After the breakup, Simmons starting surfing in San Diego County almost full-time. That's when [John Elwell] met him. Simmons liked him and built him a board. When Elwell pulled out his wallet, Simmons said, "Keep it, you're a lifeguard," Elwell recalls.
He paddled out with Elwell and a few others, but the swells were too large and proved impossible to surf. Elwell saw Simmons stand up late on an ominous, overhead wave. It was low tide, and inches separated the water's surface from the sandstone reef below. Simmons got pitched off his board and went down. The plank climbed up the wave and tumbled over the white water that crashed onto Simmons. Then it bounced into the air.
PHOTO: [Bob Simmons], top, slices through the water at what is believed to be Malibu in 1947. He died 40 years ago today. / Collection of JOHN ELWELL; PHOTO: When he wasn't riding the waves, the former Caltech student cruised the Southern California coast in a '37 Ford Tudor, eating soybeans from the can. Simmons, below left, with pals Tom Carlin, Jim Nesbitt and Johnny Linden, in La Jolla in January, 1954. / JOHN ELWELL; PHOTO: John Elwell shows off his Simmons surfboard at La Jolla's Windansea beach in the summer of 1952. Elwell hopes to write a book or make a movie about surfing pioneer Bob Simmons. / John Elwell Collection