Dean Randozzo Surfs His Way To Victory

Dean Randazzo, from Somers Point, executes critical snaps in small surf to win the Masters of Surfing Pro at Sebastian Inlet, Fla., on Saturday.
Dean Randazzo, from Somers Point, executes critical snaps in small surf to win the Masters of Surfing Pro at Sebastian Inlet, Fla., on Saturday.

Dean Randazzo started a new chapter of his story over the weekend. On Saturday, the storied Somers Point professional surfer won the Masters of Surfing Pro, part of the Surf Fest at Sebastian Inlet, Florida. In this specialty event, Randazzo beat 36 surfers ages 40 and older to pocket $3,000.

With short waves in the thigh- to waist-high range and hard offshore winds, Randazzo executed textbook frontside snaps to get to the final, where he beat 1980s California phenom Richie Collins and North Carolina surfboard shaper Jesse Fernandez.
“Surfing is a youth-driven sport, but eventually the youth grow up,” Randazzo said by telephone from Florida after the win. “There’s definitely a market for this type of event, though. Older surfers still like to watch older surfers compete.”
Randazzo, 41, came up in the early 1980s surfing in Ocean City. Splitting time between southern New Jersey and Southern California, he established himself as one of the most explosive surfers in the country. In 1995, he became the first male surfer from New Jersey to qualify for the Association of Professionals World Championship tour. Randazzo surfed the tour with limited sponsor support until 2001, when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer.
In 2002, he came back to win the first-ever Garden State Grudge Match. For the past decade, he has fought four major battles with cancer, each time returning to top competitive form. He won the Grudge Match again in 2007 and continues to compete in top-tier World Qualifying Series events. His Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to other athletes fighting cancer, and to research.
Randazzo, who recently returned to New Jersey for his Foundation’s Freeze for a Cause contest, was on the fence about entering a Masters event. He has been very guarded about his age and hesitant to let the youth-driven culture know that he was over 40. He still makes a living as a professional surfer and was concerned that judges might have the preconceived notion of him as an older surfer and not score him fairly.
“Being as I won, I’m not too worried about being seen as a washed-up guy. I’m still with the guys at that top level,” he said.
His performance is all the more impressive considering the radiation treatment, chemotherapy, stem-cell transplants and months in bed that he has endured.
“There was some good surfing, but Dean and Todd Holland were just ripping,” said Brian Heritage, of Sea Isle City, owner of Heritage Surf and Sport. He and surfboard shaper Brian Bowen, who splits his time between Sea Isle City and Florida, comprised the local contingent at the Florida competition.
Heritage advanced from his first heat, but as a goofyfoot, found the small rights difficult and fell to Charlie Kuhn and Todd Holland, both of whom were raised competing at Sebastian Inlet. Other notables were Virginian Wes Laine, the first East Coast surfer to make the ASP Tour, early aerial pioneer Matt Kechele, and Dino Andino, a California standout and father of reigning national amateur champion Kolohe Andino.
“The whole idea was great, but with us older guys, it’s a crapshoot,” said Heritage, in regard to the conditions. “It would have been really neat to see these guys go at it in some decent surf. But I saw people I haven’t seen in a long time, and they were ripping.”
For Randazzo, it was also a chance to see some old friends, such as Holland, a former ASP top-16 surfer from Florida.
“We used to travel together on tour,” Randazzo recalled fondly. “He was a redneck and always listened to country music while I wanted to blare Iron Maiden.”
Surf Fest organizer Mitch Varnes, of Florida, said he was very pleased with the outcome, hoping it creates interest for other contest for 40-and-over surfers throughout the country.
“The surfing world needs to wake up an get on the Masters program,” he said Saturday.