“As much as you felt enlightened by him, he felt enlightened by you”—those were the tearful, heartfelt words of Mike Wibben, son of Randy Nauert, to a crowd gathered last week at Surfrider Beach. The crowd of 60 came to remember a “friend of Malibu.” Nauert, a longtime resident of Malibu, died unexpectedly in early February after an apparent heart attack. The 74-year-old’s home burned in the Woolsey Fire and some friends have speculated that the stress of that, along with all the physical work he was doing at his property and others,’ may have contributed to his death. But all of his friends and family in attendance agreed that Nauert was indeed a friend of Malibu. And his frequent postings on the “Friends of Malibu” Facebook site would attest to that.
Attendees from far and wide came to remember and honor Nauert on April 16 with a traditional Hawaiian paddle-out ceremony. Wearing wet suits and festive leis, family and friends took their colorful surfboards into the Pacific and gathered in a circle like a giant wreath for a floating memorial service. A paddle-out is the surfing world’s most hallowed ritual and Nauert played a big part in surf culture.
As the bass guitarist in one of the very first surf bands, The Challengers, Nauert was well-known to people who enjoy surf music and culture. The band cut a dozen records and their music was featured on some notable television shows. They enjoyed huge success in Japan, too.
Local John Mazza knew Nauert through his love of surf culture and through the Surfing Heritage Foundation that he helped found. Mazza recounted how Nauert was childhood friends with iconic surf artist Rick Griffin and kept Griffin’s archives at his home that burned in November. Griffin died in 1991.
Nauert lived for decades on his ranch in Malibu and cared for all kinds of animals at the site. He was said to be friendly to anyone who crossed his path.
“He was a local character. A lot of people knew him,” Mazza explained. “On the day of the fire, he was on Arson Watch and he came home and his house was on fire,” adding, “all that stuff was lost.”
Along with restoring his property, Mazza said, “He was always helping people, especially with animals. He was art, music and animals. He was just a good guy and old Malibu-surf culture-hippie heart. He was a Malibu local who lived a Malibu lifestyle. He was here before it was paved over.”
Nauert’s caring and friendliness were mentioned often at the service and echoed by his son Mike, who told the gathering, “Your messages and words inspire me. He really enjoyed interacting with everybody. You guys gave him peace and satisfaction in that.”
Peter Townend, the first winner of the World Surfing Championship, spoke about their 35-year friendship.
“Randy was a good friend of mine,” Townend said. “We worked on a TV show, ‘Wave Watch’—104 episodes in seven years. He handled the music.”
Townend also spoke about the Woolsey Fire, speculating, “I would think those fires had an effect on Randy. It was his nature to help everybody. Every time on Facebook, there’d be a photo of him helping someone. Randy was in his 70s and he was clearing properties like he was a teenager. I’m sure that didn’t help, finally, when he had the heart attack. God rest you, mate. I’m going to miss you. We all do. There’s a lot of people who have stories.”
A traditional Hawaiian blessing recited in Hawaiian was given before the paddle-out with a flower-laden surfboard.
Malibu City Council Member Skylar Peak, also in attendance, said of Nauert: “Randy was a hub of creativity as a fixture in Malibu. His spirit of community, along with his love of nature, animals, surfing and of course music inspired so many. He always treated anyone with a warm heart and love. I miss his smile.”
Julie Ellerton contributed to this report.