Bob Meistrell; developed modern wet suit

Bob Meistrell during an expedition in the 1950s.
Body Glove International
Bob Meistrell during an expedition in the 1950s.

NEW YORK — Bob Meistrell, who began making wet suits for surfers and scuba divers in the early 1950s and with his twin brother, Bill, founded Body Glove, one of the world’s largest wet-suit companies, died Sunday in Catalina, Calif. He was 84 and lived in Redondo Beach.

Mr. Meistrell died after having a heart attack while working on his boat, Jenna Meistrell, a grandniece and Body Glove’s communications director, said.

Before the advent of wet suits, surfers and divers endured frigid ocean water with only oil-soaked wool sweaters to protect them. Early wet suits, first created in 1951 for the Navy by Hugh Bradner, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, were ungainly.


Mr. Meistrell and his brother, both avid divers and surfers, worked with Beverly Morgan, their partner in a dive and surf shop in Redondo Beach, to create more comfortable wet suits made out of neoprene, a durable but flexible synthetic rubber that is still widely used for wet suits today.

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The brothers bought out Morgan in 1957. They named their company Body Glove in 1965.

Body Glove produced some of the first custom-made wet suits, including one for the 7-foot-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Meistrell brothers taught Gary Cooper, Charlton Heston, and Richard Harris how to scuba dive for film roles and coached Lloyd Bridges for the television show “Sea Hunt.”

Body Glove, still family-owned, sells $200 million of merchandise annually.

Robert Fischer Meistrell was born in Boonville, Mo., the youngest of seven siblings. The family moved to California when the twins were 16, and they became Los Angeles County lifeguards before investing in the surf shop.


Mr. Meistrell leaves his wife, Patty; three sons, Robbie, Ronnie, and Randy; nine grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and two sisters. Bill Meistrell died in 2006.