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Islanders ride surfin’ safari to Cocoa Beach benefit

Former islander Georgio Gomez takes on a wave near the pier.

The view from the Cocoa Beach pier looking back at the contest judging stands, spectators and vendors on the beach. Islander Photos: Rick Lewis

Some of the people from Anna Maria Island and Bradenton attending the NKF Pro/AM Surf Festival in Cocoa Beach to honor Rich Salick get together at a waterfall for a photo.

Izzy Gomez, formerly of AMI, takes a wave in Cocoa Beach:

Festival founder Phil Salick, left, nephew Brandon Mills, and world champion surfer Kelly Slater, Cocoa Beach’s native son meet at the festival gala. Slater credits Rich Salick for giving him a surfboard and leading him to a successful career.

The 28th annual National Kidney Foundation Rich Salick Pro/AM Surf Festival presented by Ron Jon Surf Shop and NKF of Florida was held Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Cocoa Beach in memory of the late Rich Salick.

The competition was co-founded by twins Rich and Phil Salick, who grew up on Anna Maria Island, learning to surf in the Gulf of Mexico waves. Their sister Joanie Mills lives in Holmes Beach with her family.

The Salick brothers championed the festival to raise money for the National Kidney Foundation of Florida for early screening programs, diagnostic services, financial aid to patients, legislative advocating, and education and awareness efforts.

The event began small, as a benefit for chronically ill dialysis patients, as a commitment of Rich, a surfer with the original Dewey Weber Surf Team in the late 1960s and the U.S. team in 1972 who, shortly after signing pro endorsement contracts, suffered a radical and rapid deterioration in his health. After spending much of his life surfing around the globe, Rich Salick couldn’t walk a block from his home to the shore in Cocoa Beach.

In 1974, Phil Salick donated a kidney to save his brother’s life and, after making some innovations to protect his transplanted kidney, Rich surfed again.

Phil and Rich also continued to build the National Kidney Foundation of Florida and the festival, even as Phil battled illness – he underwent a second transplant surgery with older brother Channing as the donor and a third transplant surgery with younger brother Wilson as the donor.

Rich Salick died last summer at the age of 62, after 40 years of riding waves and battling tremendous odds.

The event he co-founded has raised more than $5 million for kidney foundation programs since 1985.

As a tribute to Rich and twin Phil, a group of islanders made the trip across the state on a path much-worn by surfers to attend the festival.

For tournament information, go online at



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