Richard Baker dies at 62; former Ocean Pacific president bridged surf industry and Wall Street

Richard "Dick" Baker, who helped shape the surf apparel industry as president of the Surf Industry Manufacturers Assn. and president and chief executive of the iconic Ocean Pacific brand, has died. He was 62.

Baker, who lived in San Clemente, died after a two-year battle with cancer Tuesday morning at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo.
Dick Baker obituary: The obituary of Richard "Dick" Baker, former president of the apparel firm Ocean Pacific, in Thursday's Section A misspelled the name of surf wear maker Iconix Brands as Iconox. —

His ability to embrace, and genuinely appreciate, the surf culture and at the same time act as a kind of freewheeling ambassador and mentor between the wave riders and Wall Street made him more than an influential spokesman for the burgeoning surf industry. With a shock of white hair that set him apart from surf's young turks and a twinkle in his eye, he was a kind of counselor/advocate/favorite uncle all rolled into one.

Baker was born in Los Angeles on Sept. 3, 1946, grew up in the San Fernando Valley and graduated from Cal State Northridge.

His entree into the apparel industry came as he worked his way through school at a men's specialty store, and later as a buyer with the Bullock's department store chain.

In 1980, he was recruited to run the U.S. division of the Marithe & Francois Girbaud designer denim label in New York. He went on to serve as president and chief executive of Izod Ltd.'s menswear division (in 1983), moving on to become president of Esprit Sport in 1986 and later Tommy Hilfiger's women's division.

But Baker's lasting legacy -- his involvement with the surf industry -- would come in 1998, when he returned to the West Coast and, along with his partners at the Burlingame, Calif.-based Doyle & Boissiere investment group, acquired the flagging Southern California Ocean Pacific heritage surf brand. Baker became the chief executive, and his efforts at reviving and updating the brand proved so successful that he was able to shepherd the label through two sales -- first to Warnaco Group in 2004 for $40 million, and two years later to Iconox Brands for $54 million. He remained president of OP until 2006 and a consultant through 2007.

In 2000, he joined the board of the Aliso Viejo-based Surf Industry Manufacturers Assn. He served as its president for nine years, and later became chairman emeritus. It was in this capacity that Baker had a lasting impact on the business of "selling surf to the suits" -- mentoring the budding barons of board sports as they blossomed into the CEOs of mega-brands.

Baker summed it up this way at a May 2005 surf industry conclave in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico: "Surf is on the world stage, and this hard-core, laid-back industry has been discovered by the suits. The non- endemic business types see this as an area of growth, and if you see this as a threat, then get a life -- it's a compliment."

He frequently called on the surf industry's movers and shakers to use their collective clout to do good. "Pick your spot and make a difference," he told them at the 2006 event. "Whether you're big or small, give back what you can."

"Dick was a great friend, mentor and role model to many of us in the industry," Richard Woolcott, founder and chief executive of Costa Mesa-based Volcom Inc., said in an e-mail to The Times. "He understood the magic of action sports and helped us harness it into big-picture thinking and execution. But most of all, he was a wonderful human being with a loving heart and spirit. He was always supportive in what we were doing, lending his advice and positive feedback. He was a blessing to this industry and will be deeply missed."

Fernando Aguerre, co-founder of Reef, chief executive of Liquid Tribe and a longtime friend, called Baker "part father, part brother and part friend."

"And I feel like an orphan today," he said.

"Yesterday a friend sent me a picture of Dick walking out of a SIMA board meeting in October carrying a pink surfboard he bought a week before [for charity] . . . for which he paid an exorbitant amount of money," Aguerre added. "And you knew he would never use it, but that's Dick for you. This world is divided into givers and takers, and Dick was a giver; a class-act person really comfortable with everybody from surfers, Hollywood, fashion stars, everybody."

Baker is survived by his wife of 19 years, Una; two teenage sons, Ryan and Jack; his father, Donald Baker of Van Nuys, and a sister, Donna Smith Vigil of San Clemente.

Funeral services will be private, but a public memorial service will be held at a later date. The Surf Industry Manufacturers Assn. has announced plans to honor Baker with a Lifetime Achievement Award at its 20th annual Waterman's Ball in August.