Article by Sue DeWerff Panzarino
A “core surfer, master craftsman and true gentleman.” That’s how surfing-industry peers describe Ricky Carroll, owner of R&D Surf Factory in Rockledge. Carroll has established himself at the top of the surfboard manufacturing community — not only here, but internationally.
This January, he will be inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame Class of 2024 in the legends category at the hall’s 15th annual induction ceremony during the Surf Expo’s annual industry event in Orlando. The independent, nonprofit educational institution was created to honor and memorialize those who have made outstanding contributions to the development of surfing on the East Coast. New members are inducted every two years. Carroll, who will turn 64 in February, will join an elite group of surfing industry icons who have been recognized since the founding of the organization in 1996.
While growing up in Satellite Beach, Carroll got his entry into the board shaping world when he received an opportunity to work at one of the first and most well-known Space Coast surf shops: Natural Art. He began humbly enough, fixing dings in boards at the shop’s iconic Cocoa Beach location. A recent high school graduate, he was meeting and learning from top talents in the industry — both shapers and surfers.
Pete Dooley, owner of Natural Art and an inductee and current board member at the hall of fame, remembered Carroll as “one of the best competitive surfers of the era. But his passion for learning the ins and outs of surfboard building was even more impressive. I recall my arrival to the shop one morning when I first laid eyes on a board Ricky had been working on. It was a diamond: A most perfect, sleek and outstanding longboard. He told me he had stayed up all night to finish it.
“Ricky’s craftsmanship and intricate details were second to none. But what has continued to impress me throughout the many years of working with him, and witnessing his success and growth as a shaper and businessman here on the East Coast, has been his humbleness and giving nature.”
Carroll spent more than a decade solidifying his knowledge and commitment to the craft by working for some of the most sought-after names in the industry, including Surfboards Hawaii, Local Motion and Donald Takayama. In 1992, he made the decision to open a full-scale operation here on the Space Coast. Thus, R&D Surf Factory was born; it has since become a mecca for manufacturing and distribution. “I have always felt blessed to be able to be a part of what was then the start of many facets of change in this ever-growing industry,” Carroll explained. “I am extremely grateful for Pete’s mentorship and faith in me.”
Carroll’s accolades include top honors at the Icons of Foam Tribute to the Masters Shape-Off at the Sacred Craft Shaping Contest in San Diego, California, in 2007, 2008 and 2012. He won the 2013 Chunk of Foam Challenge at the Board Room, part of the annual Surf Expo event that season. In 2014, Carroll became the host and head judge of the Florida Shape-Off. He’s brought many iconic shapers to participate in the timed challenge, replicating classic boards from the ’70s and ’80s. The spectator event is the highlight of the annual Florida Surf Expo.
Coordinating the Shape-Off is just one of the many ways Carroll has given back to the community and the local surfing industry. His work has been praised by a plethora of champion board riders, many of them former Association of Surfing Professionals and World Surf League talents.
“The 2019 WSL Longboard Champion, Justin Quintal, is one of the many professional surfers I have worked with, via his popular Black Rose label,” said Carroll. Nevertheless, he feels like, “it’s just as satisfying to me to be able to create and recommend a custom board, or one of our popular models, to a beginning surfer. With all the choices out there today, I’m always honored when folks seek my advice.”
Surfing has always been a passion for Carroll, as it is for many youngsters growing up on the Space Coast. And, although he has spent most of his life creating boards for others, he remembers his big days on the waves. One particular event that comes to mind is his victory over 2006 East Coast Hall of Famer, Pat Mulhern, when they were 8th-graders at DeLaura Middle School. “That contest is one I will always remember,” he said.
One of his other passions, playing the drums, is something he now enjoys for relaxation. Most who know him declare that his talents as a drummer are right up there with his surfboard craftsmanship. Several years ago, he connected with local singer, songwriter and surfer, Karalyn Woulas, of Cocoa Beach, and is now a member of the band, Karalyn and the Dawn Patrol.
“He’s that all-around human being, one of the hardest working souls in the industry,” said Hunter Joslin, a 2015 hall of fame inductee and board member. “I respect Ricky, not only for his work ethic, but his genuine passion for helping others. He is always giving back to the community.”
Carroll’s mentor, Dooley, says he saw that potential, from the start. “Whether on the waves, in the shaping room or lending a helping hand to a fellow craftsman, he is still that same deserving kid who worked for me back in the late ’70s, who I’m thrilled to know, and has become a legend in the surfing industry.”