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‘Almost every day was an adventure’ for Atascadero man who drowned off Morro Bay

John Robbie Ross was an avid outdoorsman, fond of hiking and bodysurfing. Here he is pictured with local celebrity, Saint, The Surfing Dog, when the two met while hiking Bishop Peak.
John Robbie Ross was an avid outdoorsman, fond of hiking and bodysurfing. Here he is pictured with local celebrity, Saint, The Surfing Dog, when the two met while hiking Bishop Peak.

From climbing Morro Rock to catch his wayward macaw to biking around Atascadero with that same macaw perched on his shoulder, John Robbie Ross saw every day as an adventure.

“John enjoyed life,” his wife, Le Neya Ross said Wednesday. “He was just that kind of guy. Anybody who met or knew him, they had a story to tell.”

That adventure was cut short Saturday, when Ross was pulled under the water by heavy waves while body surfing in Morro Bay.

Witnesses said Ross, 65, was in the water on the north side of Morro Rock at about 10:30 a.m. and was swimming toward shore when he was pulled back by large waves. He struggled for several minutes, and onlookers lost sight of him. Later they saw a body floating in the water as emergency personnel arrived.

He was unconscious as they pulled him from the water. Emergency personnel attempted to revive him as he was taken to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center. He never woke up.

The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office said the death was being investigated as an accidental drowning.

“It was a tragic accident,” Le Neya Ross said. “But I want people to know it wasn’t recklessness, and he wasn’t insane (for being out there) — it was what he wanted to do.”

Ross was a longtime bodyboarder who moved to Atascadero from Port Hueneme in 1984 with his wife and son in part because of his desire to be near Morro Bay.

“He used to tell me he wasn’t going surfing because the waves weren’t big enough for him,” she said with a laugh. “He was that kind of guy.”

She said her husband had been living with symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that left him unable to perform many of the physical outdoor activities he loved. Ross had recently undergone surgery to help mitigate some of his symptoms, however, which had once again allowed him to return somewhat to his more adventurous lifestyle.

“When he had the surgery, he was like a 17-year-old with a driver license,” she said. “He wanted to be out there again.”

So he went.

Though the past week has been deeply painful for Le Neya Ross and her husband’s two adult sons, she said she is comforted by the fact that she knows his death was “how he would have wanted it.”

“He was more at home in the water than anywhere else,” Ross said. “If he could have written his own ending, that’s what it would have been. It was just too early.”

A celebration of life is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday at Morro Rock. Ross said she invites anyone who knew or was in any way impacted by her husband to come and share their stories of him.

“There’s too much for me to tell,” she said. “Almost every day was an adventure with John.”

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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