We’ll Miss You Dick Baker: A Tribute

Dick Baker with sons Ryan and Jack

Dick Baker was the right man at the right time: for the many apparel companies with whom he was involved in a 40-year career; for his family in the shape of his wife Una and sons Ryan and Jack; and for surfing, whose environmental and humanitarian causes benefited from his boundless energies to the tune of millions of dollars.

Originally a Southern Californian kid who learned to surf on the coast from Zuma Beach to Rincon, Dick's semi-hip black suit look used to fool many in the somewhat casual surfing industry world he'd entered in the late 1990s. In fact it was a legacy of his years in the New York fashion world, a place in which he thrived, yet never enjoyed quite the way he came to enjoy surfing.

"What always attracted me was the ocean itself," he told Jim Moriarty in a recent interview. "I was an admirer more than I was involved … To me it (the ocean) was the most significant difference between the surf industry and any other."

Baker started his career as a young buyer at Bullocks, a mid-range Californian department store later absorbed by Macys. By the early '90s he'd blown through roles at Calvin Klein, {{{Esprit}}} and Tommy Hilfiger. His time at Esprit, in San Francisco, opened his eyes to the importance of the natural environment, and how it didn't necessarily exist at odds with a company's business goals.

Dick got involved in surfing through Op, where he took the reins in late 1997. Op had been the biggest thing in the surf industry in the mid-1980s; of late it'd fallen off the pace. "He was very mature, quick-witted, and he had an incredible concept for rejuvenating Op, expanding it into multiple brands," says his friend and colleague Bob Mignogna. Plus: "I didn't meet anyone who didn't like the guy."

As a result, Mignogna and Billabong's Paul Naude nominated Dick to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association board, where he rapidly revealed his strengths. "Dick convinced everyone that they could work together and there was value in doing that." During his presidency, SIMA expanded its services to members and took on a stronger role in the surf culture. Today its environmental fund distributes over a half million dollars a year to a range of organizations, and its humanitarian fund – a Baker initiative – supports numerous programs from Surf Aid to Izzy Paskowitz's Surfers Healing for autistic kids.

Dick Baker with wife Una Baker

In person he was a chirpy, energetic character with a great appetite for contact with his fellow human beings. He loved to learn and to tackle new things, a trait best illustrated by his re-embrace of surfing at the late age of 50. His wife, Una, a {{{New Yorker}}}, was even more psyched than her husband, surfing pretty much every day; last year she promoted a Boarding for Breast Cancer surf event at San Onofre.

According to Mignogna, Baker was very confident of his chances against the liver cancer that afflicted him until relatively recently, but he never lost his general outlook on life, or his focus on the tasks at hand. In 2008, when the disease began to reveal itself, Naude and Mignogna thought about giving him the Lifetime Achievement award. Baker told them: "Absolutely NOT! You can give it to me in a few years. There's still things to do." He'll receive the award posthumously at SIMA's Waterman's Ball this August.

A paddle-out ceremony will be held for Dick at Doheny State Park at 3pm on Sunday, May 31. In lieu of flowers, the Baker family appreciates any donations to be made to one of the following foundations in Dick's honor:

• SIMA Environmental Fund
Checks should be made payable to the SIMA Environmental Fund and mailed to:
SIMA Environmental Fund – Dick Baker Remembrance
8 Argonaut, Ste. 170, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

• SIMA Humanitarian Fund
Checks should be made payable to the SIMA Humanitarian Fund and mailed to:
SIMA Humanitarian Fund – Dick Baker Remembrance
8 Argonaut, Ste. 170, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656

• The San Clemente Educational Foundation
Donate online using the link above, or checks should be made payable to San Clemente Educational Foundation and mailed to:
San Clemente High School
P.O. Box 4538, San Clemente, CA 92674

Cards should be mailed to:
The Baker Family
c/o SIMA
8 Argonaut, Suite 170
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656