Hecho En Venice – A Conversation With Rick Massie

Getting older is inevitable, growing up can be avoided. For the better part of 30 years, Rick Massie and I have been rivals, friends and brothers from other mothers. A good friend is someone you can not see or talk to for a year and walk right back into their life without anything missing a beat. Walking into the same house to see a friend of 30 years sure does bring up some amazing memories. The best part about going to Rick’s house is the uncertainty of who or what was going on at any given time. Tonight when I showed up to interview Rick, the garage was open and four gentleman you don’t want to meet in an ally were playing penuckle. Rick says, “And you know who the biggest criminal is because he wins every time – all you do in jail is play penuckle!”

Getting older is inevitable, growing up can be avoided. For the better part of 30 years, Rick Massie and I have been rivals, friends and brothers from other mothers. A good friend is someone you can not see or talk to for a year and walk right back into their life without anything missing a beat. Walking into the same house to see a friend of 30 years sure does bring up some amazing memories. The best part about going to Rick’s house is the uncertainty of who or what was going on at any given time. Tonight when I showed up to interview Rick, the garage was open and four gentleman you don’t want to meet in an ally were playing penuckle. Rick says, “And you know who the biggest criminal is because he wins every time – all you do in jail is play penuckle!”

Strider Wasilewski: How’d we first meet again?

Rick Massie: Contest. All our friends knew each other I guess. I think I saw you first when I was like 11, you were in the boys or menehune division in the WSA, and I didn’t even enter it, I just went down to check it out. I was like, whose this fuckin’ lil kid? You were ripping. I already knew like Packam, Raphael, Josiah, the McClaire brothers, all those Santa Monica guys, but you were the only one my same age.

How old were you when you started surfing?

Ten. For my eleventh birthday I got a motorcycle…

Is that why I was always better than you, because I started earlier, when I was 6?

Yeah, but that stopped quick. After my motorcycle got stolen, that’s when I started getting more into it. On my twelfth birthday, my mom got me a surfboard.

Then we started battling.

Yeah. Thirteen, that was the first year of boys division in contests. That’s when it was me, you, Kevin, Steve, Andy. Not really Joe too much with the WSA, just all of us.

Then I got a hall pass to surf the Venice Breakwater. Because I knew you, I got to come down and surf without getting beat up. It was ugly down there.

Oh yeah, it was bad. When you see your grown-up friends you surf with just punk your friends your own age, and they say stuff to you like, “What! You brought this fucking guy with you? Get him outta here!” It’s pretty scary as a kid.

That was so gnarly. And it wasn’t like you could get away either, there was that big yard thing on the right with big walls squared off, and on the left side was the pavilion and all that. So you had to go down this little corridor and there were all these places for them to hang out and just creep on you.

People would just be on the rocks, then people on the wall were watching you and waiting for you, so you had to just go straight down this little path. First they would say something, then they’d start throwing rocks at you and if you ignored them, they’d run down and start busting on you. It was such a small path down though so there was nowhere to go.

Speaking of trouble, what happened that one time at the Horizons West Homeboyz Surf Series party at Claud Shore Dodge. Remember that night?

Haha! That was a good one! We were all in the Claud Shore Dodge dealer showroom. Ohm and everybody got in a fight, and then everybody separated. The Venice and Santa Monica crews got separated like the sea parting. And you and I were just sitting there on opposite sides. We were little, probably like 13 or something, just watching and egging people on like, “Get him fool Get him home boy!”

Bill Parr was a photographer and he was down with all of our friends, he owned that Dodge dealership that sponsored this series of surf contests in our back yard. It was probably 1985 or 1986. That night was the party at the showroom and there were all the Venice guys and the Santa Monica guys who are the surfers, but then they would also bring all their friends from the neighborhood, who were a little more rough around the edges. The parties were always like that.

Yeah, they were always kinda mellow, but something would always happen.

Somebody would just look at someone funny, and they’d be like, “What you looking at holmes?” And then it’d be on. This was a big one though and it was at the showroom floor of a car dealership.

It was Frankie J who got pushed. And everyone just moved to their respective side: Venice vs. Santa Monica, then the whole crowd just came together and punches were flying, it was mayhem. It turned into a huge, gnarly, free-for-all fight. The trophies from the award ceremony were getting launched, used as weapons, people got hurt.

It was so gnarly. I’ll never forget that. It was even before winners were announced and trophies got handed out. That was the last Homeboyz Surf Series that Dodge ever sponsored.

We’ve seen some nasty fights… Speaking of which, how many times did you get beat up growing up, going to school here? All the Mexicans always wanted to beat on ya!

You try being white and growing up in the hood, (laughs)! The worst was when I had to go to continuation school before high school to make time up, because I was never there. They had turned my elementary school into a continuation school, so there were basically a bunch of older high school aged kids walking around among my little grade school. It was gnarly, kids were drinking and smoking everywhere, beating kids up – even beating the security guard up. Everyone would always just get lit up at the water fountains, like face getting slammed against it from behind when you’d go down to take a sip, lip all busted open, then they’d just start rolling you. I remember just running down the hallways. Dude, this kid named Bullet wanted kick my ass so bad every day. I used to lock my bike up somewhere new every day, my teacher would let me out 120 seconds early just to give me a head start. So I’d have to run down the hall as fast as I could and the security guard at the front door would just be laughing as he unlocked the chain. Every day, somebody would be chasing me. This one day, I just barely got away from Bullet, he tripped and ran into some wet paint on the lockers. I looked back, he was so pissed and he looked like he wanted to kill me. I didn’t go back to that school again, but a couple years later at Santa Monica High, I came around the corner and there he was, like, “Sup holmes?” Wa-Pow! Before I even knew what happened, I was on my back. (Laughs)

Photo: Charles Katz

Venice MSA Crew. Photo: Charles Katz

That’s what I was about to say though, is that the biggest thing that’s changed around here since then is back then everyone knew each other. Everybody knew each other’s parents. If you got in trouble for whatever, somebody would just say, “Who’s your dad? Who’s your mom?” Even the layout of the town – it wasn’t all developed like this either. Like in this little area for instance, there were probably 20 to 30 empty lots, now there’s not one. If there’s an empty lot now, someone’s paying a couple million for it.

But yeah, just the fact that it was such a small town and everyone did know each other also made you feel safe in a sense. Even though it was a lot crazier back then and there was a lot more gang bangin going on, violence and drugs, Ghost Town and the whole thing, you still knew where you were supposed to be and not supposed to be. Plus you just knew everybody in those areas so you really didn’t feel unsafe at all even as a little kid.

You felt more unsafe about an outsider coming in than around anyone you knew. You’d go down any street and know everybody. Like I said, everybody knew each others parent, cousins, whatever. It was all the same kind of people who could afford to live here, before it got all artsy fartsy and everyone wanted to move here. Back then, my mom bought this place for like $23K, now the place is worth probably $2 million! You think we’re going anywhere? I mean sometimes my mom’s like,”Should we sell it?” But then I’m like, “Mom, sure that’s a lot of money, but do you really wanna sell our family house?” No, money’s not gonna buy us out. Other people started cashing out early though, tripping out that they could get $250K or $500K for their places they bought for $15K – they started all moving out quick, just like that because they either owed money or couldn’t afford the jacked up rent here [after they sold] or whatever. But you know, the people who did own properties in the neighborhood just cashed out. It’s sad, but I can’t really blame them. They were mostly older, retired, they could sell their place and buy a new place further inland for straight cash and put money in the bank. They had the opportunity to cash out when people with more money came in and started making offers.

That’s when they like started making movies here and making it look like a cool, new hot spot to be in LA. But it is a really cool spot to be because you can see every walk of life here on this beach. I was just in Texas with my family and we were trying to think of something to do. Everyone was like, “Ah, let’s just go by the bar.” If you get bored over here, you just go down to the beach and just trip out on everyone walking by!

There are some really rad old photos of all the kids just sitting on the beach back in the day. We would just literally just hang out and watch everybody, make fun of everybody, it was so fun. You’d just find a bench, post up, watch, laugh, and enjoy the show.

And try to pick up girls. I almost got beat up by this old lady one time. I was like, “How much for your daughter?” And she whipped around and banged on me and was all, “What’d you say?!” I was like, “I just asked how old’s your daughter!”

We’d all go meet up and just body surf. Right at Catch Street. Then there was Jennifer Weiner and Erin Pesternick, and they had their sisters that were our age. Whew – those girls were trouble! But then you’d go down to their house and their parents were so frickin’ nice. We’d all come over and they’d just have a bunch of lawn chairs underneath their steps, we’d pull em out and there would be like 30 of us on the beach all day, just mob deep. Lay out, hang there, go body surf, parents, kids, jacuzzi later.

It was awesome.

But like I said, the kids nowadays don’t all know each other down here. The parents don’t care to know you either, they’re rich, snobby people. Honestly, I was watching it all go down when I moved to Hawaii for
seven years.

What year was that?

It was like 2003. It wasn’t even that bad yet, but after the seven years I was in Kauai it was so crazy. People were just buying everything up for millions like it was nothing. It’s crazy, but now I just sit back and enjoy the show.

It is kinda a show now too. All the people that are moving here are from all over the place, but they’re all moving here to become part of like a cool scene or environment – which it is. Venice and Santa Monica have always been a great area to grow up in and for people to come to, it’s always been a good vibe here. Unfortunately, not everybody can afford to live here anymore. Ricky, I feel like you (and your family) are one of the few people that still live here from the old crew. Who else still has a house here anymore? Honestly though, nobody even owned their houses though before, they were just renting because they couldn’t afford to buy a house to begin with. Even back then when it was so cheap, we were poor and on welfare, making no money.

I think 90 percent of my friends’ parents were on welfare, it’s not a bad thing, it helped you out.

It’s just the way you’d live.

Yeah it’s crazy. If you really sit back and think about it – I try not to because I just trip on it still, but there’s days when I just sit back and go wow, I’m just amazed at how everything’s changed. And it’s seriously been in the blink of an eye. When I’d come back twice a year from Kauai just to visit, I’d see more and more houses, condos, rapid development, and traffic – it would just keep taking longer and longer to get where I needed to go. The traffic is awful. Look at Glencoe, they call that condo lane. They built like eight condo buildings, 200-plus units. How many people you think are living there? Just on that one block from Washington to Maxella. And on Redwood, that’s one’s just as bad. I think a rad way to make it better would be to somehow make it cheaper for people to buy or rent in the area if they work close to home, like if your business is right here, OK you can live here cheaper.

Photo: Mike Riggins

What’s it like surfing here now?

It’s gotten a lot nicer, but then see this guy even just dropped in on my kid outta nowhere this morning. I was like, “Are you kidding me bro? You see me pushing my 8-year-old daughter into a wave.” And this guy just looked back and still dropped right in, couldn’t surf, fell right in front of my daughter and she came up crying. So you have your ignorant people, but then you also have your cool guys. Back in the day, there wouldn’t have been even a third of the people surfing the breakwater now.

Yeah, because they wouldn’t have been allowed to. [Laughs]

Well, yeah, there’s that. But on the other hand, nowadays you do get to meet some pretty cool people out there. Like I met this pro skier, I forget his name, but I didn’t even know he was a pro skier. He was just some weird dude who put makeup on his face and was doing handstand push-ups on the beach before he paddled out. Then one day he brought me a ding repair and I recognized him, we started talking and he was the nicest guy in the world. He was telling me how he goes back to Switzerland every year for the season and this and that – he can’t surf a lick, but the guy is so cool. Back in the day, I wouldn’t have talked to people like that. Now that I’m older and more open-minded – I mean you gotta be with all the people that live around here. But the thing is that half the people look at me with my tattoos and being Mexican, and they judge me and think that it’s probably not cool to talk to me.

They also might just be intimidated by you.

Nah, not even, because everybody’s got tattoos – all these hipsters got tattoos now. They got their little beards with their faded haircuts and their Jeeps, and tight jeans – and flannels. Oh, I saw you dress like that the other day, my bad! Hahaha! You just cleaned it up before this interview huh?

Wasn’t me. Have you seen my new minivan though? That shit is tight.

But you know, even back in the day at Muscle Beach, you’d have guys like Mean Joe Green down there interviewing Hulk Hogan saying stuff like, “I’m gonna tear your face off!” Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like you don’t see shit like that anymore these days.

So is there any hood left here anymore?

Hell no. You go walking through those streets late at night now and there’s some dude drinking coffee, walking his poodle – and he ain’t buying no crack.

Haha! Dude, it was pretty gnarly back in the day.

There were certain street you just would not go down. It was gnarly, but it was also kinda funny though. Now you can’t even buy crack down there. They’re slinging coffee out the back of the house. No actually, they’re just selling hemp weed, and just stupid shit. I liked it better when it was the ghetto because it kept all the people away.

Is there a young surf culture here today?

No… Actually, you know, there is. I’ve never even met that kid Noah Hill or whatever his name is. It’s weird, I’ve never even seen him surf or met this kid.

He moved to Hawaii. He’s a good surfer. That’s what I mean though. It’s hard because you wanna get more involved and create more of culture for them, like we had.

I think so, that’d be cool. I think we should bring back the WSA, district 4…

That’s what I was thinking, something we could do is to have these Local contests that would be part of a culture building event to try to bring that back to the community here.

That’d be rad. We used to rule back in the day!

Yeah man, Tom Curren was getting freakin’ smoked by our guys. We had the best surfers here.

Jamie George, Pete Rocky, the McClair brothers, Solo Scott, Randy Wright, Craig Cottle, Packam, all those guys. We used to take over Santa Barbara, we took over everywhere! It was a force to be reckoned with. And Randy kept it all together with the Horizon West Surf Contest…

Photo: Mike Riggins

It’s bizarre, when we grew up here, there was a strong surf scene and culture. Nathan Pratt was a big part of it, putting all this energy into it, going down to the magazines and hyping it up. He basically took Stacey Peralta’s sorta role and took all the guys around to contests and everything.

To see how David Lansdon got the big old van and put us all in it and took us down to all the invitationals. He taught us how to just get out and go surf.

He taught us how to leave, how to travel. He taught us how to embed ourselves in other territories and going to see what other places were like, seeing places that were different than just your own backyard. And we’d always have to stop in Buellton. Every single time.

Haha! Gotta get some Andersen’s pea soup on the way up north. You know where we going! Artichoke capitol of the world, home of the famous Andersen’s pea soup. Those were the good ol’ days bro… Yeah, it’s crazy, there just doesn’t seem to be that same surf culture down here anymore.

Maybe people just don’t know each other like back then? There’s also a very high turn around rate here these days. People come here, live here for a little while, and leave. They can’t handle it, it’s too expensive, or their jobs don’t work out, or they came here on a dream and that didn’t work out.

Well, a lot of people feel like they have to plan everything too. Like we have to plan on when to have kids or their education, when to buy a house, all these goals, or whatever. What ever happened to just letting the kids just go to the freakin’ beach and surf? When we were kids, we’d just go. We’d jump on skateboards and just push on down to the beach and be gone for the day – every day. There was a whole gang of us and we ran the beach. Now there are like no kids down at the beach in a crew like that.

Parents are too scared to let their kids run wild and posse up like that. We’re probably guilty of it too. Back then our parents were all working, we didn’t have anything else. The beach was free. Maybe it’s up to us now to bring that culture back somehow.

Yeah, but even when I lived in Kauai, so many kids would be hanging out on the beach together. I lived close to the beach there, probably the same distance from here to Lincoln (about two blocks), and they’d all come over after surfing and hanging at the beach all day, stop in front of my house and start bullshitting with me. Of course I was doing the surfboard stuff there too — I’d be doing all the spray paint and soap shit and they’d all want me to do that on their boards. My wife at the time would trip out because I always had so many kids around me. I was like, hell yeah, I like hanging out with kids! Plus, I’d always do the ding repair too so I had that tie with them. I don’t go into some office and type some computer shit all day. I sit in my backyard and work on boards, and get to take my kids surfing. Even though a lotta people sweat me about getting their boards done, I still get to go to the beach.

Anyway, it’s kinda rad to think about all the stuff we were able to do as kids growing up. But you’re right, I wouldn’t leave my kids down at the beach all day now. You gotta realize back when we were growing up, we could even go get dropped off at Malibu for the day and if we wanted to stay the night, we could crash at peoples’ houses that we knew up there, no problem.

Photo: Mike Riggins

Yeah, now you’ve gotta call or text and make arrangements, just to let people know you’re coming over. What the fuck happened to just going over to someone’s house and saying hi? I never used to call anybody, I just used to show up. Always.

Exactly, now all everybody cares about is Instagram or whatever. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Facebook for keeping in contact with old friends from a distance. It’s kinda cool because so many people moved away and you still get to have some form of contact with them, but I liked it better when everyone was just close by. All my friends were here and we could swing over and hang out whenever because you’re in close proximity.

I don’t know, I guess I’m more protective of my kids than my parents were of me when I was kid, but I think it’s just more dangerous now.

But is it really more dangerous now? There were some freaks around when we were growing up.

Yeah, but I think those freaks were just freaks with themselves, like they weren’t a harm to anybody else. Plus. people would be watching out for each other back then. Nowadays if a fight or something were to break out, people are just so quick to pull out their phones and start recording instead of helping to stop shit like that. Fights used to get broken up so quickly, but now people just wanna be entertained and have a viral video of some shit going down or something. It’s some cold shit.

It’s really sad actually. People around here are now just way quicker to judge you than to try to get to know you. Like for my neighbor here on the corner, it took his wife getting robbed one morning and I went over to help and see what happened. I told him I lived right here and that my mom’s here too and that we had to all look out for each other. Now he’s like, “Oh, I’m so glad I met you, you’re the nicest guy.” But he never came to meet me before that, it took me going over there to make sure his wife was OK after something bad happened to wanna get to know me after like 10 years of being my neighbor. That’s what’s sad.

That’s why I like doing the surfboards because I’m getting to know so many different people, so many walks of life – who I probably wouldn’t have given a chance before because they’re not Mexican or a surfer. I was kinda closed-minded before, but nowadays, you can’t be like that. I think sometimes for people who are rich, they don’t wanna know you.

You don’t really need much when you live around here though.

No, you don’t. I don’t need much at a all. I’m just happy my kids have a roof over their heads, I get to take them surfing and spend as much time as I can with them. That’s more rich than anything you could ever have or do. Half these rich people around here don’t even raise their own kids, they’re raised by their nannies. I love hanging with my kids, taking them surfing, it’s the best life.

/ Interview by Strider Wasilewski
/ Photography by Matt Titone and courtesy of Rick Massie

This article originally appeared in our Indoek Venice issue. Check out the 84-page, large format newsprint magazine and get your copy here:

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