Surf paddle-out memorial held for Huntington Beach’s “Rockin’ Fig”

Hundreds of surfers form a circle near the end of the Huntington Beach Pier during a paddle-out for Rick, Rockin’ Fig, Fignetti

A touching tribute to honor Rick “Rockin’ Fig” Fignetti was held at the same surf spot where for decades he could be found riding waves on the north side of the Huntington Beach Pier. 

Friends, family and fans remembered Fignetti during a traditional paddle-out ceremony, forming a circle in the sea and splashing saltwater to the sky following a memorial on the sand where stories were shared about the longtime announcer considered the “voice of surfing,” a well-known contest emcee who also for two decades gave the surf report on KROQ in the morning.

Brett Simpson, pro surfer and head coach of the United States Olympic surfing team,
speaks to hundreds of surfers and supporters as they gather for the
celebration of life and paddle-out for Rick, Rockin’ Fig, Fignetti

“It’s a chance for everyone to start closure, or maybe accept the fact that Fig is gone,” longtime friend Don Ramsey said. “It just shows what an influence on the surfing culture he had here in Huntington Beach. I can’t think of any other person who had such an influence. He didn’t even realize what a big footprint he had.”

Fignetti’s notoriety extended beyond the shoreline and radio waves and into the Huntington Beach community, where he owned a surf shop on Main Street, the Rockin Fig Surf Headquarters, and sold countless people surfboards to enjoy the thrill of the ocean.

“You know how many people have said, ‘Dude, he sold me my first surfboard,’” Ramsey said.

Aaron Pai, a longtime friend who owns Huntington Surf & Sport, organized Saturday’s gathering, co-hosting the memorial with two-time US Open of Surfing winner and USA Surfing coach Brett Simpson, who shared stories through speakers on the sand so people could keep space during the ceremony.

The ceremony was all about “community,” Pai said, with local stores donating flowers and junior lifeguards handing them out to the estimated 2,500 people who showed up on the beach and pier, with 500 or so surfers taking to the water for the ocean ceremony.

Fignetti’s daughter, Chanel, and his mom, Betty, brought the crowd to tears and Simpson and Mayor Kim Carr also gave emotional tributes.

Pai’s wife, Sher, led a prayer on the sand.

A thick fog blanketed the beach during the ceremony, but it lifted as the skies cleared during the paddle out, where a lifeguard boat was set in the center of the crowd and Pastor Nate Dorman led the ocean ceremony.

Fignetti’s son, Ricky, lifted his dad’s ashes to the sky before he dove them into the sea.

Fignetti died on July 16 at age 64. He was known for his exuberant commentary that echoed across the beach at countless surf contests, including the US Open of Surfing for nearly two decades and the National Scholastic Surfing Association championships – which were happening on the other side of the Huntington Beach Pier the same day as the memorial.

He not only hyped up the crowds on the sand, but was also a fierce competitor who would leave the booth to compete when it was time for his heat. He had several NSSA west coast and national championships and was the circuit’s longest-running competitor, starting in the late ’70s and still competing – and winning –  in recent years.

NSSA Executive Director Janice Aragon said she was shocked and saddened by Fignetti’s passing, just seeing him two weeks prior, the duo chatting about his competitive comeback.

She called him “the voice of the NSSA nationals.”

“I so admired the passion and excitement Fig brought to the sport, whether he was getting ready to paddle out for his heat or calling the play-by-play at the nationals,” she said. “When considering surfing’s greatest announcers, you would be hard pressed to name one better and more iconic than Fig. On the mic, Fig made the kids, the parents, the locals and all of the spectators on the beach feel special.”

His greatest competitive achievement was when he won two national titles in the Super Seniors and Duke divisions at the 2012 National Championships, she said.

“I can still see his smile and how stoked he was that day,” she said. “He amassed so many well-deserved accolades, but he was the first one to celebrate others for their accomplishments. I am really going to miss him. His legacy will live on at NSSA.”

Fignetti was a fixture embraced by Surf City, with an event last year 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 also to honor his long-time shop that has become a staple in the community.

Following his passing, the City Council approved “Rockin’ Fig Day” on Oct. 9 to coincide with the annual Surf City Days and the next Rockin’ Fig Vintage Surf Festival.

“I’m amazed at all the community love and support pouring out,” Pai said.

A rockin’ celebration in Fignetti’s honor was to follow the paddle-out, with friends sharing stories, the Ramsey Brothers band playing music and T-shirts and hats on sale to raise money for his family and to keep his surf shop operating.

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