Dean Randazzo needed to be convinced to surf in a Masters event a few years back. It was a tough decision as he was still surfing well in pro events and wasn't ready to classify himself as an elder statesman.
He was afraid judges might subconsciously think of him as an old man. But in 2010, he entered and won the Masters of Pro Surfing in Florida.
He has since gotten over that fear.
Randazzo, 43, of Somers Point, continues to surf at an extraordinarily high level. He advanced to the finals of the Grand Masters division (35 and older) at the International Surfing Association's World Masters Championships at Montanita Beach in Ecuador, finishing fourth.
"Taylor Knox is 42 and just retired from the World Tour. Kelly Slater is 41 and still winning events. A while back, 30 years old was considered over the hill, but they're still at the top level these days." Randazzo said Friday from his seasonal home in Oceanside, Calif.
For the last three years, Randazzo has represented Team US at the Masters Championships alongside such legendary competitors as Tom Curren and Jim Hogan of California. In 2011 in El Salvador and 2012 in Nicaragua, he finished fifth overall. But this year he made the grand final against Marcelo Alves of Brazil, and Love Hodel and Sunny Garcia, both of Hawaii.
The Masters format has a repercharge (essentially, a losers' bracket). Randazzo cruised through repercharge rounds in the rippable Montanita rights with his trademark speed and power.
He defeated former Masters World Champ Juan Ashton of Puerto Rico and eventually made the grand final.
In the final, 2000 ASP World champion Sunny Garcia, who won the Grand Masters division in 2012 and even surfed the Masters for riders 35 and older the past two years, had a good start, putting up two waves early for a 17.08 total (of a possible 20.) He had the field in a combination situation when the ocean just went flat.
"I was really hoping something would come through. There weren't many quality waves that heat. Sunny was grabbing all the scoring opportunities," Randazzo said.
Randazzo managed a solid wave to get into second place. Then sitting deep, he scratched into a set wave. But he wasn't in the right spot and he free-fell down the face.
"That would have been a good scoring wave, but it was a late takeoff. I got hit by the next six waves and it cost me about five minutes," he said.
That allowed Hodel and Alves to pull ahead of him. But Randazzo said he was very happy to have made the final and thankful just to have a chance to compete at the international level.
A life in surfing
Fernando Aguerre is president of the ISA. He and his brother built up the sandal company Reef in the 80s, which he sold in 2005.
"I met Dean while he was a young promising surfing star and I was a Latin American immigrant trying to make a living in the very small surfing industry as owner and CEO of a small sandal brand," said Aguerre.
Randazzo's story is now famous in the surfing world. In 1996 he became the first and only surfer from New Jersey to qualify for the elite Men's ASP World Tour. But a diagnoses of Hodgkin's disease had him fighting for his life.
Randazzo won three battles with cancer and each time came back to fantastic form, even getting an MVP at the 2004 X Games. His nonprofit Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation has raised money for local families fighting the disease. He has been cancer-free now for several years.
"From the West Coast, I followed his fight with cancer and celebrated his victory from far away," Aguerre said. "While that fight most likely hurt his chances at was a very promising career at the top of surfing's pro tour, it most likely shaped his personality, providing him strengths that will go with him for the rest of this life. I was very happy to see him this year brilliantly compete at the ISA World Masters. He is true champion in many ways."
Randazzo and his wife, Barbara, now have a second son, Chayton, who is 7 months old (Dean Anthony is 6 years old). He has been training with the Insanity Workout and eating the "Dolce diet" developed by brother-in-law Mike Dolce, a mixed martial arts trainer.
Randazzo will return to New Jersey for the summer and host the foundation's Paddle for A Cause, a grueling 22.5-mile paddle around Absecon Island, on June 22. He also plans to open Jersey Devil Surfs, a surf shop at Resorts Casino Hotel on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City with his brother, Joe.
"It's named after my old nickname, the Jersey Devil. We're going to do a real-deal surf shop with lessons, a camp, and stand-up paddle tours."
As for finishing behind Garcia in Ecuador, Randazzo said he was happy to have the opportunity to keep competing.
"I wouldn't say there's a rivalry between me and Sunny because he keeps beating me, but I am motivated to take it to him," he said with a laugh.
For more on Randazzo, go to Deanrandazzocancerfoundation.org.
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