Supremely confident regularfooter from Honolulu, Hawaii; winner of the 1966 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational, and sometimes referred to as the first big-wave hotdogger. Grigg was born (1937) in Los Angeles, raised in Santa Monica, began surfing at age nine, and by the early '50s was one of the hottest young surfers at Malibu. In 1955 Grigg won the first annual Catalina-to-Manhattan Beach paddleboard race, a 32-miler that would come to stand as paddleboarding's supreme test. Older sister Robin Grigg had meanwhile become California's best female surfer and bodysurfer.
Grigg often rode waves in Santa Cruz while attending Stanford University. After receiving a B.S. in biology in 1958, he went straight to the North Shore of Oahu, and joined a half-dozen of his California-born friends and acquaintances who were gorging themselves at Sunset and Waimea Bay. Grigg adapted quickly to the tropics, and applied his small-wave maneuvers into the bigger surf, climbing and dropping across the wave face, riding closer to the curl, and often throwing his arms up for dramatic effect during a bottom turn. "A lot of us had a real barroom-brawl attitude, almost vicious, about catching the biggest wave," Waimea trailblazer Greg Noll said years later. "With Ricky, it was more of a playful thing. He had a real love affair with the ocean."
Other big-wave surfers from Grigg's era admired his riding, but were put off by his air of superiority. "Ricky is an intellectual," fellow California transplant Fred Van Dyke once said. "But he's an arrogant intellectual." Grigg spent three years surfing and working nights as a stevedore on the Honolulu docks. He then returned to school, earning a master's in zoology from the University of Hawaii in 1964 and a Ph.D. in oceanography from the Scripps Institution in La Jolla in 1970. In 1965 he was selected as a crew member for Sealab II, a NASA/U.S. Navy project designed to test the effects of underwater immersion: Grigg and nine others lived off the coast of La Jolla for 15 days in a 12-by-60-foot cylindrical steel chamber.
Grigg's win in the 1966 Duke contest was something of a surprise, as he'd been away from the North Shore for two years, and at 29 was one of the event's oldest surfers. But he rode masterfully, and won going away. He was a finalist in the next two Duke events, placing fifth in 1967 and second in 1968.
Grigg appeared in more than a dozen surf movies of the late '50s and '60s, including Slippery When Wet (1958), Gun Ho! (1963), and Golden Breed (1968). He also starred in Blue Safari, a 1967 Hollywood-made beach movie that debuted in New York City but quickly disappeared. In 1963 he finished runner-up to California surfer Phil Edwards in the first annual Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Awards, and in 1967 he was the top vote-getter in the big-wave category of International Surfing Magazine's Hall of Fame Awards.
Big Surf, Deep Dives and the Islands: My Life in the Ocean, Grigg's autobiography, was published in 1998. A Surfer magazine review noted the author's accomplishments and erudition—he quotes Einstein, Dostoyevsky, Newton, and Shakespeare—as well as the book's "continuous hum of self-congratulation." Grigg was also the coauthor of 1963's Surfer in Hawaii: A Guide to Surfing in the Hawaiian Islands. Grigg has been a professor in the University of Hawaii's Oceanography Department since 1970.
Grigg died of throat cancer, in 2014, at age 77.