Ricky Grigg, big wave surfer and oceanographer, dead at 77

Published: May. 23, 2014 at 3:37 AM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn
Duke Kahanamoku & Ricky Grigg
Duke Kahanamoku & Ricky Grigg
Ricky Grigg
Ricky Grigg

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ricky Grigg, a pioneering big wave surfer who later became a renowned oceanographer, died Wednesday at his Waialae Iki home. He was 77 years old.

Back when there were no board leashes or even lifeguards on Oahu's North Shore, Ricky Grigg became famous surfing giant waves. He could be seen at Waimea with Eddie Aikau, and he won the 1966 Duke Kahanamoku Invitational Surfing Championship, on waves that the Duke said where 12 to 18 feet -- face height.

"Duke Kanahamoku said it," recalled Grigg in a 2011 interview. "You want to argue with Duke? Not me!"

Richard W. Grigg was born on April 12, 1937 in California, and began surfing at the age of nine. He eventually came to Hawaii and was among the first surfers to put the North Shore on the map. 

Known for his easy laugh and his daring adventures, Grigg was also an intellectual, earning a master's degree in zoology and a doctorate in oceanography, eventually becoming a professor at the University of Hawaii.

"Ricky really was, for lack of a better cliche, a pioneer that really was a waterman," said friend and fellow surfer Fred Hemmings. "His breadth of knowledge of the ocean really goes beyond just riding waves."

Grigg was among the world's leading experts of deep water corals, and also was a guinea pig when he and nine others lived underwater off the coast of La Jolla, California, for 15 days in a 12-by-60 foot cylindrical steel chamber known as Sealab II.

Grigg also shared his vast knowledge with students and wrote two books, including Big Surf, Deep Dives and the Islands: My Life in the Ocean. 

He beat throat cancer and surfed well into his 70s at the Wailupe surf spot, within sight of his home, but it was complications from pneumonia that finally took him away, according to his wife, who was at his bedside when he died.

"I said to him when you're ready to go, go out there and surf the biggest waves," recalled Maria Grigg.

"I'm pretty sure he's out there right now."

Follow Ben Gutierrez:   

Copyright 2014 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.