East Coast Surfing Pioneer Dick Catri Passes

The surfing community was saddened last week by the passing of a recognized pioneer of East Coast surfing, Dick Catri. A series of recent strokes led to complications that ended Catri’s life on May 14 at the age of 79. Also known as the Godfather of East Coast surfing, Catri had much to do with popularizing the sport on the right coast and influencing its progress over more than 50 years.

Born in New Jersey in 1938, Catri relocated with his family to Florida, where he started surfing in 1957. He learned the sport under the tutelage of Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy and helped teach it to locals in the Cocoa Beach area.

Time in the islands

At the age of 20, Catri moved again, this time to Hawaii. There he became the first East Coaster to surf Waimea and Pipeline. It was also in Hawaii that he met iconic shaper Dick Brewer and got a job at the Surfboards Hawaii factory. Working alongside the top shapers of the time, he absorbed skills that would be useful to him later on.

Dick Catri (left) and Jose Angel, Waimea | Image source: encyclopediaofsurfing.com

Catri appeared in such early surf films as Bruce Brown’s Surfing Hollow Days and Dale Davis’s Inside Out. He also worked as “aquatics director” and extra for Columbia Picture’ Ride the Wild Surf.

A gifted coach

Back in Florida in 1964, Catri built one of the first surf shops in Satellite Beach. He then came up with the idea of putting together a surf team from talent in the young East Coast surfing community. His time surfing with the world’s best in Hawaii made him a great coach, teaching his team things they had not even heard of.

Dick Catri (second from right) with team | Image source: encyclopediaofsurfing.com

When the Eastern Surfing association put together a circuit of 12 events, Catri’s team went on the road and dominated in the competitions. Catri went on to coach winning East Coast teams for Surfboards Hawaii, Hobie Surfboards, and, later his own brand, Dick Catri Surfboards.

Catri did more than coach. He competed himself, winning the East Coast Surfing Championships and earning a place in the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational.

Mishap and redemption

In 1972 Catri made the mistake of selling marijuana to an undercover agent, for which he served 13 months in jail. He returned to the surf scene determined to make up for the damage to his reputation. It was after his jail stint that he cofounded the Florida Pro and launched the East-Coast-only American Professional Surfing circuit.

The last surf team that Catri organized and mentored was a group of groms, including Todd Holland and the very young Kelly Slater. Catri was among the first to recognize the talent of the eventual 11-time world champion.

Dick Catri | Image source: floridasurfing.org

Lasting memories

In 1966 Catri was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame, and 30 years after into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame. In his later years he was a boat captain in the area of Sebastian Inlet, with a charter fishing business.

Aside from his role in the surfing scene, people remember Dick Catri’s positive personality, generous and good-humored. Even after he stopped surfing, he continued to catch the waves in his mind, and he left a legacy for which generations of surfers are indebted.

You can read more about Catri in the Encyclopedia of Surfing

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