The Coast News Group
Joe Roper, left, and son Jojo at the Moores Cancer Center 28th annual Luau & Legends Invitational. Photo by Chris Ahrens
Columns Waterspot

Waterspot: An all-American big-wave family

I’m a bit foggy on the details, but it was some time in the mid-1970s when I first became aware of this kid named Joe Roper charging whatever poured onto the La Jolla reefs.

Joe was and is a good surfer on all types of boards and in all types of conditions, especially excelling in tube riding.  I have seen him in person and in photos both still and motion, standing tall beneath the shadows or ducking for cover on that rainbow stick of his, stuck deep in the guts of a Lobster Lounge or Pipeline left.

Roper was a prominent member of the prestigious Gordon & Smith Surf (and skateboard) teams who came to life in powerful surf. While surfers like me were trying to get to shore because it was getting too big, he was paddling out, hoping the surf would increase.

I recall running into Joe on the North Shore of Oahu in the mid-’80s and questioning him for an article in the long-defunct Breakout Magazine about his training techniques for Hawaiian waves.

His answer was as simple and straightforward as the man himself: “I come to Hawaii, get the s— beat out of me and I get into shape.”

While he no longer charges second-reef Pipe, his dive into the deep end of life doesn’t seem to have altered much over the years. A testament to that are some of his surfboard restorations where he takes yellowed, battered hunks of foam and makes them look better than new.

Located in Kearney Mesa, Joe Roper’s Surfboard and SUP Repair has been in business for 45 years. Forty-five years. WHAT?!

It takes a moment to realize that Joe Roper is no longer the new gremmie on the block and that his and his wife Kim’s son, Jojo, is now 30.

From childhood, Jojo began following Joe into waves of consequence. He has since surpassed his father and now ranks among the world’s top big-wave riders.

Next time our local beaches top 10 feet, which they do maybe twice each year, many surfers watch from the cliff or look for a place where the swell is being shadowed. Not Jojo. He and a small number of others are scouting the coast to see where the swell will hit at its max.

In the winter, Jojo can often be found at the closest big-wave spot. The appropriately named “Killers’ on Todos Santos Island, eight miles due west of the Ensenada Harbor will then show Hawaiian size and power. Jojo has also been documented farther from home riding that untamed reef in Half Moon Bay known as Maverick’s.

Summertime finds Roper colliding with the Mexican Pipeline, AKA Puerto Escondido, where warm water bombs drop onto a hard, flat sandbank. (During much of this year, Puerto was off limits due to that omnipresent virus that continues to ruin our fun.) 

Jojo, who is nearly as good with his hands as he is on his feet, works with his father in glassing and repairing surfboards.

He’s had lots of practice in the repair business by putting together the countless number of boards he’s snapped in foreign and domestic waters.

When not traveling, you will find Jojo working in the family business along with his father, his mother and his sisters Sara and Samantha. 

The Ropers are an all-American success story and in the running for everybody’s favorite surfing family. I would follow them anywhere except into the deep, dark waters where they have made their timeless reputations.

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