Rick Neilsen was a semi-finalist at the 1972 Smirnoff Pro won by brother Paul at Haleiwa, Oahu, Hawaii. Photo by Steve Wilkings.
Rick was a member of the Australian Team at Oceanside California for the 1972 World Surfing Championships. Photo by Jeff Divine
2 June 23
Tribute by Andrew McKinnon: On behalf of the Neilsen Family, it is with great sadness to convey the passing of one of Queensland’s greatest surfing legends, Rick Neilsen.
Born on the Gold Coast 20th July 1948, Roderick James Neilsen, better known as Rick or Ricky was a fun-loving colourful character, admired by the surfing community. He learned how to surf at Broadbeach in 1960/61 on his local beach break where a Council Park has been dedicated to the famous Family name opposite Britannia Ave., Broadbeach.
The third oldest of six brothers Len, Kevin, Paul, Jon & 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 times National Junior champion Peter Drouyn, Rick & 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 & Bev Stafford’s flats at Cavill Avenue, Surfers Paradise. Bev & Ganger were great mates and Surfers Paradise Surf Club champions.
Their mother Betty was an adept seamstress who designed tailor-made beach baggies, boardshorts, then called okanuies. Rick was a trendsetter, a fancy dresser who liked wearing stylish fashionable clothes. By 1967 Rick began surfboard shaping at Lawrie Hohensee’s as a sought-after shaper while designing boards for himself and Paul. From 1967 – 72, Rick represented Qld in consecutive National titles. He registered a win in 1970 Noosa Open amongst some of the best surfers in the Country including Hawaiian champions Gerry Lopez & Jimmy Blears.
In 1971 Paul won the Australian Open Mens 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 71 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 semi-finals 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 Sunset. 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 enhance his shaping reputation.
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 60s GC surf legends Trevor Elms & 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 & 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 son Adam and his five brothers. All will sadly miss this lovable giant of Australian surfing. Rest in Peace Ricky.
- Tribute by Andrew McKinnon