By Chris Fish
MELBOURNE - The 27th annual NKF Rich Salick Pro Am Surf Festival, presented by Ron Jon Surf Shop, will make waves this Labor Day weekend, Aug. 31 through Sept. 3, at the Cocoa Beach Pier.
This year's event will be the first event to honor the late world class surfer Rich Salick, co-founder and three-time kidney recipient, who died in July. All proceeds benefit the National Kidney Foundation of Florida, Inc.
"It's a little like frosting on the cake," said Phil Salick, co-founder of the festival and twin brother of Mr. Salick, about the festival now being named after his brother. "(Rich) was so unpretentious that he would get a kick out of this. It's a terrific gesture. He would never (help kidney patients) as a way to get his name out there. He did it for the patients."
The event features both professional and amateur surfing events, including internationally recognized tandem surfing and entertainment for the whole family.
Professional and amateur surfing begins on Saturday, Sept. 1. The surfing will continue throughout the weekend with amateur and professional finals taking place on Labor Day.
"There will be a lot of local bands that play very tropical music," Mr. Salick said. "In the past, we have had Jimmy Buffet's band and the Wailers play, but, this year, we are trying to focus more on the surfing."
The competition will feature the Ron Jon Men's Pro, the Alison Moses Women's Pro, Anarchy Eyewear Junior Men's Pro and Steve Casanova Men and Women's Pro Longboard.
Also, the ITSA Tandem will host the World Tandem Championship as a part of the festival's activities.
If surfing isn't for you, the event will also feature the Taste of Brevard and Silent Auction held Sunday night, Sept. 2, at the Hilton in Cocoa Beach.
The event will feature approximately 350 volunteers, Mr. Salick said, making it one of the largest surfing events in the world and the largest charity event.
Mr. Salick said he expects nearly 20,000 people a day at the event, and the event will offer free diagnostic tests for kidney functions to festival goers.
"We will have diagnostics going on in the beach," he said. "We do it for free. We have had people go straight to the hospital from our diagnostics - something they would have never had caught had they not visited us."
Despite this festival being listed as the 27th annual event, the first event actually took place in 1978, as the listing only includes the number of years the festival was a Pro festival, Mr. Salick explained.
"It's absolutely a labor of love. In 1976, we raised $126. It was Ocean Avenue Surf versus Salick Surf Boards, and we lost," Mr. Salick said. "Last year, we raised $150,000. We've raised millions strictly through the surf event."
The Salick twins started the event shortly after Rich's kidneys failed in 1973, and he was diagnosed with IGA Nephropathy, a disease that breaks down the filtering units in the kidneys. At the time, Mr. Salick was a professional on the U.S. and world surfing teams, but he was told he would never surf again.
However, his brother Phil made the perfect kidney donation to him in 1974. Something he said the festival still has a strong, ironic connection to.
"Ironically, Dr. Robert Cade was one of Rick's first transplant surgeons. He later helped develop Gatorade," he said. "Gatorade is now one of our sponsors."