Bob Duato: An Interview With The Man Who Builds Sharks

If you've had to walk through a giant mouth in order to enter a beachwear outlet in North or South Carolina, chances are Bob Duato was...

If you've had to walk through a giant mouth in order to enter a beachwear outlet in North or South Carolina, chances are Bob Duato was the man responsible. We tracked down Mr. Duato to talk about his creations, the Eastbound & Down episode that featured one of his sharks, the strangest request he's ever received, and more.

Tell us about your sculptures.
The sculptures I build, it's a welded rebar frame. I fill it with concrete. I do the whole process: the design, the welding, the concrete work, and I paint it. When I was building the big ones, I would usually have just one guy helping me do it.

How long does it take you to create one of these pieces?
The ones that are upright, which I did a lot of, usually I could one inside of a month.

What was the first giant piece you created?
The first one I did was for Jaws Resort Wear in Garden City. It's that big horizontal shark and it was the first one I ever did like that. I didn't know what I was doing in the beginning but I pulled it off. After that, I started getting calls from other places.

There was a killer whale right across the street from Jaws but for whatever reason they changed business hands and tore it down. There was another one, a killer whale, that I did right after Jaws about a half a mile from there. A killer whale and a baby killer whale. I heard that building burned down. I don't know what became of that. I haven't been to Myrtle Beach in a number of years.

Did you create both of the sharks at Jaws?
Are you talking about that head that's out front? Yeah, I made that head. Originally, I made that head in my shop for Clear Channel. They did billboards and stuff. It was in Garden City, not far from that store. They asked me if I could build a head like that. They were a little reluctant, thinking it wouldn't work and would be too heavy but I knew I could do it. I built it and brought it out on a trailer. The guys from Clear Channel picked it up with a crane and bolted it to the billboard. They put their sign behind it. It looked like the head was splashing through the water. Then the land got sold and the head ended up in storage for eight years or something crazy.

I know of the three sharks in Myrtle Beach and the two in Garden City. Are there any other of your creations in North or South Carolina?
There's two of them in North Carolina on Topsail Island. One one end, on the road going in, I did a big shark. It's billed as the largest shark in the world, 110 feet long. It's a horizontal shark and it came out awesome. On the other end of the island, there's another beachwear store. It's a 90-foot alligator, which is really cool. Probably the two best sculptures that I ever did are those two, as far as the big ones.

How'd you end up in Florida?
I've lived in Tampa in the past. My dad's side of the family all lives in Tampa but I was raised up in Massachusetts. I ended up after Hurricane Hugo doing work around Myrtle Beach. I moved there. I was a contractor, but I ended up pursuing my artwork with small sculptures and got going with that. At any rate, I started doing these sculptures and I got called in to Panama City to do a shark. When I went down, it was when the economy was doing good. There was a lot of people approaching me that were receptive to what I was doing. I had other offers to do work and I had just had a baby girl with this woman I was with. It just seemed like a pretty nice area to move to. I decided to move and sold my properties at Myrtle Beach and moved to Panama City.

Did you know that you were going to be mentioned on that Eastbound & Down episode?
No. That came as a surprise to me. Honestly, that was one of my favorite shows. When they moved it to Myrtle Beach, I thought, "Cool, I bet I'll see some of my sculptures." They did show some flashes of them here and there. And when they did that episode, I thought it was fine. I didn't see the show live, but the next morning people started ringing my phone off the hook. Then I saw it on demand. I thought it was great. Will Ferrell, I thought that was cool.

But then the thing took on a life of its own with all these college kids and all these whatevers. I'm not a big computer guy, but it was all over YouTube. It was a catchphrase. "Fuck Bob Duato," that was a catchphrase that kids started using. It was weird. They started making t-shirts that said "Fuck Bob Duato" on them. Some guy did a rap song and the name of the song was "Bob Duato." And there were people saying, "Yeah, we interviewed Bob Duato up in Chicago." People were making it up, saying they were me. It started to aggravate me. After about a year, I talked to a lawyer to see what could be done. At first they were interested but after they looked into it, they said it was all in good fun and there was nothing I could do about it.

I wasn't really upset with Will Ferrell or that show. I thought it would've been cool if I had been compensated a little bit or been involved or got some publicity in a more direct manner and I could've played it up.

Did it help your business in any way?
Not really. Just like in Myrtle Beach, the Sun News, they'd do big front-page stories in the local section or the money section with all these pictures of my stuff and they'd interview me. It was cool, but it wasn't like my phone would start ringing off the hook. And I was always running so ragged all the time. I did the work, but I never really had the people around me... I really should've had an agent. I wanted to make an information video about how I make these. I was doing all this hard work, which I liked to do, but I could've done better. Now I'm getting older and now you can't get a permit for these big sharks. They call it sign square footage and it's just a big mess. Every time I come into a town and build one, other people would put in a permit to get one, too. They wouldn't let them do it once they saw the first one. And there's always some assholes up in a condo who acted like they were tacky. It turned into a legal thing.

If all the people that had wanted a sculpture that had the money that were begging me to make a sculpture like that, those big ones, if I would've been able to organize and get more help, I would've steadily made the money that I felt like I deserved to make. Even when I was building them, it was hard to get permits for them. For every ten people that wanted one, I would be lucky to get one out of it.

What was the strangest request you've ever received?
I had a strip club that wanted me to do a woman where you walked through the legs. I didn't do it though. I did build these two helicopters that sit on top of a strip club in Atlanta.

What are you working on now?
I do different things. I still do sculptures here and there and I do artwork. But I also build dressers and buffets from scratch and refinish furniture. I have an antique store. I'm not steadily getting the sculptures like I was. I'm not pursuing it like I was.

When the time's right, I think I will commit myself completely back to the sculptures, but the time hasn't come yet.


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Strange Carolinas is the Travelogue Of The Offbeat, a wry look at the interesting, unique, and offbeat roadside attractions, people, music, art, food, and festivals in North and South Carolina.


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