Surfer and boardmaker Dick Catri of Miami Beach, Florida, died on May 14, after a series of strokes. He was 79. Catri was sometimes called “the Godfather of East Coast Surfing”—with all that implied. He was smart and funny and energetic, hugely likable, and had about him a whiff of danger. As a child, Catri wanted to grow up and be a pirate, and in a sense he did just that. Catri’s first surf buddy was convicted jewel thief and murderer Jack Murphy, better known in the tabloids as Murph the Surf. In the early- and mid-’60s, while living in Hawaii, Catri wasn’t just the first East Coaster to ride Pipeline, he rode the place as well as any regularfooter this side of John Peck. He surfed and drank with Butch Van Artsdalen on the North Shore, and did the same with Buffalo Keaulana at Makaha. Dick Brewer hired Catri as ding-repair guy, and the two became friends. Always good with his hands, Catri installed a bed and cabinets inside Buzzy Trent’s panel truck, in exchange for Trent showing him the lineups at Sunset and Waimea.

Back in Florida, in 1964, Catri opened Satellite Beach Surf Shop, partnering up with a Cocoa Beach prostitute. “She could get credit at the bank and I couldn’t,” Catri later told surf writer Paul Holmes. “Things went along nicely, and we did a lot of business.”

Catri opened Shagg’s Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach, and pulled together a red hot surf team that included Bruce Valluzzi, Gary Propper, Mike Tabeling and Mimi Munro. He promoted surf movies, had a license to sell Hobie Surfboards, and organized surf contests. Catri himself won the East Coast Surfing Championships and earned a coveted slot int the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational; the following year he was a member of the East Coast team in the 1968 World Championships, and also founded Catri Surfboards—just in time for the shortboard revolution. The money flowed, and the good times rolled.

Catri’s entry into local politics during the early ’70s was both delicate and swashbuckling, as he first brokered a peace between fishermen and surfers at Sebastian Inlet (not before throwing at least one fisherman over the jetty railing into the Atlantic), and later spearheaded a drive to have the area adjacent to Sebastian declared a Florida State Park.

In 1972, Catri was arrested and convicted after selling 200 pounds of marijuana to an undercover agent, and served 13 months in jail. “I did a lot of damage to my reputation, and caused a lot of problems for my kids,” he later said. “Bad decisions like that affect your whole life.”

After his release, Catri returned to the surf scene and was as active as ever. He cofounded the Florida Pro, one of the original world tour events (won by Jeff Crawford and Wayne Bartholomew, among others), launched American Professional Surfing circuit (an East-Coast-only tour that sharpened the talents of surfers like Matt Kechele and Charlie Kuhn), and put together an amateur Catri Surfboards team that included Todd Holland and Kelly Slater.

In later years, Catri increasingly spent his time fishing, and opened a charter fishing business. “But I can still go out at Sebastian and the boys will let me have a few waves,” he told Paul Holmes. “As long as I don’t take too many.”

Dick Catri, 1966Catri (left) and Jose Angel, Waimea. Photo: LeRoy GrannisCatri (second from right) and surf team, Cocoa Beach, 1966Kelly Slater, around 1982
Dick Catri, 1966

  • Cory

    I have his last shortboard he ever made.. it’s been hanging on my wall since he shaped it a few years ago along with the photos of him and Kelly slaters brother Sean who glassed it

  • Phil Hall

    Woops. It was 9′ 6″.

  • Phil Hall

    Sold me my first board, a 10′ 6″ Surfboard Hawaii, around 1966 in SatelliteBeach. He and Shagg were very nice people.

  • Deborah

    I was raised in Miami but I knew little about him yet I’m younger. I am a surfer girl and began in Miami but moved looking for better surf in California and Mexico and Hawaii. I’m reading about the paddle out for Catri at the Inlet now where are my best friend Denise and I used to drive my first car a Karmann Ghia up to go surfing and we had to borrow the surf boards from the cute guys. That’s when the inlet did not cost to get in and you could see bare butts as the guys changed into their baggies. Those were the days my friends. It’s wonderful to read the history of this lengendary Surfer and I wished I would have met him. Deborah

    • Matt Warshaw

      It’s good for surfing to have a pirate side. Aren’t many left, unfortunately. RIP Dick.

  • Mike Hall

    “Good Times” , “Great Past”, Indiatlantic was a special place on this planet in the 60s/70s. A small band of nomads we were.

  • david carson

    when i was 14 dick “banned” me form the canaverall pier, i think because i had panned one of his riders in my surf column in the local paper. years later, competing in the florida pro at the inlet, dick and i went into his shaping room after the contest had ended for the day, and he shaped me a new board for my heat the next morning. he shaped, glassed,+sanded it, all himself, and it was ready to go the next morning. i took it home to california and scored many great baja sessions on this amazing double wing rounded pin 12 hr board. rip .

    • Matt Warshaw

      surf column at age 14?? The career path not chosen . . .

  • Patrick Long

    Colorful character. His story reminds me of Rick Rasmussen although Rick came to surf fame in the ’70’s and his life did not end well. Would be interesting to hear what Slater has to say about Catri. That video of Catri surfing Pipeline gave me chills in my stomach…a no rocker, straight railed, first generation ’60’s longboard and he pulls in and grabs rail….thanks again, Matt!