Bob Meistrell, a surfing and diving legend who co-founded Body Glove with his identical twin brother, Bill, died Sunday after suffering a heart attack while leading a paddleboard race. He was 84.
Until the day he died, Meistrell had the chance to do what he loved: power his 72-foot yacht, Disappearance, in the waters off Southern California, according to the (California) Daily Breeze.
Meistrell, who started making insulated wet suits decades ago with Bill, had the heart attack Sunday morning while leading a paddleboard race off Catalina Island, said his son, Robbie.
"He was one of a kind," Robbie Meistrell told the publication. "And he died doing exactly what he wanted to do. ... He drove his damn boat every day. He touched a lot of people. Best human being I've ever known."
Disappearance was the lead boat in the 22-mile Rock 2 Rock race Sunday from Isthmus Cove on Catalina to Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro. As he has done in previous years, Meistrell led the paddleboarders out of the harbor about 6:30 a.m., his son said.
But about 7, Robbie Meistrell received a call that his father's boat had a double-engine failure near Ship Rock. He was nearby and preparing to help tow in the vessel, which was also carrying his mother, Patty, when he heard soon after that his father had suffered a heart attack in the boat's engine room, he said.
Family members, some of whom were following the paddleboarders on nearby boats, performed CPR, along with county lifeguards who came to Meistrell's aid, said the son, who also boarded the yacht to help. He estimated that their efforts lasted an hour and 40 minutes.
"It's tough. This is a big loss," said Robbie Meistrell, who spent Father's Day weekend with his father and others on the island. "The last couple days over at Catalina with him were awesome. We got to share some really good times with him this weekend."
Meistrell is a South Bay legend — a veteran waterman, successful businessman and local philanthropist who in his later years powered his boat frequently for charity events and to scatter the ashes of friends' loved ones at sea, his son said.
In 1953, the Meistrells bought into the Dive N' Surf store, which was then situated near the Redondo Beach breakwater. The store was owned by surfboard maker Hap Jacobs and surfer and diver Bev Morgan.
When Jacobs left to start his own venture making surfboards, the twins' mother loaned them $1,800 to get into the business with Morgan. He was a friend they'd met while lifeguarding and surfing in the South Bay.
At the time the brothers bought into the business, they'd also been busy trying to find a way to stay warm in Southern California's cold ocean waters, according to the Body Glove company history. It was then that the brothers discovered an insulating material used in the back of refrigerators, fashioning neoprene into the first wet suits.
The brothers' shop, which sits today on North Broadway in Redondo Beach, became the home of "The Body Glove."