Hanging from the foliage like ornaments on a Christmas tree, a dozen or so small, multi-colored sculptures depicting a miniature wave rider stalling through the trough of relatively hulking wave demarcate the entrance to the Ft. George Island property of legendary surfer-shaper Dick Rosborough (Rozo). Crafted from the foam detritus of past shaping projects, these surfy effigies hint at their creator’s restless mind and miscellaneous interests—a laundry list which includes fishing, golf, art, gardening, and, of course, surfing.
A third-generation North Floridian, Rozo’s prowess at the latter took him far and wide, and even landed him on the cover of the February 1970 issue of Surfing Magazine, before that passion for chasing waves deposited him in Hawaii in January of ’73.
His native land would lure Rozo back though, when 11 years later, his father—a two-time mayor of Atlantic Beach—bought this narrow spit of land between A1A and the St. Johns River for a song, and his prodigal son returned to claim it. Rozo quickly set to work making it his own, outfitting the three-car garage on the front of the property for his burgeoning surfboard shaping operation, filling the modest main house with more tchotchkes than a St. Augustine shell shop, and scattering an array of Oahu-centric flora about the 60 by 600 ft. lot.
When I pulled up to his property, Rozo—who’s generally excited and stoked—was already fired up, waving me in with double shakas blazing. As he gave me a tour of his property, which included a few passes with a sureform on a sweet, little single-fin, and some recreational chip shots toward the green he recently engineered from grass reclaimed from the Jax Beach Municipal Golf Course, I asked the 2016 East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame inductee about life on Jacksonville’s North Shore.
Your family has been at the beaches for a long time. Tell me a little bit of that history.
My dad was a two-time mayor of Atlantic Beach. He actually beat Mitch [Kaufmann]’s dad for the mayor’s job. My dad’s dad built a house on the beach in Atlantic Beach and cleared the land with mules. Later on, my dad built a place on Fifth Street in Atlantic Beach. That’s where I grew up. Then we moved to Selva Marina. We were able to play golf for nothing. That’s how I got any kind of golf game. Me and [legendary surfer] Joe Roland used to play golf if the surf wasn’t any good.
What was your experience like in Hawaii in the ‘70s? What were you up to over there?
I turned 22 and bought a one-way ticket to Hawaii in January of ‘73. I brought $350 and a half a pound of weed. My goal was to find a place to rent for one or two months and find a job. I brought the weed to smoke with people just to make friends. I found a room to rent for $50 a month. I pulled out $100 and paid for two months up front. So, I was set up on top of Pupukea above Waimea Bay. I got a job at the Hilton right down the road as a busboy and waiter. Kept my boards at Off the Wall. The Florida guy was the low guy on the totem pole back then. When you walked down the street, dogs barked at you [laughs]. I just tried to stay invisible for years and not have any trouble. It was humbling over there. But us Florida guys were hungry.
What brought you back to North Florida?
It was the same reason I left to begin with. It was to find out what was out there for me. Before I went to Hawaii I’d been all over the world surfing—I’d done Puerto Rico, Barbados, Maine and back, California and Mexico. Hawaii was just the next place. I was there to challenge myself to ride the biggest waves. About ’79 I’d peaked out on that desire. Then Sunset would get huge and I’d find anything else to do besides go out. Eventually everybody finds their limits out there. One of my favorite sayings is ‘you gotta know when to move over’ whether you’re on I-95 or out at Rocky [Point].
And you brought a little bit of Hawaii back with you didn’t you?
That was a super influential time in my life. As much as I learned what I wanted, I learned what I didn’t want. I don’t want a car payment. I don’t want a condominium. I don’t want to wake up to hear beep beep beep everyday. The only thing I own in this life is my time. I’m stoked to be this old and not to have had to compromise my version of aloha—that killer Hawaiian vibe that formed what I value in my life. I’m a conscionable person. I have empathy. And I love nature. I don’t want to lose that stoke of finding a new flower, or catching a new fish, scoping out a cool sunset. I don’t want to let those little things get away.
You’ve got a lot of hobbies—golf, surfing, fishing. Plus, your shaping business. All of which are at your fingertips out here. What’s a typical day like for you?
It really depends. But first thing is to wake up naturally, without an alarm clock. If there’s surf, that’s going to be the first decision of the day. I only have so many strokes left in these arms, so I’ll pick the right tide, the right time to surf. Then every decision flows from there. I’ll flow right into work, ideally. If the fishing is good, during flounder season, especially, I’ll look to do some fishing. I try to take advantage of the months, or seasons here. The main work time for me is from March to September. Then it slows down, but the surf and fishing picks up. I like working. But it’s slow sometimes. I don’t network. I don’t go on social media. I don’t have a cell phone or a computer. I’m not out there trying to hustle. I just hope the phone rings and somebody goes out of their way to have me shape a board. If they do, I go out of my way to show them how worth it that decision was. That’s what’s kept me in business so long.
What’s your favorite thing about living out here?
Oh, the quiet. Being away from everything. You’re 15 to 20 minutes from any kind of hectic stuff. It’s location, location, location to me. You just can’t beat it. I think about all the generations of people who’ve gotten enjoyment out of living out here. It’s crazy now because there are all these big houses going up. I’ve got the sh***iest dock out here and I’m the only one fishing. But that’s why I’m out here, to really enjoy what this place provides. I couldn’t stand living if I didn’t have my hobbies. I’ve got friends who are my age who don’t have hobbies. They’re bored and they’re bor-ing. [laughs]. They’ll tell me about some deal or money they made. I’m like, “So what? Big deal.”