A self-described “old timer,” Bob Wise founded Wise Surfboards in 1968, shaping and glassing surfboards for the local surf community. No one has had a better perspective of the evolution of San Francisco surfing—he can see it all from the front door of his shop.
Wise Surfboards sits just across the street from Ocean Beach, site of the 2011 Rip Curl Pro Search San Francisco. SURFER Magazine caught up with Wise for a look into what ASP fans should expect when their focus turns to the Bay Area in November.
How would you describe the San Francisco surf scene?
I don’t think there is one, to be honest with you. There was when I was a young guy—I’m 63 now. Years ago, it used to be that the guys that surfed out here, everybody knew everybody. Most of us lived by the ocean. You really couldn’t live inland and be a surfer. When I was a young guy, if you were on the other side of town, if you were five miles away, you could miss it, you know. There was no way of knowing. So it’s a whole different deal right now. Surfers are scattered, and I really don’t think there’s a surf scene and a surf culture, per se.
That puts you in an interesting situation. No surf scene, but you’re selling to surfers. How does that work?
In the past, it was good for us, because we were one of the few. In the early ’70s, we were the only surf shop north of Santa Cruz in the state of California. But now, of course, we’ve got several surf shops in town—they’re all over the place. As far as business goes, the Internet is actually wiping most of us off the map.
That being said, why do you think Rip Curl chose San Francisco for this Search event?
I think they were looking for something that was more metropolitan than some island tucked out in the middle of nowhere. We do have good waves this time of year, although it’s iffy. And it’s iffy every year. Although if you wanted to surf here, probably the best time of the year, statistically, would be the last two weeks of October and the first two weeks of November. That was the obvious reason for picking November 1—that’s the time of the year when we have surf.
Let’s talk about that. What challenges do you think the competitors will face?
The biggest thing they’re going to face is what we face daily. It’s the cold water. You have to wear a heavy wetsuit—although if I were a competitor and were only surfing 30-minute heats, I wouldn’t wear a really heavy wetsuit. But the cold water is going to be a problem. Where they’re going to hold the contest is fairly close to the opening of the Bay, and the currents can be quite strong. And they’re not allowing them to use jet skis for returning them back to the lineup, so they’re going to have to paddle through that. I think those will be the problems. I think the wave itself won’t be a problem for them, for obvious reasons. These are the best guys in the world. You know, if my buddies and I can surf it, these guys will be able to tear into it I’m sure.
Do you have a pro in mind that is favored in these conditions? Who is your pick for the win?
I’ve looked at some of the guys. Kelly Slater is always a favorite, right? Just because he’s the guy. I don’t know. The conditions can change the whole thing. We’re talking a different level here. Every one of these guys is experienced. So I don’t know.
Is there a lot of hype in the Bay Area for the contest?
It’s surprisingly minimal now. We’ve got such a big area here that there’s always something going on, so I think the news media is not going get into it for a couple weeks. Once they start putting it out, it could go a little bonkers. The shootings, the stabbings, the Raiders, the 49ers, the sharks, there are just a whole bunch of things going on. And we’re not really a beach town, you know. So I think the hype will be a little slow in coming, but it will be full on when it happens. I think when it gets closer and the pros start showing up, things will be happening. I personally know that some of the guys in the news media are surfers. Bill Martin, weather guy from Channel 2—he’s their head meteorologist, and he’s a surfer. We’ve also got a guy from Channel 7, who’s an investigative reporter, Dan Noyes, that’s a surfer. So these guys all know about it, they just can’t constantly talk about it. They’d lose their jobs.