RIP Dick Catri — Godfather of East Coast Surfing Passes Away

May 15, 2017 • News

Dick Catri aboard his charter boat, Escape II, on the Indian River Lagoon, circa 2012. Photo: Mez

Dick Catri aboard his charter boat, Escape II, on the Indian River Lagoon, circa 2012. Photo: Mez

ESM is saddened to report the passing of Dick Catri, the Godfather of East Coast surfing and a true maritime legend, on Monday, May 15th. From founding one of Florida’s first surf shops to organizing teams in the 1960s that took down top Californians to kickstarting the Space Coast’s nascent shaping industry to proving Rightside resiliency on his own in Hawaii’s waves of consequence to cultivating the careers of East Coast superstars like Kelly Slater, Catri literally did it all across three-quarters of a colorful century. Best of all, he lived each moment with a smile on his face, a joke at the ready, and a true swashbuckler’s attitude to life. They definitely don’t make ’em like Dick Catri any more, making this particular passing a tough one for every East Coaster who at some point, somewhere, somehow came under Catri’s wing. Below is our comprehensive 2013 profile, in which then-Editor Allison Arteaga encapsulated much of Captain Dick’s colorful life. Read on and remember the man who laid the groundwork for nearly every aspect of East Coast surfing.

“You can’t let [anything] take away from the joy of surfing. That in itself is what brings us all together.” -Dick Catri

At The Helm With Dick Catri

The Man Who Charted The Course Of East Coast Surfing

By Allison Arteaga

There is one man among us who has seen it all. He has stood before the mast of this strange ship of ours since the moment we first made way. He charted our course, raised the anchor, and hoisted the sails. He set our entire world in motion then stepped back into the shadows. But even now he stands watch. And if you dare look into his eyes, you’ll see his remarkable journey — the entire history of East Coast surfing — reflected right back at you. His name is Dick Catri, and he has one hell of a tale to tell.

Really, the story of Dick Catri is the story of us all. Take a look at East Coast surfing today, and there’s not a single aspect that can’t be traced back to him. He pioneered and protected our best breaks, paved the way for local shaping success, developed our contest and industry scenes, championed East Coast surfing on the international stage, and nurtured our pool of talent to produce some of the best surfers the world has ever known.

Catri now leads a quiet life nestled into a cottage along the sparkling shores of Central Florida’s Indian River Lagoon with his wife, Teri, and their two Labrador retrievers. But when he greets fellow East Coast surfers with a smile and a firm handshake, there’s a knowing glint in his eyes that reminds you he’s no ordinary man. He’s seen it all, he knows your story even better than you do, and if you ask him, he just might tell it to you…

Every Story Has A Beginning

Dick Catri was born in New Jersey in 1938, the son of hardworking immigrant parents from Italy and Albania. When he was just seven years old, the family relocated to what would later become the Art Deco district of Miami Beach. And it wasn’t until Catri caught his first glimpse of the ocean that his story really began…

Forever a storyteller and mentor. Catri (center) spins a yarn with Bruce Valluzzi (left) and Wayne Williams (right) at the Cocoa Beach Pier, circa 1969. Photo: Courtesy Catri

“Living right there, I was at the beach and in the water all the time. My mom bought me a mask and a snorkel, and they had these little groins sticking out in the water back then, and there were fish swimming all around these groins. That’s what got me in the water. But my dad wanted me to be a musician, and he had me practicing the violin two to four hours a day every day.

“We moved into the city of Miami when I started school and lived three blocks from the Miami River. That was the only water nearby, so I’d hit the river every day after school — and I would get the plastic belt strap all the way home for not practicing the violin. Then one day I just freaked out and busted the violin over my knee. I was looking forward to really getting whipped for it, but when my dad got home, he just went out to the shed and came out with this case. He says, ‘Well, I understand you don’t like playing the violin. Try this, you might like it more,’ and he hands me a saxophone. I still had to practice two to four hours a day [laughs].”

Forced to turn his focus landward, Catri became an accomplished musician. But that took the backburner when he discovered he had an even greater natural talent for athletics. He qualified for state three years in a row in high jump, broad jump, and pole vaulting and made Miami’s all-city football team, catching the attention of college recruiters along the way. Catri’s future seemed set, but along the shores of the Atlantic, fate stepped in and turned his life back toward the water…

“As a senior, I had offers from Georgia, Florida, and Florida State to come play football. I wanted to be a veterinarian at the time, and I really wanted to go to Auburn, but I was just too small to play there. So I signed up to go to Georgia. Around Christmas-time, we were playing tackle football at 1st Street on Miami Beach. I rolled up my left ankle and broke it. There goes the football scholarship.”

With his college dreams out the window, Catri took a job as a pool boy in Miami Beach, where he ended up working for Bert Williams, a prodigy of Olympic springboard diving coach Sammy Lee. In his off time, Catri learned to dive, and before long, he turned pro, appearing on a CBS special hosted by Arthur Godfrey. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the national television stardom that would prove so pivotal, but rather a simple introduction to his diving partner for the act — Jack Murphy, a man with a very unusual nickname…

What do You Mean By “Surf?”

Fearless athleticism at Pipeline, circa 1962. Photo: Courtesy Catri

Catri and his new diving partner, “Murph The Surf,” hit it off from the very beginning, Murphy as the comedian and Catri as the straight man. It didn’t take Catri long to ask Murphy about his nickname — Catri had seen a surfer only once before in his life, but the brief sighting had left him curious. Murphy had grown up surfing in California, so he decided to teach Catri the ropes. But first they would need a board…

“Murphy had an old balsawood Velzy, but it was too small for me. I was 190 pounds and in pretty good shape, so the board just didn’t float me worth a damn. We decided to make a surfboard. We got Styrofoam, glassed it with epoxy, and it bent, so we decided that wasn’t going to work. So we cut it in half and put a two-by-four in the middle for a stringer. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any more epoxy resin, so we did it with glue and polyester, and the polyester ate up the Styrofoam. It was a piece of shit. But it floated, and I could catch waves on it.”

It was the start of a lifelong obsession. A lot would change for Catri in a short period of time — he got married at 19, made a fortune working in Miami Beach, and bought a Corvette. Then he lost the fortune, the car, and the girl and switched to teaching swimming and diving lessons. But the ocean was the one constant that held things together for him. He loved surfing more than anything else, so in either 1958 or ‘59, when the summer ended and Miami Beach’s slow season began, he and Murphy decided to take a surf safari up the coast in search of waves and adventure…

“Murphy and I just looked at a map and said to ourselves, ‘There’s got to be good waves in Cape Hatteras, NC, with the way it sticks out there.’ So we left Miami with two surfboards, my Hot Curl and his Velzy, and we went north. We stopped in every beach from Miami to Ft. Pierce along the way, and we got some little waves, maybe two feet, but we figured it was going to get better the further north we went. We got all the way to Melbourne and pulled into Indialantic, and when we got there, it was six-foot and glassy. It was the best surf we had ever seen. So we went out surfing, and we ended up staying for almost a month.”

East Coast exploration at the Ormond Beach Pier, circa 1965. Photo: Courtesy Catri

Catri and Murphy didn’t bother continuing on to Hatteras. They had already found what they were looking for: solid waves and plenty of opportunities to make a quick buck. Between the curious beachgoers paying to rent their surfboards during the day and the Navy bars in Cocoa Beach where they could hustle shuffleboard tables by night, the two were well provided for.

They pioneered countless surf spots during that trip, but their wanderlust wasn’t appeased yet, so they headed to California next. Catri decided to leave his homemade board behind, ordering one from Reynolds Yater in Santa Barbara instead. But the board would take three months to make, so Catri had it shipped to Miami. He and Murphy, flat broke as usual, still needed to find something to ride in the meantime, and they were determined to make their west coast surf trip work by any means necessary…

“There’s a guy named George Draper who owns a surf shop in Huntington Beach, and he was the surfing coach for a military academy. They had a wire cage out in the yard where they kept their surfboards, and Murphy and I, being really horny for some surfboards, got a pair of bolt cutters, cut the lock, and took three boards, one for Murphy, one for me, and also Georgie Draper’s board. When we left on our way home to Florida, we dropped Georgie’s board off at his house, then got out of there. We didn’t have any money, and on the drive home, we were in Arizona, and we blew a tire. We pulled into this gas station, and we had palm leaves in the back that we had brought with us from Florida. So Murphy made palm leaf hats and he traded the guys in the gas station two palm leaf hats for a used tire. We did that again in Mississippi for gas.”

After experiencing California’s waves and surf culture, Catri realized that he wanted to dedicate his life to surfing. And he figured there was no better place to do that than Hawaii, where, conveniently enough, his sister was living. So in 1961, he packed up his new board, said goodbye to his friend Murph The Surf — probably a good thing, since Murphy would later get busted for stealing the famous Star Of India sapphire — and hopped on a plane to Hawaii. When he arrived in Oahu, he had only $16 to his name, but he had just made one of the best decisions of his life…

Hawaiian Proving Grounds

Keeping an enterprising eye on the changing times at Shagg’s Surf Shop in Indialantic, FL, circa 1968. Photo: Roger Scruggs/ www.TVPhotog.com

It wasn’t easy being a haole surfer in Hawaii, and being from the East Coast was practically unheard of. But Catri made friends through his new job at a cabinet shop, and before long, he was in tight with a group of Hawaiian surfers who brought him to Sand Island in Honolulu. He moved to an apartment on Paoakalani Avenue and worked his way through breaks like Queens, Populars, Number Threes, and Ala Moana, gradually gaining skill and getting used to bigger waves as he went. And when winter rolled around, he cast a hungry eye toward the North Shore…

“At this point, I’m starting to meet all your Hawaiian legends, and eventually I run into Buzzy Trent. He had a truck, and he wanted me to build cabinets in the bed of it, so I said, ‘Sure, but I want you to teach me all the takeoff spots on the North Shore.’ Little did I realize what I was signing up for. He takes me out to the North Shore, and he’s riding a Buzzy Trent model Surfboards Hawaii, which is a 12-foot gun. Dick Brewer is the proudest person in the world because he’s building this board for Buzzy so that he can ride giant Waimea and everything else. Well, I’m riding a 9’6” Yater, a hot dog board, so Buzzy has got me taking off four lengths behind where I should be with the board I’m riding.

“I’d only ridden beachbreak until I went to Hawaii, and the biggest wave I’d ever ridden in Hawaii was Haleiwa. Now here I am at Laniakea, it’s five or six feet overhead, and I’m taking off where Buzzy takes off. I’m looking at this wave, and it just looks like it’s going to close out. Even if you’re experienced, Laniakea looks like it’s going to close out on you, so I’m taking off and making the turn, then riding a little bit and pulling out. I’m happy with what I’m doing. We finished surfing and came in to the beach, and Peter Cole and Fred Van Dyke had been sitting there watching, so Buzzy was talking to them, and I hear them say, ‘Hey, who was that guy who was out there with you, Buzzy? He was pulling out right when the wave was getting good.’ Man, that hit me right in the heart.

“I had been free-diving 50 and 60 feet in Florida, and I was also a springboard diver, so I wasn’t afraid of heights, and here I was in Hawaii, with the whole ocean moving and big waves that hold you under, but I’m prepared for it because of my background. So I said to myself, ‘This is never going to happen again. From now on, I’m going to ride the wave until I either make it or it knocks me off. But nobody is ever going to say I’m a chicken.’ At that point, I started to establish myself as a rider. I was out at Waimea Bay one time, the entire wall was full of people, and it was 25-foot-plus, but I wasn’t going to not ride a wave because everybody would have said, ‘Oh, he’s just a kook from the East Cost.’ So I took off, and I made waves.”

Shooting for Dale Davis’ film Inside Out at Pipeline, circa 1962. Photo: Courtesy Catri

Catri had finally become a seasoned waverider, and over the course of two stints in the islands, life in Hawaii was good. He moved to a house that fronted Pipeline and surfed Sunset every chance he got, befriending Jock Sutherland and Butch Van Artsdalen. He also stumbled into a gig as the aquatic safety advisor for the movie Ride The Wild Surf, and, most importantly, met legendary shaper Dick Brewer, who invited him to work in the Surfboards Hawaii factory sanding, polishing, repairing dings, and sweeping the floors while soaking up knowledge from the era’s top shapers that would soon prove valuable…

Bringing It All Back East

The first time Catri left the islands to return to Miami, it didn’t last long, but he quickly discovered that the things he was learning in Hawaii could come in handy back home…

“When I came home, there was a company called West Coast East that was making surfboards down in Miami. They asked me if I could do any shaping, and I said yes. Truth be told, I had never shaped a surfboard before. I worked in the Surfboards Hawaii factory doing other things, but I’d watched a lot of shaping. So I went in and shaped three boards for them just based on what I had seen, and they all came out pretty nice.”

Catri’s work caught the attention of Bill Feinberg, who hired him to work at Oceanside Surfboards in Brevard County. But Catri soon took off for Hawaii again, where he fell in love with a girl named Shagg. The two knew that if they wanted a future together, they’d have to leave the islands behind for good. So she returned to the mainland in 1964, and Catri headed home to set up a life they could share.

Sailing back to the mainland from Hawaii aboard the 125-foot wooden schooner The Wanderer, circa 1964. Photo: Courtesy Catri

Dick Catri competing at the Cocoa Beach Pier, circa late ‘60s. Photo: Roger Scruggs/www.TVPhotog.com

Signing up to crew aboard The Wanderer, a historic 125-foot wooden schooner, Catri arrived in San Francisco after 17 days at sea. Then, after making his way back to Florida, he put his shaping career on hold to build a surf shop in Satellite Beach. Dick Brewer made Catri the official East Coast distributor for Surfboards Hawaii and the company’s popular new noserider model. That’s when Catri took a good look around him at the budding East Coast surf community and came up with a brilliant idea that would prove monumental…

“At the time, there was a lot of talent floating around and nobody looking for it. I grabbed a hold of Gary Propper, who had been toying with guys from a bunch of different brands. Propper was just an absolute athlete: he might as well have been a gymnast, the way he surfed. So I got him on Surfboards Hawaii, then I got Fletcher Sharpe, who was stylish with just beautiful, smooth noseriding. Mimi Munro was the same way. I got one after another after another, and before we knew it, we had one hell of a surf team.

“I had a tremendous advantage as a coach, because in Hawaii, I had been surfing with the best surfers in the world. Big waves or small waves, those guys were doing remarkable things. But back here, even your better surfers had no idea what was going on. So I was asking my team to do things that they hadn’t even heard of. And some of this stuff I could do, so I’d show them.

“We put everyone on our team on these new noseriders, and then we toured the East Coast starting out in Miami. We’d be in Maryland in the morning and surf until noon, go have something to eat, jump in the van, and we’d be in New Jersey for the evening glass-off, then be in Montauk the next morning. Nobody knew where we were going to be next. And everywhere we went, when we’d go out in the water, people would come in to the beach to watch us surf. My contribution was getting that group started early, and having that kind of talent surrounding me has led to the reputation that I have today.

“After that first year, the ESA formed a little circuit of 12 events, and Fletcher Sharpe’s father lent me his station wagon so we could take the Surfboards Hawaii team to the contests. The first one was in Fernandina Beach, FL, and after that contest, we had to go rent a trailer to put the trophies in. There was no room in the car. Before we got back, there wasn’t even any room in the trailer. We did contest after contest. It went so well that by the time we got to Virginia Beach for the East Coast Surfing Championships, we won something like 70 trophies. We dominated all divisions.”

Catri’s Surfboards Hawaii team wins big at the East Coast Surfing Championships in Virginia Beach, circa 1966. Left to right: Bruce Valluzzi, Gary Freeman, Dick Catri, Mike Tabeling, Mimi Munro, Skippy Martin, and Gary Propper. Photo: Courtesy Catri

Catri went on to captain and coach dominating East Coast teams for Surfboards Hawaii, Hobie Surfboards, and, eventually, his own label, Dick Catri Surfboards. But he wasn’t exactly a sit-on-the beach-and-watch sort of coach. He was out there competing and winning alongside the best of them…

The Duke Invitational

In 1967, during the height of his work with the Hobie Surfboards team, Catri was invited to compete in the Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championships, an opportunity that would mark the pinnacle of his competitive career. It was a glorious return to the islands, filled with big waves, big fun, and big-time accomplishments…

“In ‘66, they invited Gary Propper to go to the Duke Invitational, and Propper went over for it and paddled out, but he didn’t catch a wave. When it came around the next year, everybody knew that I had been a big-wave rider, so they sent me an invitation. I got there, and we walked down the gangplank, and they met us with the Hawaiian girls and the leis and all the rest of that business. They took us to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and when I got there, the bathtub was full of ice and had a case of champagne in it. My roommate was Butch Van Artsdalen, and he had ordered all that stuff and put it on my tab [laughs]. That’s how it all started.

“I think probably the nicest thing about the trip was that the boys on the North Shore had a party for me. Right up from where I had lived on Pipeline, they had this house on the ocean with an open garage, and across it they had a sign that said, ‘Welcome Back Dick Catri, Hawaii’s Representative To Florida.’ It had been a few years since I’d been there, but they had 50 cases of beer, a pig cooked in the ground, and a couple hundred people. It was a nice party.

East Coast invitees (from left to right) Bruce Valluzzi, Claude Codgen, and Dick Catri in Hawaii with legend Duke Kahanamoku during the contest, circa 1967. Photo: Courtesy Catri

“Then, three days before the contest, the surf was probably 12-foot at Sunset, and I took off on a wave, and the board came up and hit me in the front teeth and knocked them out. I went to this dentist in Wahiawa, and he made me a bridge to go in there, because I wasn’t about to go through this whole contest with no front teeth.

“Now, I was working for Hobie at the time, and Dewey Weber had the Weber Performer. Those were the two big brands. So while I was in Hawaii, I took it upon myself to make sure that Dewey did not get a wave to himself. He could not walk away with a picture of himself riding Sunset without being humiliated, because I took off behind him on every wave he rode [laughs]. Didn’t matter whether I made them or not. It was fun.

“This guy Charlie Galanto rode for Greg Noll, and he was what us North Shore guys thought was a big joke. At the party they threw for me, all the guys said, ‘We’ll never have another party for you if you don’t beat Charlie Galanto.’ As it happened, he was in my heat, and I did beat him. I got 3rd in my first heat, and they only took the first two, but I beat Tiger Espere, I beat Herbie Fletcher, I beat Mike Hynson, and I enjoyed it extremely. It was the contest where I had the opportunity to surf with what was supposed to be 27 of the best surfers in the world at the time, and it put me in the same ballgame with a lot of other people.”

After the Duke Invitational, Catri departed from Hawaii with a sense of pride at having legitimized East Coast surfing in front of the reigning members of the sport’s high court. But his work was far from done…

Charging Waimea Bay way before anyone else from the East Coast, circa 1962. Photo: Courtesy Catri

Ups And Downs Of A Growing East Coast Legacy

Back home, Catri got busy building an empire. He managed his surf team, directed the Florida district of the ESA, built Shagg’s Surf Shop into an Indialantic landmark, and then, in the middle of the shortboard revolution, ended up as the East Coast distributor for Clark Foam. In 1968, he decided to pick up shaping again under his own label, Dick Catri Surfboards. The company provided a launching pad for such boardbuilding legends as Larry Pope, Greg Loehr, Jim Phillips, Johnny Rice, Freddie Grosskreutz, David C. Balzerak, and Tommy Maus, among others. Everything was going for Catri, until the lure of some easy cash got in the way.

In the early ’70s, Catri was sentenced to a year in jail for selling marijuana. He was supposed to have made $60,000 the night he was arrested. Instead, he ended up staring out through prison bars, wishing he could just erase it all from his life. But he couldn’t. So he decided to do the next best thing: redeem himself…

With Dick Catri Surfboards shaper David C. Balzerak in Cocoa Beach at Easter Surfing Festival, circa early ‘70s. Photo: Mez

“After my year in the Florida prison system, I felt like I had dealt a major blow to surfing worldwide, and I felt like I needed to do something to make up for it. I’ve been trying ever since to not lose sight of the fact that surfing is nothing more than having fun playing in the ocean. But at the time, people were getting arrested at Sebastian Inlet for playing in the ocean just because there was an ordinance that said you could not surf within 300 feet of the jetty.

“I had a remarkable career of not getting arrested myself. I can’t tell you how many times I paddled up the beach until the police gave up chasing me. I’d get far enough ahead of them, then run and hide in the palmettos, or I’d just sit out in the water and say, ‘Well, come on out here in your uniform, then.’ I kept getting away with it, but then I finally put my foot down and said, ‘Enough.’ I couldn’t stand for it. I had to do something. So I went to city council meetings, I went to the Department of Law Enforcement, and I even went to Tallahassee.”

Thanks in large part to Catri’s efforts, the ordinance was repealed, and Sebastian Inlet, among the crown jewels of Florida surf spots, was finally legally accessible. But there was still a raging battle between surfers and fishermen for use of the inlet’s waters. Luckily, Catri was there to stand up for surfing once again…

“We still had trouble when the mullet run would start, because fishermen wanted to cast-net right into First Peak. They started throwing sinkers at us, and, one time, I had an 8 oz. pyramid sinker land in the nose of my board, and the pointy part of it came out the bottom. I was disturbed by this, so I bit the guy’s line, paddled in, went out on the jetty, threw him in the water with his tackle box and fishing rod, then said to him, ‘What would have happened if that had hit me in the head and killed me? What would you have done? Said I’m sorry?’

“I had to go to the state park system and say, ‘You’ve got a situation here with surfers, fishermen, swimmers, and boaters. You’ve got a wonderful spot where you can satisfy everybody if they’ll all cooperate. But you can’t tell one person they’re in charge. And for years, the fishermen have been telling everyone that they’re in charge.’ At that stage, they started to make some changes, and basically, we’ve learned to get along.”

Stephen Slater (left), Kelly Slater (center), and David Speir (right) at Sebastian Inlet, circa 1980. Generations of groms grew up at the inlet thanks to Catri’s fight to make it a safe and legal surf spot. Photo: Courtesy Catri

Interviewing Kelly Slater at Easter Surfing Festival in Cocoa Beach, circa mid ‘80s. Catri was among the first to recognize and nurture Slater’s talent. Photo: Roger Scruggs/www.TVPhotog.com

Catri’s good deeds didn’t end with Sebastian Inlet. In the mid ‘70s, he also organized a professional contest circuit with events like the Florida Pro, where he showcased ideas like prize money, man-on-man competition, and a new variation of the interference rule that visiting pros Ian Cairns and Peter Townend would incorporate into their formation of the IPS, which later became the ASP. Catri also started running the Easter Surfing Festival in Cocoa Beach alongside John Griffin, which he continues to do today. But perhaps even more importantly, he organized one last team for Dick Catri Surfboards, taking a chance on a group of young kids…

“I started a Menehunes team with Kelly Slater, Todd Holland, David Speir, and all the rest of those guys, and that was the last team I had for Catri Surfboards. I just saw another group of talent that I thought I could develop with the kids. When people do the unexpected, and they do it naturally, that’s a good sign that they have some talent.

“We would have workouts every weekend, and I would take videos to show them what they were doing and what I wanted them to do, then they would go try an off-the-lip or a layback or just see how far back in the tube they could get with their eyes open. And a lot of that stuff stuck with them. That’s one of the things that Kelly will tell you, is that I made him keep his eyes open in the tube and watch where he was putting his hands and watch where the nose of his board was.”

Catri was one of the first people in the world to recognize Kelly Slater’s immense talent, starting him down a path that would lead to 11 world titles and put the East Coast on the map like never before. But Catri had also become jaded by the cutthroat nature of shaping and the contest scene, so he decided to take a step back. When he and his wife Shagg divorced in the late ‘80s, he left her the surf shop, keeping his roles with the Easter Surf Festival and as a founding member of the East Coast Surfing Hall Of Fame as his only remaining ties to the surf industry. But just because he’d stepped back didn’t mean he’d stopped caring…

The Way Forward

There’s no one who has done more over the years for East Coast surfing than Dick Catri, who turns 75 in February. And along the way, he’s developed a few opinions about what’s really important. When he looks around at our world today, he sees some things that he likes and some that he wishes were different…

At a fundraiser in Cocoa Beach with friends, fellow East Coast Surfing Hall Of Fame Members, and former teamriders, circa 2011 (left to right): Fletcher Sharpe, Gary Propper, Mike Tabeling, Freddie Grosskreutz, Dick Catri, and Richard Munson. Photo: Dugan

Still going strong at 52 years old at First Peak, Sebastian Inlet, circa 1990. Photo: Dugan

“There is no such thing as a geographic lock on talent. It doesn’t matter where you are — if you’ve got a talent to do something, you can excel at it. And we’ve had more world champions here on the East Coast than California and Hawaii combined, yet we’re still largely considered the kick-the-can-down-the-road kids in the backyard that don’t deserve any promotion. But where’s the next generation coming from? It doesn’t seem to be coming from California.

“We’re 65 percent of the buying market, but who out there is catering to it? How many California companies will buy anything from the East Coast and pay the shipping for it to go over there? It’s a one-way deal. And our top riders did not have the clothing companies at home that could support them in the way the California companies could support them, so those guys over there just bought our talent. Some of the surfers almost don’t even recognize that they’re East Coasters anymore. And that’s a shame.

At home in Melbourne Beach with his former wife, Terri, and their two Labrador retrievers, Nadine and Godiva, circa 2012. Dick Catri is also survived by his first wife Cheryl and three daughters, Kimberly, Kerry, and Kristen. Photo: Mez

Dick Catri with a copy of ESM’s January 2013 issue, which featured this in-depth profile by Allison Arteaga and a beautiful hand-drawn sketch by Phil Roberts. Photo: Ryan Clapper

“I’d like to see East Coast surfing grow, mature, and continue away from alcohol and narcotics and all the rest of that business to get more into the athletic side and the family side. I hate when I hear parents say, ‘I don’t want my kid to be a surfer,’ because those parents have a degraded view of it. I have two sayings I use when I talk to younger surfers. I tell them, number one, we don’t need any more dumb surfers — we’ve got all we need. And number two, how would you like to go surf Bali or Fiji? Well, you’ve got a better shot if you’re a doctor than if you’re working at McDonald’s. So, by all means, get that education. And be a gentleman. Don’t be greedy in the water. There are a lot of waves, so if you can’t do what you want to do in one place because it’s too crowded, then go someplace else. In competition, you need to be aggressive, but be fair. Don’t win by setting up an interference or something like that. No one appreciates that. Let your talent speak for itself.

“Competition is one thing, but you can’t let it take away from the joy of surfing. That in itself is what brings us all together. I wish I could still surf. The last time I really surfed was three years ago, but I still surf all the time in my mind. I go over to the beach and sit down in a chair and watch the waves, and I’m riding those waves in my mind. And I’m surfing really good, too [laughs]. I can do all the tricks. But the most important thing that I can say about surfing is that you’ll make friends all over the world that you’ll have your whole life. I’m just proud that I’ve gotten as many friends from it as I have. Looking back on it, that’s the most important thing.”

After influencing the history of East Coast surfing, both purposely and accidentally, for more than 50 years, Dick Catri knows one thing: with a positive mindset, a true love for the ocean, and a healthy dose of Right Coast pride, anything is possible. And as this crazy adventure we call East Coast surfing marches onward, with any luck, the perfect world he’s always envisioned for us might be waiting just around the corner…

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  • Veromikes

    Legend.

  • Jango Wineheart

    The Surfboards Hawaii East Coast team put on a show at “the gas chamber” next to Steel Pier in Atlantic City in summer 1966 or 67, it was amazing. You could tell they were Floridians by the way they made the most of the wind chop, quick hops to the nose, riding 10, riding heels, taking off in reverse and doing a 360, cutbacks real powerful and extreme. The waves were building on the incoming tide with a 4-ft beach break. Gary Propper was amazing, Fletcher Sharp, and Dick Catri, the other names (2 of them?) I’d not known. 2 of my cousins, from 2 Margate families, were on the East Coast Challenger surf team then, also Downbeach Surf Club. Bruce Springsteen was crashing with a board shaper in Asbury Park then named Tinker Schaffer, my cousin said. Decades later I read the same thing in a Springsteen bio.