New Jersey will always be the butt of jokes for late night talk show hosts and stand-up comics. From an outsider’s point of view it’s simply the armpit of the East Coast, an unfortunate cultural by-product of New York City and Philadelphia, which both flank its border. Granted it has Atlantic City and Asbury Park, the Boss and Bon Jovi and even the mullet and the comb-over, but c’mon, no self-respecting surfer has ever crawled out from the shadows of the boardwalk and lit the surfing world on fire…right? Wrong.
In fact, Dean Randazzo, one of the hottest underground surfers in the U.S. today has deep Jersey roots. The “Jersey Devil” has been the state’s star player for almost two decades now, ever since he showed up in California as a teenager for the NSSA Nationals. Since then, with very little fanfare or sponsorship, Randazzo has strung together a pretty impressive career, and one hell of a reputation. But he’s faced plenty of hurdles along the way, none more real than his recent battle with cancer. In this long-overdue interview with Dean SURFER reveals a little more about his past, his run through the present and a check into his future.
“COMING OUT TO CALIFORNIA WAS LIKE GOING TO THE MOON.”
How far removed did Jersey feel from the surfing world when you grew up there?
Well, it was definitely a different place. It wasn’t even in the realm of what you’d consider a surfing environment. As far as everyone else was concerned the chance of someone coming out of Jersey and doing well was about as likely as somebody coming off Lake Michigan today. But it’s come a long way since then. There are tons more people surfing now.
Were you aware that surfing wasn’t normal behavior for that area?
No. We didn’t know any better. When you’re a kid you don’t know what’s outside that bubble you’re in, or care. We were so fired up on surfing it wouldn’t have mattered. Hanging out at the beach every summer it was just the natural progression. I was tiny at the time, standing up on those little blue and white foam boards.
Like those pool toys you get at K-Mart or Right Aid?
Exactly. We’d run people over all day long on those things.
Were there any guys in the area who surfed well before you came along?
Yeah, there were definitely a few. Steve Dwyer, the Maverick’s guy, he was a little bit older than we were and he was one of the main guys from where I grew up. Guys knew what they were doing but there was no way for us to get to that next level. Our crew was pretty isolated, even from the rest of the East Coast.
Once you left home how did you feel the rest of the surfing world viewed you guys?
Well, you have to remember that in the early 80s there was a lot happening in board design, wetsuits and surf fashion. But basically we were still getting used to the 70s. Our equipment was a good 10 years behind everyone in the west, let alone Florida, so coming out to California was like going to the moon. Everyone’s riding thrusters with these new colorful wetsuits and we’re riding these hideous boards wearing dive suits. We felt like total aliens. I know that’s how we viewed you because you guys stayed in our hometown for a while. Yeah, but all the Californians had themselves way up on this pedestal and once you admitted you were from the East Coast they’d just say, “Ah, you poor thing.” But hey, look at us now.
Still, how’d you get passed that back then?
Well, we knew how to take are abuse. To us it was actually pretty lightweight because we grew up as total tough guys. It’s a culturally diverse area, lots of Jews and Italians mixing it up and we’d spend all day getting in each other’s faces, giving each other serious shit, that’s basically how you’re taught respect. It’s almost how you see it in the movies; the guy who’s the biggest wise guy is king. Older guys definitely beat up on the younger guys and when you got older you were told you had to push the younger guys around. That’s just how it worked. It looks sort of rough from the outside but it was good in a way because we were all taught to respect our elders.