ORLANDO, Fla. - Dean Randazzo has spent much of his life traveling the world, qualifying for and surfing the elite Association of Surfing Professionals tour. And he did it with little support from the industry - rarely enjoying the benefits of being a pro surfer.
That's why it was somewhat ironic Friday night when the Somers Point, N.J., native was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame at the annual Surf Expo trade show at the Orange County Convention Center.
"He never asked for anything," said Randazzo's mother, Mary Lou, also of Somers Point, who was there to see her son's induction.
"I would always ask if he needed anything and he would always tell me he was fine. He would do whatever he had to do to get around to the contests," she said. "I found out later when I read it in the magazines how he was eating jelly packets from restaurants or hanging around the Yoplait booth at a contest in France for free yogurt. He was so proud, and he didn't want me to worry."
Although Randazzo, 45, became the only surfer from New Jersey to compete on the ASP World Tour, that was not the biggest challenge he faced during his career.
In the midst of a great season in 2001 where he was working toward requalification, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. That was the first of his three battles with cancer, a stem cell transplant, and argubaly one of the most storied comebacks in surfing history.
Randazzo won the coveted Garden State Grudge Match in 2002 and 2007. He was named MVP of the 2004 X Games Surf event, won the 2004 Red Bull Icebreak and is a perennial finalist in the Fosters Belmar Pro. In September, he made the semifinals at Belmar against competitors half his age or younger.
During his first bout with cancer, he also started the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the families of athletes, many of them from South Jerseym who are battling the disease.
Each year, the foundation hosts surf contests, parties, golf tournaments and a 21-mile paddle race around Absecon Island called Paddle for a Cause to raise money.
On Friday, surrounded by his family, Randazzo looked jittery before the ceremony until the auditorium started to fill. He seemed to relax when a line of surfers and industry folks, old friends from his days on tour, came to shake his hand.
"I traveled with him on the tour for 15 years," shared Ryan Ragan, a former pro surfer from Florida who lives in San Francisco and works for the surfwear manufacturer Quiksilver. "I'm so excited to see him inducted. My mom died of cancer, and Dean helped her in her fight. A lot of the world champs would tell you that he was one of the best surfers in the world - so fast and smooth."
Hunter Joslin, a fixture in the surfing community and the master of ceremony Friday, said that Randazzo was compared to three-time world champ Tom Curren by Derek Hynde, who used to write for Surfer magazine.
"He's a cancer survivor who fought back four separate times, and he still rips," Joslin said.
Randazzo, who often lets his surfing do the talking during competitions, didn't have much to say at the ceremony.
"Those who know me know I'm not a man of many words. But I want to thank my family for everything," Randazzo said at the podium, raising his award, "And here's to being an East Coast surfer."
Today, Randazzo owns Jersey Devil Surf Shop with his brother, Joe, on the Atlantic City Boardwalk adjacent to Resorts Casino Hotel. They will hostthe fifth annual Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation Freeze for A Cause contest at Atlantic City's Steel Pier on Feb. 22. Dean Randazzo also has plans to spend several weeks on the North Shore of Hawaii this winter coaching young surfers.
The Hall of Fame is a who's-who of East Coast Surfing, full of pioneers, media professionals, board builders and international stars. Honored with Randazzo were Floridian and female national champ Christel Roever Sailor, influential artist Mike Nemnick, photographer Alan Margolis, ASP head judge Mike Martin, former World Tour surfer Shea Lopez, top competitor and longboard shaper Greg Mungel, influential board builder Donnie Mulhern, and Wave Riding Vehicles' founder Les Shaw.