Shadowy, business-savvy surfer and entrepreneur; founder of Ron Jon Surf Shop, a chain that includes a Cocoa Beach, Florida, flagship store long recognized as the sport's largest and gaudiest retail outlet.
Ron DiMenna has for decade's been one of surfing's most private and mysterious figures, and little is know about his early life. He was born around 1937, grew up in Manahawkin, New Jersey, the son of a grocer, and after high school joined the Marines. He began surfing in 1959, and two years later, on the advice of his father, began paying for his own surf gear by ordering custom boards from California and reselling them at a profit out of his parents' attic. DiMenna opened his first shop in 1961 in a trailer parked near the shore in Long Beach Island; two years later he opened a second shop at the base of Canaveral Pier, in Cocoa Beach. More outlets followed. The East Coast surf scene exploded during the mid- and late-'60s, and DiMenna's well-stocked and well-run stores dominated on the retail end. "Ron is a very brilliant businessman," fellow surf-busines owner Dick Catri once said. "He's had extremely good management in the store from the beginning."
In the 1970s, DiMenna began having trouble with various local and federal authorities. He was given four years probation for supplying dynamite to a Philadelphia motorcycle gang; in the mid-'70s he spent nearly 18 months in prison on drug charges. (In 1994, New Jersey Governor Jim Florio pardoned DiMenna for his drug conviction.) In 1988, the Ron Jon shop on Long Beach Island was ordered closed for zoning and non-compliance.
Despite all his problems with the law, DiMenna continued to manage and grow the Ron Jon brand. In the early '90s, the relocated Cocoa Beach location—already 19,000 square feet and covering an entire block on the city's main street—was given a $2.2 million overhaul, raising the square footage to 52,000. The remodel included a floor-to-ceiling fish tank, an elevator, and hundreds of yards of neon tube–light ornamentation, and the store was now open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. A $1.5 million outdoor sports park was added in 1996; it featured 10 sand-and-resin statues, including a 21-foot replica of 11-time world champion and local resident Kelly Slater. Described by one surf magazine as a "frightening monument to consumerism," the Cocoa Beach Ron Jon store covers two acres, and sells Jet Skis, boats, dive equipment, wakeboards, snowboards, bicycles, and camping gear, as well as surfing equipment and surfwear, and beach-themed souvenirs of every description. Huffington Post reported in 2015 that the Cocoa Beach Ron Jon shop was the most popular tourist attraction in Brevard County, and that 1.5 people visited the store annually. As of 2016, another dozen Ron Jon outlets were open between New Jersey and Alabama.
Ron Jon suffered a PR blow in 2008, when the long-touted Ron Jon Surfpark in Orlando, planned as a wave pool utopia, went bust before opening.
DiMenna himself, meanwhile, was all but invisible to the public; the only known photograph of him to surface after the mid-'60s was a 2010 mug shot taken after DUI arrest in Merritt Island, Florida; it was his third such arrest in five years, and resulted in a five year revocation of DiMenna's license. He reportedly spends most of his time in a mobile home, at non-disclosed locations up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
Ron DiMenna was inducted into the East Coast Surf Legends Hall of Fame in 1998. In 2010, Ron Jon sponsored the$20,000 SI Pro at at Sebastian Inlet; in 2014 and 2015, Ron Jon co-sponsored a Junior Pro event at Cocoa Beach.