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Remembering Rusty Drumm

Local Writer, Legendary Surfer, and Co-Founder of The Montauk Surf Museum 

Montauk will not be the same without Russell “Rusty” Drumm, legendary surfer, fisherman, writer, and co-founder of The Oceans Institute of the Montauk Lighthouse Museum, aka The Montauk Surf Museum, that just opened last summer. Born in Syracuse, NY on February 8, 1947, raised in Levittown, Long Island, Rusty passed away on January 16, 2016 at the age of 68. He spent over 40 of those years in his favorite place on earth, Montauk, where he had resided since 1974. Here he expressed himself through surfing, fishing, writing, and in “The End,” dedicating his life’s passion to the co-founding of The Montauk Surf Museum, a legacy that he will leave for generations to come.

Despite his many extraordinary accomplishments, including a Master’s Degree in film from Columbia University, Rusty was a “humble” man, soft-spoken, mild-mannered, and kind to everyone he encountered. He had so many friends from all walks of life who loved and respected him. He took on causes that had meaning not just to him, but also to the Montauk community at large. As a writer for The East Hampton Star for 33 years, he wrote about fishermen’s rights, the environment, surfing, nature, and whatever topic intrigued him. He also was the author of three books. But it was the ocean that inspired him, that first drew him out to Montauk. His fascination with the ocean lasted throughout his life as a surfer, fisherman, and explorer of nature. He was eager to spread his lifelong knowledge about ocean currents, sea-level rise, and the formation of waves in his vision that became a reality last summer, The Montauk Surf Museum, located in the former Fog Signal House constructed in 1896 at The Montauk Point Lighthouse.

Rusty Drumm’s purpose for the museum was to focus on geography, oceanography, and meteorology to introduce people to the physics, nature, and history of surfing and how it got to the east coast and Montauk from its Polynesian origins. Several installations and displays would illustrate the many aspects of surfing, from the origins of waves to the evolution of surfboard design and wetsuit technology, to coastal phenomena such as erosion and sea-level rise. As Rusty acknowledged, “The concept of the museum is to use the popularity of surfing as a way to help visitors to the museum understand the science behind surfing.”

Rusty first took up the sport of surfing in Hawaii in the mid-1960s, where his father worked for a few summers as a hospital administrator. Back on Long Island, Rusty was among a group of surfers from Levittown (including surfing buddy Tony Villar) who surfed the Gilgo Beach area, notably the surf spots Hemlocks and Democrat Point, before coming out to Montauk.

Rusty drew inspiration and happiness from his loving wife, Kyle Paseka, his daughter Melissa, and his precious granddaughter Quinn, born June 2, 2015. Rusty introduced Melissa to surfing at an early age in Montauk. She then surfed at some of the best surfing spots around the world, including Hawaii. She later studied at The University of Hawaii, before returning back to the East End to raise a family.

Rusty and Kyle met in 2004 and were married in 2008, the third marriage for both. They were like two peas in a pod. Both were writers, adventurers, nature lovers, and ocean worshippers. They traveled the world together, going on surfing safaris, skiing adventures, and sailing voyages. They would tell stories to each other while anchored at night on their sailboat, “Leilani,” after a good day of fishing and surfing, with only the glistening stars above and the waves breaking below. They were a duo, simpatico, in harmony with nature, the sea, and each other. As Kyle memorialized him in The East Hampton Star, “There will never be another like him, ever. He did it right. He knew how to live. He gets an A+ for his time here on earth. What a stellar example for everyone.”

Rusty has left his impression on all of us who knew him. He was a legend, a kind soul, a thinker, a nature lover, and a man whose passion about the ocean and the environment will have a long-lasting effect on Montauk and all those who visit it. Montauk will always love and remember you Rusty!

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