Review: Phil Jarratt on 'Richo, the Terry Richardson Story'
There was a funny moment at the recent Azores Masters when Joao Valente, a guru of surf publishing in Portugal, nudged me in the ribs as he leafed through my copy of Richo, The Terry Richardson Story.
“Ha ha ha, he says about Simon, ‘for someone who’s spent his life getting wet, Simon is very dry.’ Richo, what a classic!” Richo, who was sitting nearby, entirely focused on mental preparation for an upcoming heat, didn’t bat an eyelid. I wondered, not for the first or the last time in reading his book, whether Richo had said that, or even read it!
But that’s often the way in a ghost-written autobiography, and for all its faults, the important thing here is that first-time ghost Rob Reynolds has managed to capture the spirit and feeling, not just of the battler’s battler, but of his home, his milieu, his era. And a disclosure here: I grew up in the same place, went to primary school with Richo, surfed the same beaches, and although I left town just as he was making a name for himself, I watched his early development with great interest. Likewise, Rob Reynolds’ family and mine were quite close, although I only knew him as a kid.
So don’t expect me to be even-handed about this review. I know and admire Richo, and I know where he’s come from. I can smell the smoke billowing from the Corrimal coke-works on every page.
"You can take the boys out of Wollongong..." Richo and Phil, two of the Gong's favourite surfing sons
Just as he’s done throughout his surfing life, Richo battled to get this book published, and he was lucky to partner with Reynolds, a good writer whose craft is obvious throughout, and whose business acumen was responsible for raising the funds to self-publish. Unfortunately this meant that he was left a bit skinny in parts, having to also edit and do the text design himself, leading almost inevitably to design flaws, pixilated photos, typos and errors of fact.
The last time I criticised a book for that in this forum, I landed a job as a proofreader, so I have to be careful here, but there are too many howlers. Dino Andino instead of Kolohe might be forgiven, seeing as it’s Terry’s generation versus the next, but Brian Farrelly for Bernard may not. Even Richo’s age seems to change with every chapter.
But I doubt that too many readers will notice such nitpicking. They will be too engrossed in the story, which rocks along from humble beginnings in a coalmining family to top 10 to fulfilment in later years as a masters’ world champion, and back again to the coalface. Even when whole chapters are given over to wave by wave recounting of heats, they are saved from the mundane by Reynolds’ undoubted skill as a writer. And while many of the phrases he puts in Terry’s mouth don’t ring entirely true, he has done a superb job of capturing the energy, the spirit and the quiet intensity that make the man tick.
Once I stopped editing as I read, I was along for the whole bumpy ride, from Saturday soccer and stealing milk money, to those early sessions at South Coast Pipe, from the cave at Ulu to the dumb business decisions, and finally from the tragic breakdown of a marriage to redemption in the thundering barrels of Cloudbreak. In Richo, Terry and Rob also paint fascinating portraits of contemporaries, like the ridiculously talented Matt Archbold, the sadly-missed Newcastle Col Smith, and the incredible but largely unknown waterman Alan 'Troy' Williams, who was an idol to all of us growing up.
The subject himself is also often laid bare, with revealing glimpses of his fiercely competitive nature, his love of family and his despair over being an inadequate provider. For those who know Richo for his deep barrels, flowing carves and buckets of spray, these sections will provide a whole new level of understanding and respect.
Richo on the promo trail in the Azores with Sunny (at left) and Layne
In the Azores, Richo hardly said boo until he was knocked out of the comp, then he came springing back to life in the guise of book promoter. And he was good at it! With me tagging along as official photographer, he got every star in the firmament tagged with a book in hand, then crashed the WSL interview space for a clever unpaid commercial.
You’ve gotta love Richo, and I’m sure many people will when they buy a signed book from him as he tours the Australian east coast doing promotions these coming weeks.
'Richo, the Terry Richardson Story' is published by Richo Surfboards Australia and is available at richosurfshop.com.au for $30