The voice of surfing has gone silent.
For decades, Rockin’ Fig’s distinct, upbeat voice echoed across the sand and surf and through radio waves, with play-by-plays over loudspeakers at countless surf competitions and for more than 25 years in the surf report on KROQ radio station for listeners across Southern California.
Rick “Rockin’ Fig” Fignetti, a beloved surf shop owner of Rockin’ Fig Surf Headquarters and longtime fixture in Huntington Beach, died on Friday, July 16, of a heart attack. He was 65.
“He’d want us to celebrate his life,” said longtime friend Mike Downey, who worked at Plastic Fantastic alongside Fignetti in the 70s and remained close friends through the decades.
Fignetti — known for his signature thick glasses, long wavy hair and goatee framing his stoked smile — got his start shaping at Chuck Dent’s surf shop, the same person who gave him his trademark name.
“One night, we were in the shop in the middle of winter, and I was dancing on the countertop. Chuck goes “you’re rocking Fig,” he recounted in a 2006 interview with the Register. “That kind of claimed it for me. People from way back when used to say, that Fig guy, he’s rockin’ out. It’s just one of those names that stuck.”
He started his own shop bearing his moniker, Downey calling his shop still the best deal in town. Fignetti employed countless young surfers to run his shop, which during a big swell would hang a “Gone Surfing” sign on the door when they were running late because the surf was too good. ”
“The most fair surfing businessman, ever,” Downey said.
Fignetti started doing the surf report for KROQ in the 80s when radio personality “Poor Man” wanted to learn to surf. Fignetti and surf champion David Nuuhiwa took him out for a lesson, then suggested Fignetti do a surf report for the show.
He admitted being nervous in those early days as hundreds of thousands of people listened in at 7:20 a.m. each morning, looking out at the ocean at sunrise and calling into the station to give a live report, long before the days of surf cam technology used in websites such as Surfline.com.
He did the KROQ radio surf report each morning for 25 years up until 2010.
On the sand, his animated voice kept spectators hyped up as they watched competitions like the US Open of Surfing or the National Scholastic Surfing Association National Championships, where he excitedly recounted surfers slashing waves out in the water, but also kept the crowd entertained with his casual, laid-back approach.
His voice would lower so the surfers in the water could hear him and know their time was almost up: “Five minutes and counting” he’d say in a deep voice.
At the NSSA Nationals, he got to pump up some of the hot young groms before they blew up to stardom, like brothers Bruce and Andy Irons, and Kelly Slater, who eventually became 11-time world champion.
“I used to try to stuff him in a board bag,” he joked in a past interview about Slater, who showed up to see Fignetti inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in 2010.
Fignetti announced for the U.S. Pro Tour from 1987 to 2002 and then at the U.S Open of Surfing for decades. His knowledge of surf history was unmatched, with the ability to tick off factoids and random tidbits about surf culture.
He talked about what it was like pumping up a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people. He’d often point out the people who showed up wearing wild costumes, remind people to wear their sunscreen and put random people on the microphone.
“You can really feel the energy. It makes you step it up to another level and really get the crowd excited,” he said. “Especially at the U.S Open, it’s like the Super Bowl of surfing.”
Among his most memorable moments as MC through the years was in 1997, when the surf was massive and competitor Rochelle Ballard hit the pilings pilings head first, needing to be carried off the beach by paramedics. The next day, she came back to win the event.
One of his most notable years commentating the U.S. Open of Surfing came in 2009, when some of the biggest waves ever for the event showed up. Slater tucked into a massive barrel and Santa Ana’s Courtney Conlogue charged huge surf and shot the pier, with both she and Huntington Beach local Brett Simpson winning that year.
Fignetti often reminisced about commentating alongside friend Mike Morgan, his longtime announcing partner in the booth who passed away in 2005, a loss that hit him hard.
Fignetti’s announcing gig for the U.S. Open of Surfing ended in 2013 when the event changed sponsorship, putting the surf community into an uproar.
It was a gut-wrenching change for Fignetti, who had become a fixture at the event, that year marking 20th year as the voice of the U.S. Open of Surfing.
But that same year was one to celebrate — he got his spot on the Surfers’ Hall of Fame, an event he also MC’s through the years, putting his hands and feet in cement among surfing’s greats.
Fignetti also had a fierce competitive streak. He was the surfer with the longest track record with the NSSA, entering that first contest in 1978 at age 22 and four decades later a regular competitor winning national titles.
His best results came in his 50s, decades after he first started competing. He finally got that elusive national explorer title in not just one, but two finals, the “super seniors and Duke” divisions, in 2012.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Fignetti said in 2018 when the NSSA celebrated its 40th anniversary.
In recent years, he continued being the go-to man to announce big events, everything to the Surf City Splash on New Year’s Day, the Blessing of the Waves that draws thousands and countless paddle-outs that pay tribute to local surfers who pass away.
Last year, Huntington Beach hosted an event in front of his surf shop called the “Rockin’ Fig Vintage Surf Festival,” a way to help merchants who were struggling during the coronavirus pandemic and a way to honor his long-time shop that has become a staple in the community.
Peter “PT” Townend, surfing’s first world champion, was shocked at the news and said there was no bigger downtown personality than “Rockin’ Fig,” who was loved by everyone.
Recently, they talked about doing an NSSA reunion, with traditional post-heat tequila shots at Duke’s Restaurant after the contest ended.
Fignetti was undeniably one of Surf City’s most beloved icons, an unforgettable fixture who was part of the surf fabric of the community.
Longtime girlfriend Andrea Roberson, who was with him when he passed away, said he was looking forward to being master of ceremony for surf icon Chuck Linnen’s 85th birthday party at the Huntington Beach International Surf Museum on Saturday night.
Fignetti once talked about how surfing kept him young — and that he was living a life he loved.
“Something about surfing – it’s like the fountain of youth,” he said. “You don’t age if you surf all the time.”
Source: Orange County Register