On Sunday, June 16, Bob Meistrell, co-founder of Body Glove Wetsuits, passed away. He was 84.
Meistrell was working on the engines of his 70-foot yacht, the Disappearance, anchored offshore of Catalina, when he suffered a heart attack while changing the fuel filters. The Disappearance was scheduled to lead the field in the Rock 2 Rock paddleboard race from Catalina to San Pedro. Meistrell's grand-nephew Daley was participating in the race, and a big contingent of the Meistrell clan were there for support. His son Robbie and nephews Stephen and Billy were on hand to perform CPR while the crew waited for emergency help.
Born far from the coast in Boonville, Missouri, Bob and his identical twin brother Bill Meistrell (Bill passed away in 2006), nevertheless had an early fascination with diving equipment. By age 14 the two rigged up a diving helmet from a salvaged five-gallon vegetable can, a discarded pane of glass, and tar. Two years later the twins moved to Manhattan Beach, California, and shortly thereafter were surfing and making frequent dive excursions in and around the South Bay.
In the early 1950s, the Meistrells got their hands on some prototype dive wetsuits courtesy of Bill's close friend Bev Morgan. In 1953 the trio went into business together at Morgan's Dive N' Surf shop in Redondo Beach, selling the world's first commercially available wetsuits.
By 1957, the Meistrells had bought out Morgan and began to adapt their diving wetsuit designs for surfing. They first launched their new wetsuit line under the awkward-sounding name Thermocline, but after a bit of sound marketing advice from Hang Ten founder Duke Boyd, the pair changed the name of their wetsuit line to Body Glove, and in 1965, their new company was born.
Though Body Glove grew into an industry titan as one of the largest manufacturers of wetsuits in the world, the Meistrells kept the business in the family. Robbie Meistrell took over as CEO in the 1980s, with Bob maintaining an active role in company operations well into the 2000s.
Bob and Bill became titans themselves in the South Bay oceangoing community, and are two of the only three people to be inducted into both the surfing and diving halls of fame. The pair also received the SIMA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009. Neither let their enthusiasm for the ocean wane, with both continuing to go on dives at the end of their lives.
"The most important thing that I think that we can learn from both my grandpa and Uncle Bob is to do what you love and love what you do, because if you are not enjoying life then you really aren’t living," said Jenna Meistrell, Bob's grand niece. "This last weekend at Catalina with Uncle Bob was one of the best weekends I have had with him. He was in his element and I hope when I think of Uncle Bob I always look back at how happy he was."