Just three blocks from the Huntington Beach Pier on Main Street stands one of several local surf shops. The ambience is charmingly old school. The ceiling is furnished with vintage surfboards. The signature boards are handmade by a handful of talented locals. And the owner, Rick "Rockin' Fig" Fignetti, is a household name here in Surf City. A pro surfer and former KROQ FM "Surfologist," Fig's long list of accolades range from being named a 15-time West Coast Surfing Champion to voicing dozens of pro surfing competitions to penning surf columns in the L.A. Times and HB Independent. The homegrown surfing legend graces both the Surfers' Hall of Fame and the Surfing Walk of Fame, and his iconic voice lent itself to the U.S. Open of Surfing for 19 years in a row.
Now 57 years old, Fig still surfs almost daily. When he's not in the water, he's manning Rockin' Fig Surf Headquarters on Main Street—curating the shop's collection of surfboards, accessories and apparel; collaborating with his surfboard shapers, builders and artists; mentoring budding surfers; building his personal board collection; and shining his trophies. Ok, so maybe he doesn't do that last thing, but it's fun to imagine.
We caught up with the Sunset Beach native at his local institution of 20-plus years on the heels of a morning surf sesh to dig a little deeper into the long-haired lord of the surfing community, who feels blessed by God for all he's been given. Here are 14 things you might not know about Rockin' Fig.
1 // Surfing picked him.
The shifty former tenants of his parents' beach house in Sunset Beach during the late 60s are to thank for Fig's affinity with surfing. "It was back in the old days," recounts Fig. "My parents had this beach rental house, and the people skipped out on the rent. They left a bunch of stuff in the house, and one of the things they left was a surfboard. That was my first board; it was a longboard. I used to drag that thing across the beach and take it out and try to ride it."
2 // His dad was a waterman too.
Fig's father was also fond of the sea, but preferred to stand at the helm of a boat rather than float on a surfboard. "He always had powerboats and sailboats," says Fig. "We'd cruise around the bays or go to Catalina. I just picked up the surfing part of it."
3 // Chuck Dent coined the nickname "Rockin' Fig."
Another surf icon with a shop in downtown HB, Chuck Dent actually gave Fig his now famous nickname decades ago. "It's a nickname I picked up back in the old days when I used to work at Chuck Dent," says Fig. "I was kind of a wild guy back in the old days. I used to go out clubbing and partying with everybody...surf contests and all that. One time in the middle of winter we cranked up the stereo, and I jumped on the counter and started dancing. Chuck Dent goes, 'You're the Rockin' Fig!' It was just one of those weird ones that stuck with me."
4 // His dream was to be a rockstar.
"I always wanted to be a rockstar" Fig tells us, laughing. "I always used to have an amp and a microphone." In the early 80s, Fig and a friend decided that an HB radio surf report was very necessary, so he gladly accepted the challenge. In the late 80s, Pete "PT" Townend advised Fig to audition for the U.S. Tour. "I did, and I actually got lucky and aced the part," says Fig. "I pretty much announced the U.S. Tour for like 15 years after that." He was apparently born for the part. "Most people are like, 'Wow, give Fig the mic, you can never take it away from him,'" says Fig.
5 // You can find him shredding the northside of the HB Pier just about any day of the week.
"I'm a regular foot, so the rights usually are peeling toward the pier there," explains Fig. "I'm usually out there trying to get those rights. That's my side of the pier. I kind of like surfing big waves too. A lot of times in the wintertime, you get those big north swells, and then those rights line up even more toward the pier." Fig then pointed to a shot of him dropping in on a storm swell at his favorite spot, and his surfing preference instantly became crystal clear. He added that while he used to bully fellow surfers, he's since retired his bark: "I've been kind of toned down myself since I got my little Walk of Fame/Hall of Fame deal. I can't be out there barking at everybody like I used to. Now I just kind of turn a cheek."
6 // Naturally, he has a favorite board and choice maneuvers.
On his 6'3" with four fins and a nub, Fig favors two maneuvers: "I like doing the frontside slash off the top, trying to throw as much water as I can," says Fig, adding, "Also pulling the barrel."
7 // Fig's favorite surfing spot in the world is Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Having surfed on numerous notable national and world competitive surfing teams, Fig has shredded waves all over the globe, including France, Australia, Panama, Peru and Hawaii. But his favorite spot so far is an easy 2.5-hour flight from Orange County. "I actually like going to Cabo," he says. "We used to have a shop trip going down to Cabo every year—probably right before 9/11. We used to drive out to these deserted righthand point breaks and find killer waves...That had to have been some of my best times. We scored some hurricane swells down there too. Six to 12 feet, jacking on the reef and stuff." Hawaii, the birthplace of his mother, lands the number two spot on Fig's favorites list.
8 // He's racked up a collection of over 500 surfing trophies.
A contender in the first NSSA National Team in 1978, member of the two-time title holding Orange Coast College team, 15-time West Coast Surfing Champion and three-time individual NSSA title winner, Fig has garnered hundreds of awards. "Everything I've done has kind of pertained to surfing," says Fig, who estimates his trophy collection at upwards of 500. Many of his shiny laurels display at his shop, along with walls lined with old surfing photos. What does he thank for his years of winning golds? Luck.
9 // Fig is an "uncle" to many local groms.
"Every eight years I get some new little grom kids hanging out," says Fig. "They start out kind of rough, and they get better and better. They're usually ripping pretty big by the time they get a little older. But then it always comes, they have to go away to college or get a real job. Seems like the next clan comes in. It's kind of weird. About every six or eight years that happens." It sounds like a bittersweet cycle, but then a visitor to the shop quipped, "Uncle Fig has many nephews." And all was well with the world again.
10 // He discovered local artist Chado Masri.
"Chado's one of those kids," says Fig of his rotating grom following. "He always used to do drawings, and I kept pushing him. He started doing surfboards, and he got really good." Several boards in the Rockin' Fig collection are adorned with Chado's signature pen and ink work—boards which Fig posed proudly with after our chat. "Just remember," advises Fig, "I discovered him first."
11 // He collects vintage surfboards.
"I'm a collector of old boards," Fig tells us. "Everybody's into their own little thing. I'm into collecting some of the old boards from my era—the 70s and 80s." Motioning to the ceiling above us, he rattles off names associated with a few of the boards hanging in the rafters overhead, including Mark Richards, Dyno, Plastic Fantastic, Lightening Bolt, Shaun Tomson, Greg Noll and Gerry Lopez. "I've got a board that was shaped for Andy Irons, and he signed it," says Fig, noting that his bedroom is filled with about 20 more collector boards. While he may break one out for the annual Surfside Seventies retro surfing event, Fig rarely rides his collector boards. Instead, he usually rides one of four newer boards.
12 // He doesn't cry himself to sleep over the end of his 19-year run as the U.S. Open of Surfing announcer.
Fig voiced the U.S. Open of Surfing for 19 years in a row—surviving through numerous sponsor changes—but in 2013 when Vans acquired the role, they cut the cord, gifted Fig 20 pairs of shoes and a U.S. Open electric guitar, asked him to run the webcast for a few heats and declared the day Fig Appreciation Day. "A lot of people thought I was sad, but I had a good run and did some of the biggest events with the most people," explains Fig. "I saw some really good events all the way through and met some great people too. I'm not bitter; I'm just a happy guy that I got to do it for that long."
13 // We might hear Fig's voice again at the U.S. Open of Surfing.
"I don't know if there's any truth to it, but the head guy on the side goes, 'Hey, we're working to get you back,'" Fig tells us. "So who knows, you know? Maybe, possibly, if things work out, I might be doing it again."
14 // His favorite surf film is Fair Bits.
A collaborative effort of seven filmmakers and Billabong, the 2005 collection of seven short surfing films stars Taj Burrow and is a must-see, according to Fig.