During his days as a pro surfer, Bobby Owens was a star on the international circuit, but many of his fans are unaware of his Daytona Beach past, and the formative years he spent surfing on Florida’s Central Coast.
The son of a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, Owens was born in Italy in 1957. When he was seven years old, the family moved to Jacksonville, Florida, and two years later they moved to Oahu, where young Bobby first started surfing. The back and forth between living in Florida and Hawaii happened again over the years. However, it was in Jacksonville that Owens launched his competitive career.
Throughout his teen years surfing on the East Coast, Owens showed a youthful promise. He was a perennial Eastern Surfing Association (ESA) competitor and a regular at the annual championships in Cape Hatteras. In 1972 Owens won the Boy’s Division at the Eastern Surfing Championships. However, in 1976 the family moved back to Hawaii where the congenial, freckled-faced boy soon became a well-known pro surfer on Oahu’s North Shore.
Owens was known for his fast and fluid surfing of the North Shore’s fiercest breaks. He placed second at the 1977 Duke Classic at Sunset Beach. Then, in 1980, he won the Pro Class Trials (also at Sunset) and the Quiksilver Bells Beach trials in Australia. He also placed in the Pipeline Masters Finals in both 1981 and 1982. By the end of the year, he had made the world tour. He went on to rank in the top 16 in the world four times, including 12th in 1977, 7th in 1978, 12th in 1981, and 10th in 1982.
Unusual looking for a pro surf hero, Owens stood at 5’8”, 140 pounds and had chalk-white skin and wavy red hair. Nonetheless, he was among the most respected surfers at Sunset Beach in the late 70s and early 80s. He has been featured in more than a dozen surf movies—including Fantasea (1978) and the original Wave Warriors (1985)—and has appeared in countless photos featured in Surfing and Surfer magazines.
Bobby Owens was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2020.
Photos by Bob Barbour, Paul Cohen, Jeff Divine, Darrell Jones, Kimiro Kondo and courtesy Bobby Owens