Bob and Marva West
Robert "Bob" Elvin West,
Age 86, passed away Tuesday, June 21st, 2022, due complications from COVID-19. He was a San Diego native and an ocean marathon swimming legend, born in 1935.
His many passions led him through a life full of endless adventures, where he collected many accolades and accomplishments along the way. Without hesitation, he shared his larger-than-life personality, drive, and heart with everyone he met and gained an innumerable following of dear friends, all of whom became family.
His life was filled with more stories to tell than a library could hold, and he loved to share them. From helping his Hasidic Jewish neighbors as a Shabbat goy in Brooklyn, NY in the 1940’s, to being a lumberjack in Tuolumne, CA in his teens, to playing baseball as a catcher for the US Airforce as a young man, to being a Civil Rights Activist in the 1960’s and 70’s while being a high school teacher and coach, his epic tales rival any fiction novel. And those stories are just a drop in the ocean in the anthology of Bob West’s life.
Bob taught Honors History, AP History, History, Honors English, AP English, and English at Bonita Vista and Sweetwater High Schools. Throughout his decades long career as a teacher, he also coached high school baseball, soccer, and football. He took on the role of offensive coordinator for the football team and lead many teams to clench the title of CIF champions over the years. After retiring as a teacher, he later joined Eastlake HS as their offensive coordinator for several successful seasons. Bob built winning teams with his fellow coaches, but more importantly as a mentor, he helped build character, instill confidence, and teach perseverance to each of his players.
Young Bob and his Teddy Bear
Bob and his Bouy
A La Jolla Cove Swim Club Gathering
His passion for swimming began at age 12 as a boy scout, when he swam the 2-miles from La Jolla Cove to the Shores and back for the first time. After that day, swimming in the ocean was an ever-present part of his life. He spent many years free diving around San Diego and Baja but realized in his 50’s that his true calling was open ocean marathon swimming. One of his first great achievements was a 28.5-mile swim around Manhattan Island on August 19th, 1989. He always said this was his most beautiful swim ever because there were “rainbows everywhere,” only to realize later that oil in the water had coated his goggles. In 1991, he became the oldest swimmer to cross the Catalina Channel, approximately 20.2 miles, at age 55. In 1996, he swam the English Channel, earning the O’Clee Jubilee Cup from the Channel Swimming Association for being the oldest swimmer to complete the crossing that year. This also made him the fourth person to earn the “Triple Crown of Open Water Swimming,” and the only person over the age of 50 to ever do so at the time. Just shy of his 63rd birthday, he swam the Catalina Channel again, nearly matching his previous time, which maintained his title of oldest to swim the channel until 2014. Bob decided to top off his distance swims while on a couple of vacations to Hawaii with two 10-mile Maui Channel crossings with a few friends (because why not when you’ve already done everything else, and you have wonderful friends who humor your crazy ideas!)
Part of Bob’s training included swims every morning from La Jolla Cove with fellow accomplished open ocean swimming comrades, who would eventually be known as the “Bob-A-Longs” for years to come. Many of these friends were dedicated members of the La Jolla Cove Swim Club, which Bob was the President of for the better part of two decades. He also volunteered his time to mentor and coach both accomplished and aspiring open ocean swimmers. He gave swimming tours of the Cove to anyone who asked, including some notable famous people (Dr. Oliver Sacks, Lynne Cox, Jim Caviezel, Cherry Jones… to name a few), but he treated every La Jolla Cove visitor like they were just as famous as the next.
One day, when Bob was on his daily Cove swim, his heart stopped just as he was returning to shore. Friend and Lifeguard, Jimmy Canale, happened to be on the beach training new lifeguards and immediately jumped to action with Ida Jones, a firefighter, who also happened to be swimming with Bob that day. They performed 11 minutes of CPR before more medics arrived with an AED. Bob was resuscitated, remarkably without any mentionable damage, thanks to the love and perseverance of his friends. After he recovered with a new pacemaker in place, Bob wanted to give back to those who saved him. He made an appointment to ask the San Diego City Council to invest in defibrillators at not just every lifeguard station, but also libraries, schools, and airports. He succeeded and thanks to his efforts, many lives have been saved.
Pictured left to right: Jimmy Canale, Janet Lamott, Bob West, Carol Sing.
Catalina Crossing 1998
As if all his swimming achievements were not enough to keep Bob busy, he also dedicated himself to organizing long-distance relay swims all over the world. His relays included a 54-mile circumnavigational swim of Catalina Island, a 21-mile swim across the North Channel of the Irish Sea, a 16-mile swim off the coast of Italy from Capri to Ischia, a 12-mile swim across the Canadian Straits of Juan de Fuca, a 12-mile swim from Lands-End at the tip of Baja California to Chileno Bay, and many local Southern California long-distance relays. He swam as a participant in every single one.
Are you tired yet? Because Bob wasn’t…
As many of Bob’s adventures began, one day, amid all his ocean swimming endeavors, he woke up and decided he wanted to ride his bicycle across the United States. He took the southern route and was not only chased by numerous dogs but was also sometimes chased by people who were not so sure about this gregarious man on a bicycle from California. He completed the crossing in 30 days and after that accomplishment, he just kept riding. Off to Europe he went to do the same, through Holland, France, and Switzerland. Finally, he topped off his two-wheeled worldly adventures with a ride across New Zealand.
Bob with his Son-In-Law, James (left), and friends.
One of Bob's Wire Mermaid Ornaments
Bob also had many other hobbies and talents. If you catch a glint of silver dangling in front windshields of cars in La Jolla, you’ll probably see wire sculptures of sea creatures and mermaids handmade by Bob West. After many of his daily swims at the Cove, he would set up a table and craft these sculptures and wire-wrapped sea glass jewelry to give and sell to friends and admirers.
Bob was also a well-practiced classical and flamenco guitar player, singer, gardener, aspiring cook, tennis player, and the list goes on and on… everything he did, he did it with all of his heart.
Wire-Wrapped Sea Glass Jewelry
Of all his impressive accomplishments, his greatest was meeting the love of his life, Marva Jo, and creating a beautiful family together. His legacy continues in them and the lives of everyone he knew.
He is survived by his wife Marva, children: Linda Ann (James) Rasmussen, John Robert (Beni) West. Siblings: Sue (Art) Sobke, and Mary Ellen Johnson. Grand children: Cayley West (Erik) Rasmussen-DeKold, and Connor James Rasmussen. Great-grandchild: Lindon James DeKold. Nieces and Nephews: Bob (Dawn) Sparks, Jim (Lisa) Sparks, Aric (Rhonda) Bardsley, Heather Lee-Staub, and many grand-nieces, and grand-nephews. He was preceded in death by his sister Kathy (Ron) Lee and nephew Toby Lee.