RIP Johnny Rice, a true surfing icon

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By Neil Pearlberg

The Prairie Band Potawatomi people are known as the “Keepers of the Fire.” The Indian tribe, who occupied the Great Lakes region for centuries, were known as an autonomous and prosperous group that lived off the bountiful natural resources.

The fire that they speak of that burned ever so brightly in one of their descendants, Mr. Johnny Rice was doused yesterday as we learned of his passing.

He was an ocean-loving man and a true icon in the world of surfing here in Santa Cruz, and beyond.

Born in Santa Cruz in 1938, he attended what was then Mission Hill Grammar and Middle school and then Santa Cruz High. Although he was a good student, it was the water, surfing and surfboards that captured all of his attention, and now for us, his legacy remains for us all to remember.

There are many who say “Thank-You,” and even more who say “We love you”……Rest in Peace Johnny Rice.


Waves Staff


10 comments on “RIP Johnny Rice, a true surfing icon


  1. thank you for your years of kindness and friendship. You are always in my heart. Peaceful walk brother.

  2. Johnny was s friend n mentor…..he left us his campus n his memories…. O’mitaku O’Yasai.

  3. So sorry to hear of the demise of Johnny Rice. I have always admired him when I went to school with him, until now. RIP Johnny and prayers to his family and friends…

  4. When he lived here in Brazil – we were great friends – he did some of my surfboards — was an enthusiastic – great shaper – family person – karate skills, super storyteller, but above all he really loved the ocean – and all kinds of native ancient traditions — we had long talks about almost everything – strong personality- a great human surfer – RIP – Johnny Rice and my sympathies to his family – aloha

  5. Sitting in the lineup one morning and all the old regulars are complaining how much Santa Cruz has changed
    for the worse, Johhny was there and asked us to turn and look out towards the ocean,look he said nothing’s changed out here,that’s why we’re here not for what’s up there on shore!! (Thanks Johnny)…

  6. we had a Johnny Rice surfboard shop here in Rockaway Beach in Pacifica way back in 1965. They were great boards. Wish now that I had met this icon of old Santa Cruz. Another surfing legend from my youth now gone…

  7. Adeus, Mr. Surf! Vamos lembrar de vc pra sempre no Guaruja, Brasil, mestre Johnny Rice. RIP.

  8. Santa Cruz shaper and surfer Johnny Rice has left the lineup.

    I’m thankful to have surfed and known him and I cheer him as I know he made it through the rough sections of this world into a better wave.

    One day at Cowells Johnny called it Cowels-kiki.I watched Johnny paddle out between the Lane and Indicators. There wasn’t much surf. It was a glassy and a beautiful day. The day before, he was having trouble carrying his board and I helped him up the stairs. He was struggling to maintain. He had difficult even standing up on a board. Such a strong and vibrant man who could easily launch into someone for bad behavior and also praise those who loved surfing. WHen Cowells was really going off on a sandbar back in the ’90s, Johnny always cheered me on when he was paddling out, and I was taking off on a wave and laughed.He had a great laugh. I surfed with him and Rosemary many times. Good times.
    Anyway, on this particular day, he paddled out there and sat by himself. I could see he was kinda having a moment to himself to say goodbye and hello to a place that meant so much to him. He looked so thankful out there. That’s how I see him. My sympathy to his family.

  9. So sorry to hear of Johnny’s passing. We were roommates in Hawaii in the late 50’s and both paddled Outriggers for the Waikiki Surf Club. We crossed paths again in the 70’s when he was living in Florida. I was making foam blanks (East Coast Foam) at the time and he was shaping. He was a real character! I am glad that he found his true identity as an American Indian. He will be truly missed, a surfing icon that left his mark in surfing’s history.


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