead boat in the Rock 2 Rock Paddleboard Race.

During the race, The Disappearance had a double engine failure which Bob said has never happened before. Bob, attempting to get the boat up and running again, hurried to the engine room where he suffered a heart attack.  His nephew, Steven Lockhart, began administering CPR and called for son Robbie and nephew Billy Meistrell, who were on nearby boats to assist in his resuscitation. When the Baywatch Isthmus arrived, they moved the unresponsive Meistrell up to the boat’s deck and attempted to restart his heart with a defibrillator. After nearly two hours of trying to revive him, Bob Meistrell was pronounced dead.

Bob and his twin brother Bill, who passed away in 2006, helped to create the "Surf Culture," which changed the world, beginning with their designing, manufacturing and selling of the first commercially viable neoprene wetsuits. Bob and Bill are two of only three watermen to be inducted into the Surfers and Divers Hall of Fame. This year Body Glove International celebrates its 60 Year Anniversary, and Bob and Bill's presence will be deeply missed. Even though they are gone, their stories and adventures will live on in a book "Fits Like a Glove" that will be released this Fall. Bob and his brother Bill, will always be remembered as true waterman, honest businessmen, loving fathers, and overall legends.

Bob leaves behind his sons Robbie, Ronnie and Randy, nine grandchildren, Tracey, Matt, Jamie, Nick, Kenna, Robert, Randi, Rhoni and Makayla and two great-grandchildren Mia and Maddox. He also leaves behind his wife Patty of 62 years. As Bob always said, “To have a happy marriage, you first need to find a good gal, and second she has to be able to put up with you.” There’s no question Bob and Patty spent every moment of their lives deeply in love with one another.

Further information about memorial services will be posted at a later time.

Both Bob and Bill were very involved in protecting the ocean since the 1950's. Bob was also extremely passionate about doing trips on The Disappearance to raise money for the Switzer Center. In lieu of sending flowers, we kindly ask you make a donation to one of these three organizations.

Switzer Center 

Reef Check

  Ocean Futures Society

 

But How Did It All Begin?

The Meistrell boys were born and raised in a small town in Missouri. Bob and Bill were identical twins but born on separate days. Throughout their childhood the boys were fascinated with the water. When the twins were four years old their father died, leaving their mother to raise them on her own. Joe, the boys' older brother, was a lifeguard at the local pool. With Joe's help Bob and Bill became accomplished swimmers. "We joined the Boy Scouts every year just to swim for them, then would quit after the meet," chuckled Bob.

The boys' interest in water soon turned into a passion for diving and discovering, so at the age of fourteen they built their own diving helmet.

"We got a five gallon vegetable can, cut out the bottom and had a guy solder shoulder pads on it so it didn't cut into us. We put a piece of glass on the front and used tar as a seal around the glass. We had enough sense to put in a check valve, made from a marble and a spring so the air wouldn't come out when we stopped pumping. One of us would wear this thing in the swimming pool and sit down on the bottom reading bad magazines, while the other pumped air on the surface with a tire pump....

The pump would get so hot that you would have to dip it in the water to cool it off. You'd feel the water coming up to your nose. I can't tell you how many times we had to bail out of that thing. It's a wonder we didn't get an air embolism. We used to march around in some of the local lakes at depths of about 15 feet," recalled Bob.

In 1944, the Meistrell family packed up and moved to Manhattan Beach, California. Bob and Bill enrolled in Redondo Union High School. After a year and a half the boys transferred to El Segundo High where they took up football and swimming.

The Meistrells fell in love with the ocean despite the pollution problem. "At Manhattan Beach you couldn't swim because it was so polluted," says Bob. They got into surfing just as balsa boards were starting to catch on and were among the first to apply fiberglass to protect the nose of the foam-filled plywood boards.

During high school the boys bought a genuine diving helmet for $25, after the owner was killed using it. "We marched all over the breakwater with that thing, one at a time while the other would be pumping. There were no wetsuits in those days so we would be freezing. The helmet was only good for looking around. You couldn't lean over and grab anything. Maximum depth was 20 feet. There was clear water with a white sandy bottom and lots of fish. A whole other world!"

After graduating El Segundo High the Meistrell twins became full-time lifeguards, but shortly after Bill was drafted into the Army. Bob, thinking he would be deferred because of a broken back sustained while playing football, was drafted in the Army two months after he was married. They said, "You're warm, you're breathing, you're in the Army now." Bob stayed in the reception center in Monterey and Bill went to Korea where he received a Bronze Star. "I lived in Santa Cruz and hitchhiked back and forth to the Monterey Army Base. I lived one block from the beach at Pleasure Point and surfed by car light without a wetsuit almost nightly. There were no other people, but a little seal would sometimes jump up on my board and surf into the beach with me at the river mouth."

Bob and Bill needed to find a way to combat California's cold water. They tried a variety of ideas, including electrically heated flyers' suits from the war surplus but those would burn up and wool sweaters lasted only as long as they were dry, which wasn't too long. Finally in 1953, they found insulation material that was used in the back of refrigerators. This material was called neoprene and with it the Meistrell brothers fashioned the first practical wetsuits.

In 1953, Bill's friend Bev Morgan, a Los Angeles County Lifeguard who later went on to successfully manufacture a line of dive gear, made an offer to Bill to buy into a share of his local sports shop called Dive N Surf. Bev owned the shop with Hap Jacobs, who later pioneered the modern surfboard, but Jacobs wanted out so Bill accepted the offer on one condition, that his brother Bob be brought in as a partner as well. Bev agreed and Bob and Bill borrowed $1800 from their mom and each bought one third of the business. "Business started out slow. At first I thought, wow, this business is really taking off!" Slowly but surely business did get better, although during the first few years bringing in $100 a day was a goal not a reality. To keep themselves afloat the twins continued lifeguarding on a part-time basis. In 1957 the Meistrell brothers were able to buy out their remaining partner.

In 1955, Bob was part of the UICC (Underwater Instructors Certification Course) Class #1. These watermen were the first people in the world to become certified scuba instructors. Some of the other class members were: Bev Morgan, Al Tillman, Ramsey Parks, Andy Rechnitzer, Bill Walker, E.R. Cross and Herb Barthels. Bob's Certification number is 1UICC #13.

The Meistrell brothers also owned a company called Dive N Surf Marine Photography. They did commercial diving down to 255 feet on straight air and used to swim through ½ mile salt water intake pipes for the Southern California Edison Company. Their interest went even deeper however, submarines! Bob and Bill were involved in a company called Undersea Graphics. The company had a single man, 750-foot capability sub and a 2-man 2000-foot capability sub. They do pipeline inspection and recover objects lost in deep water.

In 1990, Bob and Bill were inducted into both the Diving Hall of Fame and the Pioneers of Surfing. "We were among the first surfers. We spent years and years along the beaches. We were selected not because we were great surfers, but because we were the ones that brought out the wetsuits. Without them there would been a lot of drowning."

In 2006 the diving and surfing world lost a valuable member, Bill Meistrell succumbed to a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was a true pioneer in the watermen's world and is missed every day. On July 30th, 2008 Bob turned 80 years young and in honor of Bill's memory and their birthdays he spent the day diving and surfing.

And now, June 16, 2013.  Bob Meistrell leaves this world and joins his brother Bill.

 

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