UCSB waterman Rob Gibson passed away at home on Nov. 11 after battling with cancer. He was 60.
Nearly 100 students, faculty and community members waded out from the Goleta shoreline on Saturday afternoon with their surfboards to join in a memorial paddle-out in honor of Gibson’s life. The celebrated UCSB aquatics icon spent decades on the California coastline, first attending UCSB as a student 40 years ago and later instructing youth in a variety of aquatic activities, including a position as Junior Lifeguard Coordinator at UCSB.
Gibson’s friends say Saturday’s paddle-out was a perfect way to lay Gibson to rest, as it was held on the sunny beach near which he spent a majority of his life.
“He loved to spend as much time in the ocean as possible,” UCSB Aquatics Coordinator Debbie Miles-Dutton said. “He lived in I.V. for years and really enjoyed the ocean as much as he could. The paddle out is just what he would have wanted.”
A leader of UCSB’s aquatics program, Gibson was heavily involved with numerous youth and children’s community organizations and was a strong proponent of aquatic fitness programs at the university.
In addition to his work at UCSB, Gibson was the Refugio Junior Guard coordinator, a veteran state beach lifeguard, and swimming and water polo instructor and coach for UCSB students and local youth, according Miles-Dutton.
Despite never having children of his own, Miles-Dutton described Gibson as a strong advocate for the youth.
“He was born to be a teacher,” Miles-Dutton said. “He was passionate about teaching and he really practiced what he preached. He helped kids build self-esteem and he was a real believer in building strong kids.”
Gibson worked with the South Coast Community Aquatics Center and Goleta Union School District to form the nation’s first comprehensive third-grade swim lesson program. The program provides free lessons to over 500 children a year, Miles-Dutton said. Gibson funded the program with help from the Santa Barbara Foundation and other local philanthropic organizations.
Alumnus Jumar Pasion, who worked with Gibson at the GUSD third-grade swim lesson program, said Gibson was extremely involved and in love with his community.
“There are no words to express how admirable he was,” Pasion said. “He was always inviting and always willing to give a helping hand. I always admired his willingness to give back to the community.”
Pasion said Gibson was also active in his students’ lives.
“He lived in I.V. and it was so nice to see him so involved in student life,” Pasion said.
Furthermore, Pasion said, although Gibson put forth an inattentive façade while working at the third-grade swim program, he was actually methodical and organized.
“Working with third-graders can be so hard, but Rob showed the true picture of our main goal, which was giving kids the opportunity to enjoy aquatics,” Pasion said. “His absent-minded front was something we embraced.”
According to Miles-Dutton, Gibson decided to attend UCSB as an undergraduate over 40 years ago because of its aquatics program and proximity to the ocean. He graduated with a degree in history and later completed his teaching credentials and a computer science degree at the university. He was also on UCSB’s water polo team as an undergrad.
Gibson never married and is survived by his brothers Samuel, James, Philip and Joseph.