Video: Chris Papaleo. Edit: Jerry Ricciotti
Death Of A Disco Dancer: The Nick Rozsa Pro Spotlight
Nick Rozsa’s second act
Washed up. Wasted talent. Forgotten.
One short year ago, at the ripe age of 23, Nick Rozsa was all of the above.
A dead set f—king loser.
Just over a decade after the day he first stepped on a surfboard in Ventura under the watchful eye of the Curran and Malloy brothers, his surf career came to a screeching halt with one phone call and four simple words: You’re off the team.
And really, everyone saw it coming. Everyone except Nick.
Nick thought he was invincible. He had no idea he could lose his job.
And so it goes.
O’Neill sponsored Rozsa at 15 after he came out of relative obscurity to beat Dane Reynolds and win two divisions at the WSA Western championships. NSSA regional wins and national finals followed, as did travel and magazine opportunities. At 19, after placing fourth at the US Open of Surfing Jr. Pro in Huntington, Reef took notice and signed him to a generous contract. Nothing crazy—but for Nick, it was huge. Shortly afterward, he went on a Reef trip to Mexico and in the process landed himself the front page of TransWorld SURF; with the cover blurb reading: “The Good Life.” And for Nick, indeed it was.
He was single and had money. But he didn’t know what he was doing.
New money. That’s what his friends nicknamed him. His first decent contract and cover incentive money was, self-admittedly, spent on questionable purchases: A brand new Audi, 15K in audio equipment (Nick makes his own music), and big nights out. Big nights out at home turned into all nighters in Australia, and eventually, those all nighters in Oz turned into three-month Bali benders
In Bali, he surfed three times in three months and woke up in a hospital. He hit rock bottom. And yet, it still wasn’t the wake-up call he needed to change his life trajectory.
Not then, but the wake-up call would eventually come, in the form of two phone calls. The first from Reef Team Manager Heath Walker cutting him from the program, and the second, two weeks later, from his girlfriend with the news that she was pregnant. And like that, his life was turned upside down. Late nights partying turned into early mornings working. He was going to be a dad.
And according to Nick, “That was the best thing that has ever happened to me. I was forced to grow up quick.”
And by all appearances, grow up he did. And in the process, he’s been given a second chance at a professional surf career after being recently reunited with old sponsor Reef. Only time will tell if this turns into the feel good, comeback story Nick hopes it will be; but after being called the “best unsponsored surfer in the world” by 11-time world champ Kelly Slater, he’s getting a chance to prove he’s the real deal.
I sat down with Nick in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Darlene, and four-and-a-half-month-old son Roenn in Vista, California, to get the inside scoop on a tumultuous 12 months.—Zander Morton
You were successful as an amateur and junior pro, started getting paid from sponsors as a teenager, and landed a TransWorld SURF cover at 20 years old. Did life feel easy?
Nick Rozsa: It was crazy, growing up my main deal was competing, competing, competing. When I signed with Reef I was 19 and that was what they signed me for. I was entering a lot of contests, but my focus wasn’t there. I was getting burnt out and I was watching everyone else ripping and I felt like I needed to catch up. I was doing five weak turns to the beach—I needed to change my game.
Right when I slowed down [entering contests] I got that TransWorld cover, and for me that was the coolest thing. I freaked out. I was about to turn 21 and I just went off the deep end. I celebrated and partied for a week straight with my friends.
Was that the beginning of a downward spiral of partying too much?
At that age, everyone is partying, ya know? The thing is I might have taken it too far; I went to Bali for three months, and I might have surfed three times. I went from a 19-year-old kid that had never done drugs and hardly drank, to all of a sudden going hard on the bandwagon. I was introduced to some people that had a big influence on me and I felt like I always had to impress and keep up with them. I was a straightedge kid that never partied, and when I was thrown in to the industry it swallowed me.
I’m not putting the blame on anyone else. I made my own decisions, and don’t get me wrong, I had fun. But the lifestyle was an addicting high. It was like, “I met five chicks last night so I want to hang with them again tomorrow night.” I was single, had money, was in different countries, and 90 percent of the people I hung with did the same thing. Thing is, I was more open about it; I just didn’t really give a f—k about what people thought. I was definitely too open about the lifestyle I was living. And word spreads fast, so after everyone heard I was in Bali partying and not surfing, they started wondering, “What’s this kid doing?”
So your transition from a straightedge teen to an early twenties party boy was a quick one.
Exactly, three years disappeared fast.
Care to elaborate on the specifics of your biggest vices?
I was just doing drugs. Party drugs. Cocaine, ecstasy, whatever I could get my hands on. But I didn’t go super deep. I did the stuff everyone was doing. It was going around, that’s the reality of it. A lot of people want to pretend it doesn’t exist but you’d be so mind f—ed if you would’ve gone out with me and done some of the things I’ve done with certain people in the industry. These guys would be balls deep in snow mountain and I’d be like, “Everyone is doing it, why not?”
Some people can handle it and be successful. But I have a very addictive personality and when I get hooked on something I go all out. So when I started partying life became about girls, sex, drugs, and money. I was living the dream and felt like everything was going perfectly—I could do whatever I wanted. But it’s an endless road; I was chasing something I could never find. Chasing a high that wears off, being selfish, feeling like shit, forgetting weeks and months at a time—all the while forgetting about the thing that gave me my lifestyle in the first place: surfing.