Rick Neilsen: the Australian was a semi-finalist at the 1972 Smirnoff Pro won by brother Paul at Haleiwa, Oahu | Photo: Steve Wilkings

The Neilsen family announced the passing of one of Queensland's greatest surfing legends, Rick Neilsen, aged 74.

Born on the Gold Coast on July 20, 1948, Roderick James Neilsen, better known as Rick or Ricky, was a fun-loving, colorful character admired by the surfing community.

He learned how to surf at Broadbeach in 1960-1961 on his local beach break, where a council park has been dedicated to the famous family name opposite Britannia Avenue, Broadbeach.

The third oldest of six brothers, Len, Kevin, Paul, Jon, and Gary, Rick attended Broadbeach State School before following in his father's footsteps, William Arthur Neilsen, affectionately called "Ganger" in the building trade.

"Ganger" was a builder boss (hence the nickname) and the first professionally paid Surfers Paradise lifeguard sponsored by a group of businessmen led by Jim Cavill prior to council funding.

Following in the success of fellow Broadbeach two-time National Junior champion Peter Drouyn, Rick and Paul joined Drouyn's lead to carve out a career path in competitive surfing.

They were invited members of the prestigious Gold Coast Windansea Surf Club based at Paula and Bev Stafford's flats at Cavill Avenue, Surfers Paradise.

Bev and "Ganger" were great mates and Surfers Paradise Surf Club champions.

Their mother, Betty, was an adept seamstress who designed tailor-made beach baggies and boardshorts, then called okanuis.

Rick was a trendsetter, a fancy dresser who liked wearing fashionable clothes.

Rick Neilsen: he was a member of the Australian team at Oceanside, California, for the 1972 World Surfing Championships | Photo: Jeff Divine

Shining at Sunset Beach

By 1967, Rick began surfboard shaping at Lawrie Hohensee's as a sought-after shaper while designing boards for himself and Paul.

From 1967-1972, Rick represented Queensland in consecutive national titles.

He registered a win in the 1970 Noosa Open amongst some of the best surfers in the country, including Hawaiian champions Gerry Lopez and Jimmy Blears.

In 1971, Paul won the Australian Open Men's title on a board Rick had especially shaped that would help them successfully launch Brothers Neilsen Surfboards and the Australian Championship board.

Rick was runner-up in the finals at the 1971 Bells Nationals and, together with Paul, was selected into the Australian team for the 1972 World Surfing Championships at San Diego, California.

Later that year, Paul won the Smirnoff Pro on an 8'2'' gun that Ricky had shaped in Honolulu glassed by Paul.

At the same event, Ricky registered his best international result with an impressive performance to make the semifinals at Haleiwa, North Shore, Oahu.

His tall frame of 6'2'' and lanky legs were perfectly suited to the Hawaiian surf, especially at Sunset Beach, where he continued to revisit through the seventies.

He persuaded "Ganger" into paddling out in the channel at Sunset to watch him surf and to say the old man had surfed the famous spot.

"Ganger" and Eddie Aikau's father, Sol, were good friends.

Rick embraced the Aloha spirit and the 1976 Hawaiian surfboard stingers, shaping his own version to be a super popular model in the Brothers Neilsen stores and further enhancing his shaping reputation.

A Lovable Queenslander

Rick was married to Elaine (Lainey), who gave birth to their son Adam, but tragedy struck when their beautiful Burleigh Heads home burnt down, losing much of the family possessions and memorabilia.

Tragically, not long after, Elaine unexpectedly died from an accidental fall.

He was an avid deep-sea diver with 1960s Gold Coast surf legends Trevor Elms and Basil Noonan, exploring the depths of various offshore reefs at Cook Island, Fido Reef, and off Burleigh Headland.

Rick loved surfing up and down the East Coast and traveling to Hawaii and Bali, although it was Burleigh Point where both Rick and Paul made their mark.

He had an infectious personality and possessed a raucous laugh - everybody loved this loquacious larrikin.

Rick was one of Queensland's all-time surfing greats, transitioning from longboards to shortboards and shaping champion-winning surfboards throughout.

Rick is survived by his only son Adam and his five brothers. All will sadly miss this lovable giant of Australian surfing.

Rest in Peace, Ricky.


Words by Andrew McKinnon | Chairman of the Gold Coast World Surfing Reserve

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