Volleyball icon James Robert “Bob” Van Wagner, who chronicled the sport’s evolution on the beach through his photography, died at his Santa Barbara home last month at age 93.
Van Wagner, a regular at the volleyball courts of East Beach, also served the sport as an accredited United States Volleyball Association referee and umpire, and as a tournament director.
He was inducted into the California Beach Volleyball Association Hall of Fame with fellow Santa Barbaran Todd Rogers and Jennifer Kessy in November 2019.
Although Van Wagner was too ill to attend, Rogers paid him tribute during the ceremony.
“Bob photographed me when I played my first beach volleyball tournament at 14, and he was there when I played my final beach volleyball tournament in 2016,” Rogers said.
Van Wagner was well known in volleyball circles for catch phrases which included, “I’ve got winners!,” “Suit up, babe!” and “It’s point time!”
He received a lifetime achievement award at the U.S. Open of Beach Volleyball in September of 2008.
Van Wagner, who died Jan. 6, was born in Santa Monica on July 29, 1927. He joined the U.S. Navy during World War II at age 17 and served in the Western Pacific aboard the aircraft carrier USS Boxer.
He attended Santa Monica College after his honorable discharge in 1946, studying to become an electrician. He met his wife, the former Barbara Hansen, after moving to Santa Barbara in 1955 and was married the following year. He worked for nearly three decades at Point Mugu Pacific Missile Test Center.
Van Wagner’s passion for volleyball was seeded during his early days in Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach, and Redondo Beach. He both played and photographed the volleyball action at East Beach, and also became the longtime director of Santa Barbara’s annual Semana Nautica Summer Sports Festival Volleyball Open.
He is survived by his wife Barbara and two children, Ginger and Barry (Emily); half-brother Gary (Jan), and two half-sisters Anita (Frank, deceased) and Marilyn (Ken).
No services are currently planned because of the COVID-19 pandemic.