Yearlong Dream Fulfilled

Return to Table of Contents

'It's always been about love, diabetes and surfing,'
devoted son says

By Melissa Massello,

Portsmouth Herald, Friday, July 27, 2001

[The following article is courtesy of The Portsmouth Herald and Seacoast Online.]
Hampton's Ralph Fatello grasps his son Max's hand after catching the
final wave in a yearlong campaign to raise funds and awareness of
diabetes by surfing for 365 straight days. Fatello's father, Gus,
succumbed to the disease in February 2000.

[Photo by Emily Reily/]

HAMPTON -- The dark skies started to part yesterday just in time for the crowd at North Beach to stand and watch Ralph Fatello fulfill a dream.

Among a crowd of well-wishers, friends, family and the many eyes of the media, Ralph Fatello surfed his last wave of his mission to ride a wave every day for a year.

Fatello, a local businessman, began the challenge "Catch a Wave for Gus" on July 26, 2000, in memory of his father and his battle with diabetes. Yesterday marked one year of the challenge, but actually 366 days.

As of early Thursday, his efforts raised $17,000 out of a goal of $50,000, but checks were literally coming in by the armload during yesterday’s final public wave surf.

Fatello pledged to surf one wave each day for 365 days to raise awareness and funds for diabetes. He has been working with local businesses, and the New Hampshire office of the American Diabetes Association, to create support and awareness for diabetes and its symptoms and effects since he watched it take his father’s life in February 2000.

As he prepared to surf his last wave of the journey with his son Max at his side and a barrage of television cameras pointed in his direction, Fatello said, "This last wave will be a small wave for diabetes, but it will be a giant wave for Gus Fatello."

And with that, Fatello marched into the water with Max and a lei around his neck for good luck. While the father-and-son team waited for a good wave, they reached across their surfboards for a hug. At last they caught one, and although Max fell off his board, his dad rode in to shore and then shook his fist to the sky in salute. The crowd went wild with applause and car horns on the wall honked in tribute to a job well done.

Back at the shoreline, Fatello grabbed a high-five from best friend and U.S. Surfing Team coach Kevin Grondin before they both went back out to surf. They were joined by their kids and surfer friends from around the community.

"Max and I had a nice tender moment out there where we let it all out," Fatello said.

Fatello has surfed in the best and the worst of weather, but this year, he surfed every day through the worst winter New England has seen in a long time. He surfed through the flu, a broken tailbone, and recurring back injuries, not to mention snowstorms, ice floating in the surf, and hail "that felt like a fire hose in my face," all for the memory of the father to whom he was so close.

But, through it all, he still heard his father’s voice in the back of his head. It made him smile, and encouraged him to keep going, even on the bleakest days.

When asked what his father would have thought about his feat, he said he knew exactly what he’d be saying, especially through last winter.

"He’d just shake his head and say, 'Surfing? You went surfing — TODAY?’" Fatello said. "My dad was proud of me before he left, and I know he’d be proud of me now. I feel good about it."

Fatello attracted quite a bit of attention from the media for his surf-a-thon, including live interviews with the BBC in London, several local television news stations, and local newspapers.

Fatello said he even had a call from a friend in Hollywood who thought his story would make a great made-for-TV movie.

"This whole thing has turned into a media circus," Fatello said earlier this week. "To me, it’s always only been about love, diabetes, and surfing. That’s it. But it’s all good — I guess it’s gotta be all good."

The Journey

Fatello began surfing the New England waters with his father back in the 1950s — and has now passed that legacy on to his own son. Max surfed with his father off and on since April, when he wasn’t in school and the weather wasn’t too rough, and has surfed with his father every day for the past month. Fatello said his son has now become a fanatical surfer.

"From now on, though, I’m only going to surf when there’s surf," Fatello said. "He can go out there without me."

Standing on the chilly beach yesterday, Fatello’s mother Eva just smiled and said, "That’s Ralph. Always doing the impossible."

Fatello has kept an e-mail journal to share with surfing comrades across the world, especially his buddies out in California and Hawaii who don’t believe New Hampshire is a good surfing spot. He also maintains a Web site called "" all about surfing New Hampshire’s coast.

"I tell them all the time -- we have lots of good suffers here and world class surf — it’s just the conditions that are unbearable," Fatello said. "To a Californian or Hawaiian suffer, it’s inconceivable that we’d surf here in 32-degree water and minus 20-degree air, but we do."

Ironically, the scariest day of all during his quest in the water was on Father’s Day, June 17.

Fatello waited until the end of the day to surf, and on his way down to the beach he saw dark clouds rolling in. He knew the storm was coming but thought he could beat it — a decision he now calls dangerous and irresponsible. He hopes no one will follow his bad example.

"As I walked down onto the wet sand, my hair stood straight up on end from the electric current in the air," Fatello said. "The seals and the black-backed gulls who had been my companions out there some days were taking off in a panic, and I thought 'This can’t be good.’"

Fatello said that day in the water, waiting for the lightning to come, was probably the third scariest thing that had ever happened to him in his life, and he just prayed to God and to his own father to keep him safe.

"For the first time in my life I said the Lord’s Prayer as loud as I could — shouting it to the waves," Fatello said. "I said the Our Father, and by the time I was back at the car I was on my third Hail Mary."

Ralph Fatello makes a salute while riding
his final wave in a yearlong pledge to catch
a wave for 365 days at North Beach in
Hampton on Thursday [7/26/01] afternoon.

[Photo Emily Reily/]

A Town's Hero

At noon yesterday, the long good-bye was over. Yesterday was also Fatello’s 50th birthday, a day that is special to him in so many ways.

When Gus Fatello first got sick from his diabetes, his son kept him inspired by continually telling him he just had to make it to his 50th birthday.

"This is as close as I can get to having him be there, to let all the focus be on him," Fatello said. "He would have gotten such a kick out of all of this."

The residents of Hampton are proud of Fatello, and have expressed their support throughout the past year. Fatello said he continually gets cards from people from all over, which urged him to go on and kept him inspired.

"You should be very proud, I know your Dad would be, of what you have accomplished and the message that you got out not only about diabetes, but about commitment, trust, and honesty," said Hampton Selectman Brian Warburton, in an e-mail to Fatello on behalf of the town.

The e-mail was copied to various town members.

"You are one of our heroes. You ask nothing in return, and fight on for what is best. Even more, you gave your word that for 365 days you would ride a wave in memory of your dad for a worthwhile cause."

Donations in Gus Fatello’s name can still be made to the American Diabetes Association, 249 Canal Street, Manchester 03101, or to Ralph Fatello, c/o Catch a Wave for Gus, 3 Marston Way, Hampton. Fatello can also be reached at 926- 4668.

Return to Table of Contents