Matt Warshaw on the seventies surf god Rick Rasmussen…
Earlier today, the Encyclopedia of Surfing dropped one hell of a story. The life and death of seventies surf god Rick Rasmussen, killed in a New York drug deal. The story, called The Cadet and The Surfer, and reprinted from a 1982 issue of New York magazine, follows the parallels lives of a black kid in Harlem who ends up getting out of the ghetto and studying at West Point and a preternaturally talented surfer who chases drug cash into the ghetto and dies.
When Rick and the cabdriver returned to the street, they were still arguing. Rick apparently decided that he was about to be robbed. Jacquie had given Rick a gold Rolex for his birthday, and now she heard him say to the cabdriver, “Don’t take my watch.” Then she heard Rick lower his voice and say to her, “Lock the door.” Rick ran around to the other side of the Mercedes. A figure circled around the rear of the car. Jacquie remembers that Rick raised his arm and said, “Just don’t shoot my girl.” Hearing a shot, Jacquie dived to the floor of the car. She looked up and saw a gun pointed at her. She put her hands over her face, waiting for a second shot. She heard a voice say, “Get the girl.” Then she heard a second voice say, “No, let’s just get out of here.” After the cab drove away, Jacquie got out of the Mercedes. Rick was lying on the pavement with a three-inch hole next to his left eye.
Rick Rasmussen. Best surfer from New York ever? That’s the legend. And who else to ask to ratify such a legend than Matt Warshaw? Let’s rap.
BeachGrit: So Rick, Ricky, the Raz. One of a kind surfer? Or is the legend a little gilded?
Warshaw: Hot, hot, hot. West Coast surfers, and a lot of East Coasters too, at the time, were really into being soulful and smooth, people riding pintails at their local beachbreak, feet together, dumb stuff like that. Rasmussen was aggro, stylish and aggro both, pushed his turns, went square off the top, and charged big Pipe as soon as he got to Hawaii. And like all the other dead surfers we’ve been talking about lately, had the charisma set on stun. Perfect surfer-blond hair, big Paul Newman smile, money in pocket, good taste in cars. I’d have to look it up, but I’m sure Rick was among the Top 10 most-laid surfers of the mid-70s.
BeachGrit: You would’ve been a kid in his prime, what was the vibe like?
Warshaw: When Rick won the 1974 US Titles, I was 14. Super-bummed cause I didn’t make the West Coast squad in boys division. Mark Levy, the guy who ended up winning juniors, went to my high school. Incredible surfer, like Rick, maybe even better—got a 3rd or a 5th in one of the first IPS contests, then quit and went to college instead. So the vibe that year — in South Bay we had this incredible surfer, Mark Levy, plus Mike Purpus, and here’s Rasmussen coming on strong from the other side of the country, and Bertlemann is going full Rubberman in Hawaii, plus we’ve seen MP in a surf movie or two, so it was like . . . we don’t have to ride pintails any more! Let’s surf like the kids we are! It was liberating. It was a turning point.
Like all the other dead surfers we’ve been talking about lately, had the charisma set on stun. Perfect surfer-blond hair, big Paul Newman smile, money in pocket, good taste in cars. I’d have to look it up, but I’m sure Rick was among the Top 10 most-laid surfers of the mid-70s.
BeachGrit: What was Ricky’s signature on a wave?
Warshaw: The picture that kind of made him famous, shot during the ’74 Titles, he’s coming out of a nice fast Cape Hatteras tube while hanging five. It’s more a style shot. Shows his versatility, but doesn’t really capture the way he attacked. Rick’s signature move was a forehand off the lip. Difficult on a block-railed single-fin, but he managed. He rode better over the next couple of years, after Jack Shipley loaded him up with free Lightning Bolts.
BeachGrit: He went to G-Land with Lopez and co, yeah? How did he compare to that crowd?
Warshaw: Not sure if he went with Lopez, but was one of the early guys there, yes. So he had a bit more zing off the top then Gerry, but was never going to snatch the pebble from the masters hand in terms of tuberiding. Lopez probably did his very best surfing at G-land in those early years. Raz couldn’t touch him. Nobody could.
BeachGrit: Handsome motherfucker, too. Talk to me about his glamour. The looks, the Merc, the Rolex.
Warshaw: I don’t know what the deal was in terms of family money. Some there, I think. But in ’74, when Rick was champ, he was scruffy-cool. Shirtless, trunks, beat to shit board. The board he won the contest on must have a year old, it had big brown patches on the bottom, looked like something you’d buy at a garage sale. Three or four years later, he’s cashed-up in a big way, dressing like Jagger, fine cars, all of it. And that’s just straight-up drug money.
BeachGrit: In that story about Raz and the West Point kid, sounds like his gal liked dick. Y’read that bit where she invites the black stud to Long Beach? Is that what you read into that passage, too?
Warshaw: The ‘70s and early ‘80s. Everybody was fucking everybody. Herpes couldn’t stop us. HIV did.
BeachGrit: How did the surf gang react when he was shot? Do you remember hearing about it?
Warshaw: The surf mags covered it only in passing. The surf media was so bad at stuff like that back then. A couple years before Rick was shot, Butch Van Artsdalen died from complete internal shutdown due to long-term alcoholism, and the mags didn’t even mention the cause of death. Guy was 38 years old. Full-page article, and no mention of how or why he died. The reason I posted that New York magazine piece is that it’s the only full treatment I could fine on Rick’s life and death.
BeachGrit: Rasmussen got a legacy?
Warshaw: Charisma kills? Between him and Bunker and Jay Adams, it’s like, if you’re the most radical guy in town, with a great smile, and you got the world on a string at 18, you’re doomed.