Hey All,

Had the late Rick Rasmussen been 5' 5" and weak-chinned with a Stanley Tucci hairline, he'd be little more than a tragic surf-world footnote. But that very much was not the case. Rick charged out of Westhampton, NY, like a forgotten Marvel Universe character, like Long Island Thor, chiseled and grinning, charisma levels set to 11, blond hair waving off his teenaged shoulders as he won the 1974 US Championships at Cape Hatteras, and still waving a few months later while emerging from the crypt-end of what was probably the deepest and heaviest wave of the year at Pipeline. "The lip was thicker than I was tall," Rasmussen told Surfing magazine, parting ways with modesty as easily as he'd parted ways with high school during sophomore year. "I didn't know what was gonna happen, then the spray shot me out of the end, and there was Gerry Lopez, paddling out, and his eyes were bugged!"

rick rasmussen, pipeline
rick rasmussen

Those were the twin peaks of Rick Rasmussen's surfing career. Six years later, in the summer of 1982, he was gunned down at close range during a botched 3:00 AM cocaine deal in northwest Harlem, one week before he was to be sentenced for selling heroin to an undercover policeman, and 10 months after he began working as a DEA informant. Rasmussen had never quite made the jump to pro surfing—in 1977, the only year he put in a real effort, he finished the WCT season at #47. He meanwhile didn't have the patience or business talent to scale up his popular but more or less backyard Clean and Natural Surfboards label.

So he imported and sold drugs instead, and used as well, and while it's not clear exactly when he started down that road—1978 is a good guess—by 1980 he was all in, dressing the part, Rolex and Mercedes, flashy and speedy one day, sloppy and nodding off the next, not much in control either way and very much a danger to himself and those around him. "He was the sort of guy you didn't want to know," pro surfer and writer Derek Hynd later said, "and didn't want to meet." Semi-notorious filmmaker and quote-machine Mike Oblowitz, a man addicted to these kinds of surfers the way Rasmussen was addicted to China White, was even blunter: "[Rick] was a fucking raging heroin addict drug dealer who got shot in the drug deal gone wrong." (Oblowitz, it should be noted, never met Rick in person and insists that we @ him on Instagram as the "shakespeare of surfing," so let's add a rock-sized grain of salt to that one.)

Tragic, like I said up top, any way you want to frame it.

rick rasmussen

Rasmussen came to my attention this week because I hear there's an outside chance that Emmy-winning producer Paul Taublieb (Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau) will make a documentary based on "The Cadet and the Surfer," a 1981 New York Magazine article by Pulitzer Prize finalist Michael Daley. This news fanned the embers of an argument I've been having with myself for 20 or so years, and always starts with some iteration of: Why do we continue building the highest pedestals to the biggest fuck-ups? Rasmussen, Bunker Spreckels, Miki Dora, etc. These days, yes, we are more likely to point out the mess these surfers created, their terminal flaws and serial bad choices, the wreckage and harm. But there never seems to be a character deformity big enough, or a fallout blast-zone wide enough, that we can't get past it so that we may again view the person in question as an outlaw hero. Surfer's Journal ran an eight-spread profile on Rasmussen in 2017, for example, and I'm looking at a full-page close-up of him in what might be described as Tony Montana casual mode, with gold necklace and shades, feathered coif and disdainful middle-distance stare. Knowing what's coming for Rasmussen a year or so down the road—even if we don't know what is coming, actually—it strikes me as a portrait of self-betrayal. Surfer's Journal doesn't see it that way. The caption reads: "Credit Suisse medallion, tortoise-shell Carrera shades, Björn Borg signature model Fila shirt—this is what a baller looked like, circa 1980." I've read that a few times, hoping to catch an ironic glint, a wink, but nope, nothing, and it breaks me a little to think that even the adults among us, the upscale surf magazine readers, are getting a rearview charisma hit from this doomed downbound New York surfer-turned-courier. 

rick rasmussen

Then the argument flips.

Because I understand completely how a limited but well-aimed and presented version of a super-gifted person can hit us in a certain way, at a certain time—when we're kids, basically—and change us forever. Sam Hawk high-lining a Second Reef bomb on Huge Monday. Miki Dora knocking Valley kooks down at Malibu like bowling pins, then getting paid by SURFER to pen-whip the surfing establishment. Rick Rasmussen winning not just the US Men's title at Hatteras in 1974, but the Kneeboard division as well, for kicks, for added flex, because on that day, at that place, Raz was totally unstoppable. As a kid, what more did I want from these surfers? I was in a trance. Surfing was church; I was the solemn grade-school acolyte slow-marching toward the altar, swinging the incense ball. I ate the wafer of Hawk, and Dora, and Raz, and gave thanks. That means a lot. My first take on those surfers can be amended, adjusted, self-contravened, but not erased. Fuck-ups they may be, but they are my fuck-ups—my surfing relatives. Part of me will always appreciate what those surfers, and many others like them, bestowed upon me. I was never going to missile-launch out of a Pipeline tube and make Lopez go bug-eyed, but my blond hair was just as long and Viking-perfect as Rick's. My transgressions in the name of surfing were trivial by comparison but not consequence-free.  

rick rasmussen, jim cartland
rick rasmussen, cape hatterass, north carolina, outer banks, 1975

Anyway, I go round and round like that, which bothers me cause I never quite settle. We want things to be simpler than they are. I want to be more like Rasmussen's friend and surfing partner Joe Albers, mentioned briefly in the Surfer's Journal article, who shrugged when asked about Rick's legacy: "He got a lot of people into surfing. He also got a lot of people into drugs." 

Reason #2 for today's Joint. A decade or so ago, when the EOS video edits were more ambitious, I made a four-minute clip of Rasmussen set to Lou Reed's "Street Hassle." I thought so highly of it, in fact, that I did an EOS post titled, "Lou Reed's Ode to Rick Rasmussen." Bit of a flyer on my part. I had no idea if Rick liked Lou Reed—for all I knew he had Donna Summer eight-tracks spilling off the front seat of his Mercedes. In fact, the whole slightly pretentious effort (saved by the fact that Reed's song and Rick's surfing are both great) was based on nothing more than that Lou being the bard of high-risk New York clubs, alleys, and motels, and the fact that Rick was killed in Harlem. Pretty flimsy. Susan Rasmussen, Rick's older sister, saw the video and scolded me a bit, something about Rick not liking Reed's music or the NYC '70s scene in general. At that point I regretted the whole thing, and replacing Rick's video has long been at the top of my EOS to-do list.

andy warhol, lou reed
rick rasmussen, eric penny

But hang on. While scavenging online for Rasmussen photos last week, I came across a 2013 Facebook post from Tom Dugan, one of the crinkle-eyed deans of East Coast surf photography. The post shows the cover of Lou Reed's 1974 Rock and Roll Animal LP, and Dugan's caption reads as follows: "Saw Lou Reed in New York when this album came out. Andy Warhol was in the first row, and we were about the 20th. Ran into Rick Rasmussen & Eric Penny who were a few rows back. Great concert!!!!"

So my pretentious Raz video will not be replaced, obviously.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!


[Photo grid, clockwise from top left: Sam Hawk rides Pipeline on Huge Monday, photo by John Reynolds; Ricky Rasmussen with trophies, 1974, photo by Vince Troniec; Miki Dora and Butch Linden at Malibu, 1966, photo by LeRoy Grannis; Donna Summer; St Marks Episcopal Church, Westhampton Beach; Lou Reed, 1974. Rasmussen at Pipeline, by Dan Merkel. Rasmussen waxing up, 1975. "The Cadet and the Surfer" opening spread, New York Magazine, 1982. Rasmussen on his way to Grajagan, 1980, with Dick Hoole and Dan Merkel. Rasmussen, left, and Jim Cartland, finalists at the 1974 US Championships at Cape Hatteras, photo by Larry Pope. Rasmussen surfing earlier that same day, photo by Darrell Jones. Andy Warhol and Lou Reed. Rich Rasmussen and Eric Penny. Some quotes used in the article are from "Unsafe at Any Speed," by Mariah Ernst, published in the April 2017 issue of Surfer's Journal. Two other sources: Drew Kampion's "Ricky," from the February 1978 issue of Surfing, and Tim Donnelly's "The Legend of Ricky Rasmussen," by Tim Donnelly's, when ran in the April 2002 of the Improper Hamptonian.]