Newport Man Builds World’s Largest Surfboard

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Newport Beach resident Bob Steel poses for a photo with the giant surfboard that he, the project manager, and his team hope to be breaking world records early next month. — Photo by Jim Collins ©
Newport Beach resident Bob Steel poses for a photo with his giant surfboard – photo by Jim Collins ©

Newport Heights resident Bob Steel’s career has spanned decades and taken him around the world on surfboards, sailboats and first class yachts. He’s sailed with famous names on incredible vessels and raced in nearly every major ocean race.

Now, his current venture is building a world record-breaking giant surfboard.

The 1,100 pound, 42-foot long, 11-foot wide board is scheduled to take to the waves in Huntington Beach on June 20 between 9 a.m. and noon.

“It’s bigger than a lot of boats,” Steel commented.

Officials are aiming to have 62 people ride the board for 10 seconds. Steel, the project manager, will be among the crowd riding the surf on the oversized surfboard.

Surf City USA hopes to break both “World’s Largest Surfboard” and “Most People Riding a Surfboard at Once” world records.

After the epic ride, the board will become an art installation on an outside wall of the International Surf Museum

Newport Beach resident Bob Steel aboard the America, the famous historic racing yacht. — Photo by Jim Collins ©
Newport Beach resident Bob Steel aboard the America, the famous historic racing yacht.
— Photo by Jim Collins ©

in Huntington Beach.

The surfboard project is scheduled to be completed on June 5.

“It’s going really well,” Steel said, adding that it’s on schedule so far.

The enormous board is part of a Visit Huntington Beach campaign. MouldCAM in Bristol, R.I., and Westerly Marine in Orange County are both involved in building the massive board. They’ve also got a few major sponsors, like Hurley.

Steel’s experience and knowledge of building boats and surfboard and managing projects made him the perfect fit for the job.

The Sydney, Australia, native has spent nearly half a century in the maritime industry.

Over the years, he has managed yacht construction restoration, repair, maintenance, electronic installation and rigging, managed and built sail and power boats, built surfboards, planned and prepped for multiple offshore ocean races, and is currently the principal at Steel Maritime.

Steel started out building surfboards in Australia and New Zealand in the 1960s.

He then began offshore oil exploration, “mainly to generate a trip around the world,” Steel said. The trip included stops in Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Hawaii, which allowed him to surf some of the best waves in the world.

In 1970, the trip brought him to Southern California.

He happened to know a pair of teachers in Hermosa Beach that he had met in New Zealand, so he stayed with them for some time. Through that connection, he received an offer to help bring a boat from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Newport Beach. That 72-foot aluminum-hulled yacht happened to be the famous Kialoa II owned by Jim Kilroy.

“That launched me out of surfing and into sailing,” he said. “I got an invite to go down and bring the boat back and land it, very fortunately, in Newport.”

Since then, the successful marine industry leader has called Newport Beach home.

Not long after arriving stateside, he took off to compete in his first yacht race in Tahiti. Over the course of his career, he has sailed a lot of miles with a lot of people.

“I’ve had a chance to sail on a lot of very famous boats in this harbor,” Steel said.

Steel had an opportunity to sail from Bora Bora to Raetaiea on Mir, a 78-foot Ketch, with who he later found out were famous people: Walter Cronkite and James Michener.

“That was pretty amazing,” Steel said.

About 15 years ago he was able to sail with Cronkite again on Miz Blu, a 59-foot Nautor Swan boat owned by Harry Thomasen, in the Newport to Ensenada race, which he said was a highlight of his career.

Steel also very involved with local philanthropic programs and makes it a mission to give back.

As an active board member of the Newport Sea Base, he’s helped in a number of ways. Recently, Steel worked to get the 2015 Good Sea Scout Award Event to be held aboard the America, the famous historic racing yacht.

“The Sea Base has been a good friend to the sailing community,” Steel said.

He also teaches Safety at Sea at the Scout Base, yacht clubs and other groups and associations. He will be leading a Safety at Sea program at the Scout Base on Aug. 15.

“There are so many good things happening at the base,” Steel said.

The Scout Base is Newport’s best kept secret, Steel added.

Steel’s involvement in supporting Newport youth started many years ago when his own kids attended Newport Harbor High School.

Along with a few other interested parents, Steel established a group of dads called “The Navigators,” a group dedicated to improving the quality of education at NHHS. Other founding fathers of the Navigators were Tim Hogan, Rick Robinson, Tom Hogan and John Polovina.

They supported the kids academically, focusing on technology and science, but also did a lot of hands-on projects, Steel explained.

In 1995, the Navigators eventually evolved into the Newport Harbor Educational Foundation. The NHEF has since raised more than $14 million to support the school.

He also consults with Surfline on weather and surf forecasts and is involved with the Balboa Yacht Club.

There’s not a lot he hasn’t done.

“I’ve done most of the major ocean races,” Steel said, although he noted that he has never sailed around the world.

“But it’s not really something that’s on my list of things to do,” Steel said. “I don’t like the cold.”

Sailing in the Rolex Swan Cup in Porto Cervo is on his list though, he said.

He has a longtime relationship with Nautor Swan in Finland, they “build the Bentleys of sailboats,” he said. Through Nautor he’ll be able to participate in the Swan regatta next year.

That will definitely be a highlight, he said.

“I’m going to keep sailing (and surfing). Keep doing what I’ve been doing… It’s all pretty amazing,” Steel said. “It’s been a pretty cool ride.”

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