Godfather of East Coast Surfing Dick Catri Passed Away
Dick Catri was 79 years old. Sadly, he died on Monday due to complications of recent strokes. He impacted the surf world in a major way and will be sorely missed by so many.
Here’s a cool video from the old days posted on YouTube by Balsa Bill.
The following Florida Today article is a nice tribute to the man.
Surfer Dick Catri (Florida Today)
Affectionately known as the true “Old Man and the Sea,” world-class surfer, fisherman and charter boat captain Dick Catri once joked that he didn’t actually invent surfing. But he was close.
A pioneer in the sport, an original inductee into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame and a 1966 inductee into the International Hall of Fame, the Melbourne Beach resident passed away Monday morning from complications of several recent strokes.
“He had been fighting a lot of things,” said Cocoa Beach’s Sean Slater. “I think it was a matter of when. It’s a shame. A lot of things to be thankful for.”
Catri had previously battled skin cancer, had lupus and had an angioplasty.
Born in 1938 in Carteret, New Jersey, Catri not only was the first East Coast surfer to prove he could surf the giant waves in Hawaii (he placed second in the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku Classic at Sunset Beach), but he also put together one of the finest surf teams in the country and brought international stars to his pro events at Sebastian Inlet. For more than three decades, he and partner John Griffin also operated the Easter Surf Fest in Cocoa Beach.
“He was just someone to look up to, he took his time with the kids and he taught me to be competitive,” said Cocoa Beach’s Sean O’Hare, who has helped curate what is now the Florida Surf Museum.
Growing up in Miami, Catri was an all-city defensive end for Miami Jackson High’s football team and was a state high jump contender before sustaining a broken ankle.
To earn money, he went to work at a pool on Miami Beach, fetching towels for the rich and famous at a hotel where promoter and world champion high diver Bert Williams staged water shows for tourists. One of the show’s stars was Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy, a surfer from Carlsbad, Calif., who later gained international notoriety by stealing the Star of India sapphire from the Museum of Natural History in New York.
They soon became friends and together they became the main event for the Petersen Aquacade Water Show. Catri practiced four hours a day, learning to dive from as high as 100 feet. Murphy was the stunt-diving comedian, while Catri was his straight man. Their acts often consisted of fire and alligators.
In the winter of ’57, Murphy opened Catri’s eyes to surfing.
“He was the first person I ever saw stand up and ride a wave,” Catri once told FLORIDA TODAY. “I went bonkers.”
As luck would have it, two FBI agents from California were investigating the motel where Catri worked. It was owned by mob boss Meyer Lansky. Catri and Murphy talked the agents into sending them two boards when they got home, and the rest is history.
The next year, they decided to take a trip to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, where the surf was usually pumping. But they never made it. They hopped over to Palm Beach, then Vero Beach. All they saw was flat waves.
Then, a stop in Indialantic. Wow! Six-foot waves with offshore winds. Paradise.
“We surfed for hours,” Catri said.
They attracted a crowd, too, and even made money by renting their boards.
Catri said they spent 27 days in Brevard that summer and never saw another surfer.
That winter in Miami was cold and miserable. So he decided to visit his sister, Florence Gordon, arriving on Hawaii’s Big Island with $15 in his pocket.
The 20-year-old Catri, lean and handsome, learned how to ride the great peaks at Waimea, and even landed a job at Dick Brewer’s surfboard factory.
In 1963, Hollywood arrived on the North Shore to complete its soon-to-be surf classic, “Ride the Wild Surf,” with Barbara Eden, Tab Hunter and Fabian.
Catri was asked if he’d like a job. They gave him the title of “aquatics adviser'” in which he positioned the surfers properly and showed film crews which angles were best. He also was an extra in the movie.
When he received his $1,500 check for a week’s work, he hopped in Fabian’s brand new Buick Rivera Coupe and headed to the bank. He began to smell the car’s rich interior upholstery and said to himself, “So this is what people work for.”
He realized he had to get in business for himself.
He spent the following winter surfing the North Shore, falling in love with Sharon (Shagg), a California gal whom he later married.
Six months later, feeling more comfortable “being a little fish in a little pond,” Catri moved back to Brevard County, and with $500 started the Satellite Beach Surf Shop in 1964 (in the back of the old 60-Minute Cleaners). Brewer would ship his Surfboard Hawaii-model boards to him and Catri would sell them for $125. His commission was $3.50 for each sale. He sold nearly 5,000 boards.
Matt Kechele, a former touring pro on the world circuit, and owner of Matt Kechele surfboards in Melbourne, remembers sweeping floors in Catri’s Primo Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach.
“When he opened his Hobie Surf Shop at Canaveral Pier, he had surfers like Mike Tabeling and Gary Propper on his team, and set a precedent for board building in this area,” Kechele said. “He employed a lot of craftsmen, like Greg Loehr and Larry Pope, and it was a great business model.”
With Propper, Tabeling, Mimi Munro, Joe Twombly, Sam Gornto, Bruce Valuzzi and Fletcher Sharpe on his team, Catri quickly became a surfing icon. Then, when Propper stunned California’s Dewey Weber to win the 1966 East Coast Championships, East Coast surfers suddenly were on the map.
“It always takes somebody to guide the way,” Propper once said.
Catri later opened Shagg’s Surf Shop off Fifth Avenue in Indialantic, putting together a dynamic group of surfers that included Kelly and Sean Slater, O’Hare, Todd Holland, David Spier and Troy Propper (Gary’s nephew).
“We used to pile in my dad’s brown VW van every Sunday and head down there to practice,” Sean Slater said. “We’d do exercises on the beach … he was a good guy, taking us in, teaching.”
Catri brought international pros to Sebastian Inlet, pros such as world champion Peter Townend and fellow Aussie Rabbit Bartholomew, for an event called the Florida Pro.
Later, Catri added the Stubbies pro contest, an event Kechele used as a launching pad to the circuit.
“I think we’re all grateful for his contributions that he made for surfing, for his friendship, for his moral support,” Kechele said. “We all looked up to him.”