Along with being called original, influential and legendary, Bob Cooper has been labeled "eccentric."His wife and daughter agree with that designation, and not just because Cooper once wore his grandmother's fur coat to the beach and used to make Hawaiian shirts that went past his knees.Cooper also wasn't shy about being a Mormon in the Australian surf scene."He's never been afraid to be different," said Caitlin Mackie, one of Cooper's five children. "He also instilled in us that it was a good thing — so you may as well run with it."Cooper is considered a surfing pioneer who rode into prominence when the sport reached mainstream culture. But to his family, this descendant of the Martin and Willie handcart companies is a pioneer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia."He came to Australia instead to be a pioneer, and it happens to be that he's also an eccentric surfer," Mackie said.Cooper grew up in a strong LDS community in California. When he took up surfing, it was still a relatively obscure sport — what Cooper calls a "secondary thought." But as surfing grew in popularity in the 1960s, Cooper carved a career out of his interest that including competing, starring in surf films and designing surfboards."I came to mature when the whole surfing thing seemed to mature," he said. "As it became pop culture, I kind of came along with it. I'm famous for being famous."In the "Encyclopedia of Surfing," writer Matt Warshaw described Cooper as a cheerful, articulate, free-thinking character. He dressed colorfully — winning "best-dressed man" recognition at a surfing competition, according to Mackie — and wore a beard that became a defining characteristic.Cooper acknowledges having a "period of inactivity" where he focused on surfing full-time. But after his future wife, Wils, initially refused to marry him, Cooper re-evaluated himself and decided to "be true to the faith that I always knew was true."Wils, a native of the Netherlands, eventually married Bob and was baptized into the LDS Church. The couple was sealed in the Los Angeles Temple and shortly thereafter settled permanently in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, Australia, where Cooper ran a successful surf shop.He also decided to stop competing on Sundays."I knew what I should do, and Heavenly Father did, too, and he waited for me to make the change," Cooper said.There was no branch in the town when the Coopers arrived. But once the Coffs Harbour branch was established, Cooper served as branch president for more than a decade.Mackie said her father is a maverick in some sense, but also willing to be obedient. When Cooper was called as district president, a church authority suggested that he might want to shave his trademark beard — which Cooper did."When that calling was over, he grew his beard back," Mackie said.Cooper now lives in Queensland and is a member of the Nambour Australia Stake. At 71, he's giving up surfing and concentrating on the artistic aspects of surfboard design."I'm too old," he said. "I've decided it's time to step away from that, not because I want to, but because I can't anymore."Macie said her father has tried to direct any fame he has toward missionary efforts. On two different occasions, in 1970 and 2002, the LDS Church News ran stories on how Cooper spoke extensively about his faith in magazine articles written about him."I'm quite vocal about it in any publicity that I get, so they know where I stand if they know anything about me," Cooper said. "When the questions come up, I'm more than willing to answer."
Surfing legend isn't shy about LDS faith