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The Outsider

Surfing the Urban Shores of Venice, Rick Massie Punched Past Gangs, Into the Unknown

July 15, 1996|DENNIS ROMERO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OCEANSIDE — Conditions for the first round of the Bud Surf Tour's annual stop here are historic--and hysteric ("The worst contest surf I've ever seen," says a veteran surf journalist). Stiff onshore winds destroy what little swell there is as Rick Massie paddles into a peak and dances across the wave, kicking the lip with his tiny board. The swell leaves Massie wet as it dies beneath him, and the judges give him a 4.10 out of 10. He's falling fast, from first to fourth out of four. He needs a 5.67 on his next wave to make the top two and advance to the next round. It's a makable proposition.

Massie wants to do well at this June event. He plans to go to Europe later this summer to enter several World Qualifying Series events that, like the Bud Surf Tour, feed into the big leagues of surfing, the World Championship Tour. Last year he reached 68th on the 500-man Bud tour, which sends but a handful of its top surfers on to the 44-man WCT.

For the first time in his career, he has the sponsorship backing he needs--from Airtight wet suits, Cru surfwear and Dog Town skatewear--to tour the West Coast and parts of the world that are worlds away from his street-smart background. Massie, unlike the typical pro, struggles not only with his competitors in the water but with where he comes from.

With his fast welterweight flow ("He's light-footed," says a Bud Tour official, "able to generate speed and maneuvers"), a lot of people believe he can make surfing's big leagues. But at 24, they say, he has to rally now.

"He's at a crossroads in his life," says former world champion Ian Cairns, president of the company that runs the Bud Surf Tour. "But it's not too late for him to compete and do well."

"He's looked at as one of the best surfers from the L.A. area, from the South Bay to Malibu," says retired pro Alan Sarlo, one of the greatest surfers to come out of these urban shores. "He could bust through the envelope and be one of the best in the world."

Some would question the very motive of surfing for scores, cash and fame. Surfing is, after all, an exercise in personal expression--"physical graffiti" it has been called. How can you judge that?

"I like the competition aspect," Massie, dark and lanky, says. "I love going out there and beating all these yuppie kids who think I'm nobody.

"They got all these sponsors, and I get paid half what they do," he says. "See how they react toward me. I'm an outsider."

*

The dark street leading to Massie's Venice home is eerie, the road narrow, curb-less and unevenly paved; the neighborhood is quiet. His house--his mother's house--is a three-bedroom, wood-frame space painted a clean white. On the porch, a friend of one of his brother's sits, bobbing in and out of consciousness, eyes rolling back into the ghettos of her mind. Inside, nephews and nieces run around the house as Massie kicks it in his room watching the movie "True Lies."

On the wall is a painting neighbor Perry Farrell (leader of the band Porno for Pyros and creator of Lollapalooza) gave him as a gift. It depicts a bare-chested cholo with theatrical masks on each shoulder--smiley face, sad face. On the midriff is a cross. To the left of the cross, someone has written in five names--and "R.I.P."

One of his big brothers brings a neighbor into the room. The man, possibly in his late 30s, wears the gangster uniform: a white tank top, dark work pants. On his bulging neck, in fairly large blocks, is a tattoo that reads "V13." He's eager to sell a portable heater, in the dead of summer, for $10. Massie's a target because he often has a little spending money in the pockets of his sponsor-provided pants. The man seems nervous, fidgety. He says he has a girl waiting in his car. Massie plugs the heater in and it doesn't seem to work too well.

Later that night, over a "Big Wave" burger at a nearby Islands restaurant, Massie says he thinks that woman on the porch was on crack.

He also explains that the man attempting to sell the heater has been shot 21 times over the years. The "tat" on his neck stands for Venice 13, one of the Westside's oldest and bloodiest gangs.

"Gang life," he says, "is something I didn't want to go through."

Massie grew up in that white house, a mile and a half from the ocean, but many more psychic miles to the end of this surreal world. The blocks between the Venice surf and his house, which lies within earshot of the intersection of Venice and Lincoln boulevards, belonged to Venice 13. So did most of his six older brothers and sisters.

Of course, there were other obstacles to the ocean: areas that belonged to the rival Shoreline Crips and the Mar Vista set. And the boardwalk, which attracts graffiti and gangsters from all over Southern California. But just past the tagged-up pavilion was a virtual forest in which to frolic, live and hide.

The vast Pacific.

"I find the ocean," he says, "as my holy water."

*

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