After more than a decade as a competitor, Fred Patacchia bid his adieu to the World Tour in the finest fashion possible—a near-perfect heat, complete with a 10-point ride. As surf fans the world over watched his retirement speech, it was clear the sport was losing one of its great personalities. His sharp surfing and even sharper wit will be missed on the Tour. We connected with Freddy to talk about his career, his retirement, and where he plans on going next.
You’ve had a pretty expansive professional career, with more than a decade spent competing on Tour. Do you have a favorite moment?
I think my favorite moment would have to be winning my first event at Sunset, the Xcel Pro. I remember growing up and watching Pancho, Sunny, and Mike Ho compete and win out there. So for me to win that event at the start of my career felt very vindicating. I felt that I could hold my own and had proved myself in big waves by winning that contest. I was at a point when I had just come from the NSSA and winning a trophy to competing on the WQS and really having to work hard to make heats. So that first win at Sunset was really important for me.
If you could go back to the beginning and give yourself some advice, what would you say?
I’d probably say don’t go out the night before your heat [laughs]. When I first got on the Tour, I was young and ambitious. I was also influenced by the surfers around me. I didn’t mind it. I always wanted to have a good time. I think I could have done a bit better if I would have applied myself a bit more earlier on. But I have no regrets. I’ve had a long career, had a few good results and won three events. I never really had a shot at the title or cracked the top 10. So if I were to go back, I would ask myself, “What do I want? To have a crack at the top 10, or just have an amazing experience?”
When you really commit to a title, that can really change your quality of life.
Totally. You have to give up so much to win a title. And even then, when you’re that committed, you’re still rolling the dice. It’s so hard. To maintain that number-one spot is so hard. Taj, Machado and Joel—even though he got his title—they had to work so hard to get there and there’s no guarantee that you’re going to come out at number one. Then there’s obviously a lot of pressure that arises once you start winning events and are within a shot of a title. People scrutinize everything. The fans, the media. Are his boards looking good? Is he looking soft? I’m actually kind of happy I never had that [laughs].
Speaking of fitness, you’ve been training pretty hard these last few seasons. Are you looking forward to not having to work out so hard or having such a strict diet?
I’m so excited about being able to eat whatever I want. It’s great being able to eat a piece of cake when I want to. It’s going to be nice to be a normal guy. I don’t want to stop what I’m doing and lose my fitness. I’m going to stay in the water and keep working out. But yeah, I’m eating like a regular person again. It’s amazing.
What do want your legacy as a surfer to be?
I’m still writing that legacy, I think. I’m hoping that people appreciate what I did for my career. I’m proud that I was able to stay on Tour for more than a decade. A lot of people come and go pretty quickly. Once I hit that 10-year mark, I felt pretty good about what I’d accomplished. But I don’t think my story is over in the surfing realm. I’m really happy that I got to close that book, but I’m really excited about the next chapter. I want to work with kids. I feel like I have so much more to offer the sport outside of a jersey.
So what’s next?
Now I have to get a big-boy job. I have some things in the works. There are a lot of young amateurs in Hawaii that need guidance and I think I could bring a lot of insight. There’s so much more to the sport now than just knowing how to do solid rotations. Things like saving and investing your money. A lot of money gets thrown at kids, and by the time they’re 22, a lot of the kids are already on the tail-end of their career and they’ve spent everything. You’ve got to be smart about how you handle the business side of it. The reality is that there are so many kids who want to be a pro surfer, and there are only 30-plus spots on tour. It sucks that that’s the case for so many people who want to live their dream. But you have to be realistic. But there are other ways you can make a living and still surf. I think I can shed some light on how to manage that whole paradigm.
When did you decide that this was going to be your last year?
I’ve been thinking about it since last year at Snapper. I felt like it was my time to walk away. I had to deal with it eventually. It felt right. I have two kids and a wife, and traveling is expensive, and not traveling with them is tough. I was losing a bit of motivation to stay super competitive the whole time. It’s taxing after you’ve done it for years and I felt that it was my time.
Is there a favorite heat that stands out to you?
I had a heat with Slater at Restaurants toward the beginning of my career. It was a semifinal and I lost. I felt like I had to push myself to a new standard to even keep pace with him. I was watching what he was doing and trying to mimic it. We were pushing each other deeper with every wave. It was the most I’ve ever had my surfing pushed for sure. I’ve never felt that way on a trip or at any other time other than in that 35-minute heat. Every time I paddled out, I’d see him just barely stick this impossible drop and pull into an even more impossible tube. I was thinking that this guy is a god. How can he keep making these sections? So I sat out further and pushed myself as hard I could and surfed my best and got some amazing waves. Still lost, but it felt amazing and I’ll never forget that heat.
OK, let’s talk about that 10-point ride that closed out your professional career. Now that the dust has settled, how do you feel about that last heat?
It still feels amazing. I did have a hard time making this decision and finding the right time to step away. Everyone assumes that I always wanted to end my career at Pipe. But Pipe’s always been difficult. There’s always controversy there and I would often get stuck in the middle. But Lowers has always been really good to me. I mean, I really started my career there with the NSSA Nationals, which got me picked up by Quiksilver. Lowers catapulted me into a career. Competitively, I wanted to end it there. Leaving in the first round is hard. I was a little scared to walk away as a loser, so I figured I’d end it with the first round. If that was my last heat, it’s a clean exit and it doesn’t affect the other guys in the heat.
But you still put on a hell of a show.
Yeah, it felt as if all the planets aligned. Those two waves came to me, and I wanted to focus on big turns and completing waves. Just surf sharp and do my thing on my backhand. My backhand felt super on-point and the board felt great. I felt like I was hosing spray everywhere. When I got out of the water, to be honest, I felt like I nailed it. I had played it over in my head so many times before, and I didn’t want to end it with a bad performance.
You were pretty quiet about it before that heat.
We didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t tell a lot of my close friends. Didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. I just wanted my wife and my daughter there on the rocks. But the way it ended was just perfect.
So are we ever going to see you in a jersey again?
At first, I didn’t want to even say the word ‘retirement,’ because that sounds weird. But I’m still going to surf in a few events here and there. Maybe a few prime events. I’ll go to Lowers again. It would be great to qualify for the Triple Crown. But for now, I need a break from competitive surfing. It’s a lot more stressful than a lot of people think. I like to think of myself as a strong guy, but that life can take a toll on you. It can change you. So for now, I’m going to just relax and enjoy my life with my family for a bit.