Born in 1938 in Carteret, New Jersey, Dick Catri moved to Miami Beach with his family when he was seven. Upon graduating from high school in 1957, he began working as a beach attendant, where he met a stunt diver named Jack “Murph the Surf” Murphy. The California native introduced Catri to surfing in the winter of 1957, and together they experimented with building boards and set off on surfing adventures — north to the Indialantic-Cocoa Beach area, where they introduced everyone to surfing, and then on to California.
Catri spent three seasons in Hawaii, sweeping the floor at Dick Brewer’s factory, and along the way became a fixture on the North Shore— he was the first East Coaster to surf Pipeline and Waimea Bay. In the spring of 1964, he returned to Florida as the East Coast rep for Dick Brewer Surfboards Hawaii. He opened a shop in Satellite Beach and established a team of greats that included Gary Propper, Mike Tabeling, Bruce Valluzzi, Fletcher Sharpe, and Mimi Munro.
When Hobie made Catri a generous offer in 1966, the team switched labels and continued trouncing the competition. Catri was not only captain and coach for the Hobie squad; he remained a competitor and participated in several U.S. Championships. He also surfed in the 1967 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational and represented the United States at the 1968 World Surfing Championships in Puerto Rico.
The rise of the shortboard movement in the late ’60s transformed Catri from a seller of West Coast boards to an East Coast manufacturer. After parting ways with Hobie, he started Catri Surfboards in 1968, and became Clark Foam’s first East Coast distributor. He also opened a surf shop in Indialantic, which he named after his second wife, Shagg — though they later divorced, the couple had three daughters and Shagg’s Surf Shop still remains in its original location.
Later, in the 1970s, Catri shifted gears to become a contest promoter. Besides running the annual Easter Surfing Classic that he founded in 1965 with John Griffin (now a 36-year tradition known as the Cocoa Beach Easter Surfing Festival), the partners established the Sundek Classic and the American Professional Surfing (APS). Over five years, the APS grew to become a 14-event tour with its own world tour stop, the $25,000 Florida Pro. It churned out East Coast talent like Matt Kechele and Charlie Kuhn, before being eclipsed by the ASP in the early ’80s.
Soured by the experience of losing the APS to the ASP, Catri once again focused his attention on coaching local amateurs. He helped produce another crew of East Coast heroes, including WCT pro Todd Holland, Florida standouts Scott Bouchard, David Speir and Sean Slater, as well as Slater’s little brother, Kelly, who went on to become the most decorated professional surfer in the sport’s history, with 11 ASP/WSL World Championships.
In his later days, Catri — often referred to as “the godfather of East Coast surfing” — enjoyed a semi-retired lifestyle with his wife Terri, just miles from Sebastian Inlet, where he was one of the original surfers and a vociferous fighter for keeping the break open for surfing, and making the land surrounding it a Florida State Park. When he wasn’t surfing, he ran fishing charters. Catri passed away in May of 2017, at the age of 79.
Photos by Dick “Mez” Meseroll / ESM, Roger Scruggs and courtesy the Catri family