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Meet Bob Rief of San Diego Sport Innovators (SDSI)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bob Rief.

Bob, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My Story… I am 73 so it’s too long for detail. I am a Navy Kid. Homeport for us was actually Deadwood South Dakota! We moved to Coronado in 1958…which gave me plenty of time to fall in love with surfing… love of the ocean remains my central character. I guess it was my first big decision: every school morning I would go to the garage in the alley right at the end of the breakwater and make a choice… surfboard or bike, ocean or school. I am not confessing to anything but I sure was, and am, a bad student.

My journey included a million “jobs” ranging from gold mining in Deadwood to roofing, brick making, etc. I crawled over the minimum requirement and got into the U of Colorado…minus the funds necessary to survive. So I started in with the lowest jobs in skiing, like night lift operator.

After a relocation to my wife’s home in SFO, I started ski repping… on to Salomon, and then executive positions at Nordica, and Raichle… from there on to one of the original team as GM at Merrell Footwear, then GM/President at Nike Golf in Portland, came south accept a VP position at Callaway, over to President at Reef, then CEO at Sanuk, Boardworks and finally our own footwear company called OTZ, which we sold 4 years ago. Now I am the Director of San Diego Sports Innovators.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Haha, as you can see from the first question, it’s been a great ride, but not much has been smooth. Maybe I am ADD but working at fun things or avocations has been my history. I am a little fickle, I like 3 to 4-year assignments, and I am curious. That’s no recipe for stability. I went to CU to ski, to Vermont to hike and tele ski, then Nike and Callaway to work on Golf, then finally back to the surf-centric life for the last 22 years.

The challenge has been for my wife of 49 years and 7 months and counting, Ellen. She has always been cheery and flexible and willing to accommodate change as an essential condition of our life. Ellen and our two girls have lived in California three times, Oregon, Washington twice, Vermont, Connecticut and often at our house in Cabo. Our income track looked like the “loop to loop” at Sea World!

We’d love to hear more about your business.
From an external point of view, my team at Nike hired Tiger and with that, set about to try to make the institution of Golf look like Nike, that is to say, a sport for everyone.

Looking back from today’s perspective, I think we can safely say we played a role in repositioning the sport. Golf is indeed open everyone now, race, color, gender, all the categories of humanity now in one place called golf. Awesome! And its populated by real athletes, male and female, at the top, and it is global in reach.

But my best job is right here at SDSI. The reason is simple; we produce “help” every single day. The drama of design, and selling and all those commercial tasks that are so hard to do, are replaced by the simple act of helping. And there is a second really big, uh, tall, reason as well. NBA Hall of Famer, Bill Walton is our Executive Chairman. What an inspiration…you cannot categorize this man. But let me say that I simply think of him as a 7 foot Bob Dylan, or maybe a 7 foot Jerry Garcia! Every interface with Bill is an amazing experience.

SDSI is two things: a community of businesses focused in on the San Diego Lifestyle and Healthy Living and as a business accelerator where we help young companies get a jump start on their future. Within the “community” we are around 100 companies all in our space, which we call Sport and Active Lifestyle or SAL. It is comprised of bird watchers to surfers, small to very large and supported by an amazing service provider network.

Our mission is to create commerce in the space through collaboration, executive education, and well, talking to each other often! The SDSI Accelerator has the metrics…

It’s a 20-week, Mentor led, business development program. Last year we devoted 1600 hours of free mentorship. The result over the last 9 years is amazing: 82 graduates, assisted in raising $84 million in capital, 500 Jobs, 87% success rate and 46% founded by or lead by Female execs.

Personally, and for our small team comprised of John Sarkisian, Renne Catalano Gussman, Dana Rowley and Nick Roth, this is the greatest assignment possible: we help existing business grow, we help young entrepreneurs succeed. The community does well, and they do well too… what’s better?

What were you like growing up?
Hmmm, distracted, bad student, energetic, curious, broke, I guess I went thru the gamut. I always tried to cover my lack of education with a work ethic, hoping that Woody Allen or whoever said “showing up is 90% of success” was right.

But I was the normal boy in sports… baseball, football, ski, surf… I spend some time trying to be a semi-pro Motorcrosser back in the day when it was called TT!  I spent several years road racing cycles at the big places like Laguna, Seca and Daytona. I had the summer “off” in the ski business, so I could play around and did so. Back to script here: as I said, distracted, but engaged in stuff.

Nothing has changed. I am still kind of a motorhead. I have a 41woodie and a 66 VW camper and a 51 Ford convertible hot rod all of which I am going to sell, someday, certainly not today. Current major interest in our East Cape home in Cabo… the happy place, as if in Cardiff were not that already!

I like people, especially the eccentric ones. I had the chance to learn from some amazing people like Ralph and Jerry Lauren, Phil Night, Eli Callaway and locally with the Aguerre brothers at Reef or Jeff Kelly from Sanuk, or Beaver Theodosakis, our local hero from Spy and Prana. All have this amazing aperture and see opportunities where others see nothing or perhaps insurmountable challenges.

Now that I am pretty damn old I find myself looking back at the social movers in my life… Elvis or Chuck Berry, or the Dillards, Bob Dylan in particular, Joan Baez. People who really caused societal change… Kennedy, MLK, RLK…wow, innovation and inspiration in their most elemental forms at a scale that is now just coming into focus for me.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 253 S. Highway 101, C
    Solana Beach, CA 92075
  • Website:
  • Phone: 518-265-1777
  • Email:
  • Facebook: SDSportInnovators
  • Twitter: SDSItweets

Getting in touch: SDVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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