Robert Anthony “Bob” Purvey was born in Cairo, Egypt, to a Greek mother and a British father. The Purvey family’s primary language then was French and the secondary languages were English, Greek and Arabic.
“On the weekends, we’d visit my grandparents at their country house outside of Alexandria. Driving back and forth, my father would have me read the English roadside billboards out loud and he would teach me to enunciate the words properly.”
Not only was Bob bright, at age three, his father discovered Bob was physically coordinated when he placed a tennis racket and tennis ball in Bob’s hands. He started by hitting the ball against the back-wall, keeping the ball in mid-air countless of times. They played at the internationally famous Gezira Sporting Club, where King Farouk had built a tennis arena for the new Jack Kramer professional world tour. Kramer and Bob’s father played regularly.
On April 29, 1954, the family had to leave Egypt. The communist revolutionary party, led by Abdul Nasser and his military regime, deposed King Farouk, and kicked all Europeans out of the country, with just two suitcases each. The once affluent family of four, moved to London, England, where Purvey and his elder sister, Joan, attended boarding school for the next year.
On March 18, 1955, the Purvey family arrived in Manhattan, New York and moved into the Manhattan Hotel for the next six months.
While trying to sort out their new life-style, the family then moved to Jamaica, Queens where seven year-old Purvey entered grade school at PS #50. “I joined the neighborhood gang, wore a Jelly-Roll, white t-shirt with rolled up sleeves, jeans with rolled up cuffs, a Garrison belt and biker boots. I was Marlon Brando in disguise, with a zip-gun I made tucked in my pants. I was smoking cigarettes and pursuing girls by age ten.”
In the spring of 1961, the family moved to Westwood Village in West Los Angeles, California where Purvey was enrolled in Emerson Junior High School. “When I was first taken on a tour of the campus I was told to “Strip for gym.” I didn’t know what it meant exactly but it sounded fun.”
When summer came, his sister took 13 year-old Purvey to the Santa Monica Pier where he was introduced to surfing. He caught his first wave and stood up, riding all the way onto the sand, where he stepped off the board to the applause from his sister and her friends. His father gave Bob his first surfboard as a Christmas present.
The “Red Jackets” AKA Dewey Weber Competition Team. Purvey standing on the right.
Within a year, Purvey entered his first surfing contest, the Santa Monica Mid-winter Championships. He won his first heat and beat out a top competitor on the prestigeous Dewey Weber Competition Team. He then got the attention of surfing icon Dewey Weber. Soon after, Dewey invited Purvey to join the prestigious Dewey Weber Competition Team.
In 1964, at age 16, Purvey was first getting noticed as he was climbing the ranks of the United States Surfing Association, competing in the Junior Men’s division as an amateur. It was at the height of surfing’s cultural movement. Purvey was getting free surfboards as a competition team member of the famous “red jackets” AKA the Dewey Weber Competition Team. He was passionate about surfing, but there was no significant money in the sport for him at that time. So, he had to subsidize surfing by working part-time at Duke’s 76 Union gas station in Westwood Village, as a gas station attendant.
By 1965, Purvey had gained notoriety and wished to become a professional. He wanted his own “Bob Purvey” signature model, but Dewey declined Purvey’s ambitious request. Consequently, Purvey joined the Ernie Tanaka Surfboards competition team, who made Purvey’s signature model, a noserider style design that Purvey had been working on since being mentored by Dewey. Unfortunately, the marketing campaign was under-financed and it failed to produce any royalties, despite Purvey’s growing fame. Six months later came an offer from a top manufacturer, Con Surfboards of Santa Monica, with an ambitious marketing campaign tied to a written contract. In 1966, at age eighteen, as the principal designer of “The Ugly” surfboard model, Bob Purvey won the noseriding division of one of the first professional contests in the sport’s history: The Morey-Pope Professional Invitational Championships.
Competition Surf magazine, 1966. Purvey winning the noseriding contest.
Publicity and advertisements gave him international acclaim.
The Ugly Surfboard became the hottest selling surfboard in the world in 1967, according to Surfing Magazine, and was advertised in all the surfing magazines exclusively associated with Purvey and his surfing skills. However, royalties were withheld and a controversy loomed over his arrangement with the manufacturer because his name was not on the surfboard. Purvey continued to compete as a world-class champion, promoting what everyone considered to be his brand. Purvey was torn between promoting the Con brand and the royalties being withheld from sales of The Ugly and the follow up model called the Super Ugly (a shorter version of The Ugly).
On one sunny Sunday, on a day off from work, and when the waves were small, he decided to give his VW van camper an oil change at the gas station. It so happened that Don Lewis, a production photographer for Urie Productions in Hollywood, stopped by and saw the handsome young lad. He approached and asked Purvey if he wanted to be in a TV commercial for Chrysler. Purvey asked, “Is there any money in it?” And, so started an alternative career in film and TV. Lewis introduce Purvey to Mary Ellen White, a theatrical agent who had Purvey taking voice lessons with Dr. Bella Cummings Kennedy.
Good looks, television commercials, magazine ads and notoriety as a “world class surfer” led to theatrical film and television roles. In 1967, he was introduced to film making as a principal champion surfer in a surf movie called “Follow Me”, a full-length surfing odyssey that took place in many exotic surfing locations around the world. It was produced by Robert E. Peterson Productions and released through Cinerama in 1968. Made with a skeleton crew, Purvey worked in a variety of capacities, from surfboard cameraman to location hunting.
The transition from professional surfer to professional actor came quickly. Purvey became an international model appearing in magazine advertisements and TV commercials for major brands such as Hallmark, BMW motorcycles, and many more. Albeit, he was challenged by acting in film and TV over the next decade. His first major role was in the title role as “The Rebel” in a 1970 episode of Mission: Impossible. Most notable is Purvey’s performance in the principal role as “Flip,” in the 1977 Emmy nominated CBS pilot, Winners: I Can. He was a series regular as “Rhett Saxton” in the soap opera Lovers and Friends (NBC, 1977), a semi-regular in General Hospital (ABC, 1985-89 and 2008) and had featured roles in A-Team, Rich Man – Poor Man and Young and the Restless, among others. National television commercial appearances (on-camera), include the one-and-only Atari’s Pac Man, Hallmark Card’s “Coming Home” (CLIO award) and the 1st Chevrolet Celebrity commercial, among others.
In 1979, he returned to competing as a surfer and won his first contest. In 1980, Purvey became an entrepreneur, co-operating the Graphlite surf shop at Topanga Beach in Malibu. In 1986, he innovated and produced the Malibu Classic Challenge, which demonstrated all the surfing skills in the sport. In 1992, he became a Malibu environmentalist and award-winning community access producer of television documentaries, educating the community and general public about the polluted waters at world famous Malibu Surfrider Beach, his home surf spot, and what could be done to solve the many problems.
Recently, he performed in small roles on the soap’s General Hospital and The Bold and the Beautiful. He was the narrator in the award winning documentary, In Search of the California Condor, with which he won the 2009 International Wildlife Film Festival Merit Award for his Co-editing skills.
In 2010, he formed the nonprofit EcoMalibu @ecomalibu.org with the mission to educate the general public about restoring the historical wetland environment in the heart of Malibu. In 2012, the Malibu Lagoon restoration was completed and has now matured, with wildlife returning that haven’t been seen in decades. He’s promoting an innovative professional surf contest to be produced by EcoMalibu and plans can be seen at www.MalibuNoseRiding.com. The Ugly surfboards now have his signature name associated with the label and are selling online at www.TheUglySurfboard.com. He’s just introduced an innovative noserider boardshort with stretchzone performance technology and pre-release sales are online at www.TheUglyClothingCompany.com
BTW, he’s seeking representation to help get him into his next film or TV project.