Tuesday with Richo
Though modern media is overrun with imagery, photos still have the power to stir strong emotion. One glimpse of an image can send you reeling, sparking new thoughts or uncovering old memories. Sometimes both.
This is what happened to me last week when I saw a photo of Terry Richardson holding a twelve channel surfboard. Twelve channels! What wonderful madness was this? And Richo: ex-world number 7, Aussie Pipe master, exacting shaper, friend to the stars and the people's champ of Wollongong. Where's he been?
Only one way to find out. After a short phone call and a promise of strong coffee Richo rocked up on my doorstep and we rolled tape.
The following is only part of a long conversation.
Swellnet: Where are you living these days Richo?
Richo: Still in the Gong. Just a bit south. Near Windang.
I saw you running down to the point the other day and from a distance it looked like you had paddling gloves on. Was I seeing things?
Yeah..oh yeah. I love my gloves.
You still wear them?
Mate, they’re such an advantage.
No probelms with the shoulders?
Nah, but you cant be a wuss and wear them. You’ve gotta train a bit. If you don't do your dumbells and push-ups and stuff like that, don’t wear ‘em cos they’ll rip your shoulders apart.
Who makes your gloves these days?
Good question...because the gloves I use are the same gloves I wore back when I won the Masters Final at Tavarua.
No way! In 1997? Twenty years ago..?
The rubber hasn't deteriorated?
It has. I've had the needle and thread onto them a few times. But I've been searching for someone to make a pair for me. I want to bring them back out because I've been spurred to get back into serious surfing again. I went to the Maldives last year. It's like you get reborn when you do those trips.
I was with my best mate Ross and his son out at solid five foot Honkys and we were just frothing. We couldn't paddle quick enough - even with gloves on! - and we couldn't surf hard enough. Six hours the session was. It was our last session, it was incredible, and I thought, ‘Jeez, I could go back on tour!’ That’s how good I felt.
Richo on a tear, and wearing his favourite webbed gloves, during the World Masters Games in Brazil (Photo WSL/Cestari)
So when was the last time you competed seriously?
I think it was Brazil for the World Masters. That was in 2010. I retired from competing after the Bali Legends in 2003. I had some really close heats there, but I love Racetrack and I slid into form and I won it. After that comp I said, 'Yep, that’s enough. I'm retired.’
Oh yeah? I recall you said exactly the same thing after you won the World Masters at Tavarua in 1997.
So you retired in 1997, retired again in 2003, and you're still competing. How's that competitive streak?
Mate, it’s terrible. I’m 62 this year - and I hate saying that because what I feel inside looks nothing like what I see in the mirror - but I still see a contest and I get possessed. I see someone putting a coloured singlet on and it feels like me putting it back on. I start thinking strategy and stuff.
I went down to Bells this year and I was ready for a heat. Ha ha ha….I psyche when I see that stuff. It’s my passion, it’s what I grew up with, and I lived and breathed it. Still do. If the surfing comes on the television I have to stop everything I’m doing and become part of it. I relive it. I understand how professional boxers struggle to let go of it…
And you can probably understand why some of the older guys get into coaching.
Oh, I’d love to be coaching. Really, I’d give anything to be a part of it, to tutor or help the new crew, and what better thing to finish off with then to pass on your knowledge to young guys? I see Barton doing it, and I saw Luke down at Bells, he said, “I’m coaching Courtney Conlogue!”
And she won! Good on you Luke. Job well done.
I love all those guys. Mike Parsons, Dog Marsh, Gerlach...credit to them, they’re passing on how many decades of knowledge? What a gift, you know?
I just hope they’re getting their percentage…ha ha ha.
Better that then going two kilometres underground to make some money.
So you’re still working in the mines?
I’ve been doing it since 2000. And I’ve also been shaping boards in my quiet moments and now I look after my Mum as well. Gotta give back.
How are you finding time to surf?
I just do. You gotta keep it moving, especially as you get older. If you don’t find time things start to seize. I feel it bad 'cos I’m so used to surfing at a certain level, that now if I havent put time in I just think, ‘Oh, how pathetic are you?' I really feel it.
1980 and all the time in the world to surf
Aside from seeing you at the point, I’ve also noticed other appearances: old footage of you at Black Rock surfaced on the ‘net, and just the other day a twelve channel board was shared on social media. Is this a coincidence?
Not quite. I’m trying to put Richo back out there. I’ve had no idea how to do that, how to use the media. It’s always been my downfall - media and promotion just aren’t my thing.
Are you sceptical of the media?
Nah, I just dont know how to do it. How to approach it. Never have, and it’s even harder now. Just as I’d love to coach a young surfer, I’d love to have someone coach me in media. I'm gonna have to learn with the autobiography coming out...
What? A book..?
Yeah, it's almost finished. I'm working with a young guy called Rob Reynolds and we were almost done and then Simon [Anderson] added something to it and then Rob thought, 'Well we should get Gerry and Wayne too', and now we're waiting for them.
At this point I ask Richo about the book and he gets on a roll. He tells me about controversial rip offs on the World Tour, late night shaping stints on the road, sharing perfection with the legends of the sport - to whom Richo is held in high regard - and down home sessions with the boys from the Gong. It's entertaining stuff, he should make it an audio book, but after thirty minutes we return to the interview...
Are you comfortable looking back and revisiting some of your old board designs? I know some shapers don’t like to do it.
I’m starting to get there. It was a bit scary at first.
Why was that?
It’s hard enough keeping up with current designs, and that’s what I like to do, but I’ve got very special memories of riding, say, twin fins. For versatility and competing in crappy waves, twinnies were just all time.
So will you make some of those Richo twinnies again?
I occasinally do them for collectors that ring me and say, “What about that twin fin you won the Om Bali on?” That was the best board in a barrel ever. I remember that like it was yesterday. The boys were trying to compete on Thrusters they’d be coming off the bottom and pivoting, but Racetrack doesnt let you do much pivoting. Just straight down the line through the barrels if you wanna make the whole track.
Squint and count the channels. Richo's new Dirty Dozen green machine (Photo Phil Myers)
Had you ever shaped a twelve channel board before this one?
I don’t think anyone had. When I shaped that board I started thinking I’ve gotta break away a bit, so I thought, ‘Who the hell is gonna do a twelve channel board?!'
Why’d you mix it with a Thruster?
I didn’t want to go back to that retro look. Other people were doing that.
And how’d it go?
It went good. It went just like it looked - fast. I took it to Lakeys, surfing 10 to 12 foot Lakeys, shitting myself, but it went good. And even though it was 6’8” it also hot dogged really good. I had it at Windang Island and even did a few spinners on it. These foam sections were coming at me and instead of floating them I drifted up into a spinner and thought, ‘Wow, that’s so loose'.
But it’s got twelve channels on it. It shouldnt be drifting out! Those deep channels look evil on the tail - check the photos.
I’ve seen them...
Ten channels were wicked enough, I see Phil [Myers] shaping them...I remember when he was shaping them for Col Smith. He was so good on channels.
You had a bit of a connection with Col, didn’t you?
Yeah, we were very close. We used to hang out. Our families used to hang out. In Hawaii we used to caddy for each other. It's total brotherhood stuff when your caddying for someone in Hawaii as any wave could be your last.
When I won the Om Bali, Col was caddying for me in the final and you should've seen him carry on. It was like he won it! And then when Col won the Quiksilver Trials at Bells I was his caddy. We were just good buddies anyway, we surfed together and we raged together.
Richo flying in Hawaii on a self-shaped Bonzer
Yesterday I read through some old mags for research, and even though I was a grommet when you were competing I realised that the thing in surfing that’s changed the most isn’t the clothes or the boards, it’s the media. The way people get their brands, even their personal brands, out there is so vastly different.
Yeah. For us guys who were back there in the single fin days, who’ve seen it all, we just go, ‘Holy shit!’. I look at my Mum, and go, ‘I feel like you’. The little industry has exploded, it’s turned from one or two guys ducking away to surf Pipe, to buses of guys at Pipe and it’s crowded all day. The industry is huge.
Speaking of Pipe, we ran a shot of you on Swellnet not so long ago…
Yeah, I remember that day. I chucked the board in the back of the car and went south. I thought the swell was nor-east and I’d have a little surf and a picnic with my girl. But I got down there and realised it wasn’t nor-east, it was south. So I went into Pipe and it was pumping. I said to my girl, “Do you mind if we walk around? I’ll show you Pipe. I’ll have a quick surf.”
I get around there and it was maxed out with boogie boarders and everything. Bainy was there and he yelled at me, "Richo I’ve been surfing all day! I’m surfed out.” He was frothing.
I paddled out and got dropped in on four times by these boogie boarders and I thought, ‘I don’t need this shit’. Beautiful waves but you couldnt get one. So I went for a medium set wave to go in. Took off, pulled in, then went in. One wave! We went for a picnic and went home.
Next day I see this photo on Swellnet and I’m thinking what are the chances! First wave...only wave...only wave in ten years and I got that shot. You made my whole year. I was so stoked.
Richo's first and only wave at Pipe in ten years (Photo Clarrie Bouma)
How many boards are you shaping these days?
Not enough. Not enough to get me out of the mines.
You had a classic wave logo back in the day. Still using that?
I tried to change it up and use like a tattoo style logo, but a lot of the people who get my boards say they can hardly tell it's a Richo.
The most famous logo has always been the barrel and also the Richo with the wrigglies around it. The one that was on Archie’s [Matt Archbold's] boards. I think I’ll go back to them.
I’m working on a new batch of board designs that’s basically all my favourite boards: my Bali twinny, which I also won in Brazil on; the twinny before that which was my 2SM Surfabout one and I also got third at Bells; some channel bottoms, but not so much bonzers, although I’ve done a few for collectors. So it’ll be a collection of new versions of them. Bring them all back in a new way.
And where can people get them?
Well that’s what I’m working on. The distributorship is hard. But you’ll see them online on Swellnet - I hope! - and Facebook and Richo Surf Australia dot com, though I'll have to get the hang of this internet stuff.
(Homepage and opening photo. Richo's favourite shot: 1979, cutting back on a bee tail channel bottom at Aussie Pipe, his all time favourite wave. Photo Hugh McLeod)