The quintessential Richo hook. (Mcleod)


The Pipe Australis Master Lives!

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Terry Richo has always been an underground kinda guy.

Even when he was rated in the top 10 in the world, winning at Uluwatu and being immortalised in film and print at Australian Pipe, the Corrimal surfer quietly did his thing at a time when surfing was full of amplified characters and untrammelled ego. Having grown up surfing on the sleepy south coast it came with the territory.

For the past 20 years though, Richo really has been underground. Working in the coalmines is a rite of passage in Wollongong, and Richo disappeared down a pit to pay the bills. Coal, when you think about it, is simply million-year-old sunshine, trapped deep in the earth, but a coalmine is no place for a guy who’s seen as much sunshine as Terry Richardson.

There’s nothing like a couple of decades underground to give you a new enthusiasm for life in the waves, and this is where we find Richo today. He’s in the driveway of the house with a car full of boards, ready to surf. He’d driven down in the dark and arrived at dawn, and with nobody stirring in the house he took the opportunity to check out some of the boards lying around the house. Richo was also under-celebrated as a shaper, his boards not only floating his career, but also launching the career of a young Matt Archbold. The first person out of the house is Hoyo, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, staring into the sun, before it dawns on him the silhouetted guy in the trackie pants and moon boots is Terry Richo. They haven’t seen each other in years, and the pair greet each other with a hug. Within a minute they’re talking channel bottoms.

Richo is having a bit of a renaissance. He’s got rid of the mortgage from around his neck, climbed out of the pit, and is surfing more than he has at any time in the past 20 years. He’s catching up with a bunch of old mates, been in Indo surfing with his kids, is shaping full-on again, and is even writing a book of his life and times, an exercise he started while flying to and from the mines in Queensland. For Richo, there’s a deep appreciation in all of this; the faces, the places, the waves. He’s remembering how beautiful life is with surfing in it. Conversely, all his old friends who’ve caught up with him genuinely appreciate having him back.

We drove off to find some surf. I expect Richo might know this bit of coast, but it turns out he’s as lost as I am. It makes sense, of course, because he never used to venture much further than Aussie Pipe. Why would you? Richo made a few phone calls and we ended up surfing a rivermouth on the other side of town. Little rights running down a sandbar under a headland, just a light salting of crew out. Richo grabs the first wave and one after the other lobs backhand grenades, half a dozen to the sand. He’s going pretty well for 62. He paddles back out with a grin and I can only imagine how much better this is than working in black pit.

SW: Have you driven down this road before, Richo?
TR: Never. I’m 62 this year and it’s the first time I’ve been down this road. Never seen that bommie break out there. I can’t believe guys surf it.

I suppose it’s the nature of this place. There are turnoffs on turnoffs and it’s a coast that would take a long time to know. Surfing opens new doors all the time. If it’s too crowded you head off down the coast and you never stop. This place is wild. It is for us Wollongong surfers anyway, because we usually stop at Pipe and that was about it. We used to think it was just about town waves here and since then we’ve seen all these photos of guys who’d adventured off into the bush and come back with all these stories. Bloody hell, it’s such a beautiful part of the world, no wonder the locals want to keep it as a shrine.

What boards have you got in the back?
I got my favourite 6’7” channel bottom. It’s a great little backhand board. It’s an original. It would have to be 10 years old but it’s in good condition. I baby it. I got a little hotdogger, a 6’3” I took to Sumatra last year. It goes from one foot to 10 foot depending on how hollow the waves are. I’ve got another hotdogger in there I’m trying out, a more modern shape with carbon for looks. Got to show the kids you’re still up with the times.

Back up at the house I noticed you were having a good look at the boards laying around the place. What did you make of them?
I was amazed to see how versatile these guys are getting with their equipment, from little 5’6”, 5’8” bonzers, to new retro styles, single fins, it’s mind blowing when you think about where shaping’s gone and where it’s coming from now. It feels like anything goes. It’s wide open and everyone is riding everything so in one respect it’s good, coming back from history where we went from single-fins to twin-fins to thrusters to channel bottoms. At least we got firsthand experience of that stuff which is an asset, and now everyone is riding anything they feel like riding, which is unusual but good. You can refer to it in your own mind and where those boards came from. It’s like someone has just opened the book of design and said take whatever you want. And it’s good. Why not? It’s a free world.

How were those transition years for you, when design jumped from singles to twins to thrusters in a short period of time? You shaped and surfed through that whole era.
It was a hard learning curve for me because I loved the twinnies and how much looser they were than the single fins. I had a lot of success on twinnies so I found it hard to get used to these stiff thrusters. I didn’t really like them and had to make some modifications in terms of back fin placement, moving it up and making it a bit shorter to free it up. I was more of a skater than a pivoter so I had to make it work for me. We just all adapted to that sort of thing, what was in vogue, and we all tended to follow each other in design. 

Hoyo just surfed a single fin fish.
I couldn’t believe that. What the hell are you riding, Matt?

Are you still shaping many boards today?
I never stopped to be honest, but it can be hard to find me when I’m working 18 kilometres underground. No reception down there. But I love me shaping. I think I was showing off last year when I shaped a 12-channel. I was really proud of it – my glasser and sander weren’t too happy about it – but I put it out there to show the people who I thought were leading with channels, guys like Phil Myers. It was a bit of a tribute to my good mates Al Byrne and Col Smith.

What do you make of the resurgence of channels in the past few years?
I think a lot of people, when you put a few out there like I used to with Archie… they were pretty famous when he was riding them and a lot of guys got on them. I often got asked to do an Archie board and people at the time loved them.

How did you meet Archie?
We were at the Stubbies in California. It was the year I got third and Gerlach won and Archie was lighting up the trials and all the boys, like Pottz, were going, “You have to see this kid.” Archie was flying down the line and the wave shut down and he’d come off the bottom and go into this big air and land. He made it right through to the round before the main event and it was a big heat for him. He was on a Rusty, and every wave he’d do everything great until the last turn where he’d catch a rail and fall on his head. And in that heat you couldn’t falter. If he’d made it through he’d have money, but he just missed out. He come in all shattered and I said, “Do you mind if I check your board?” and he said, “Whatever dude.” He was rock bottom. I picked it up and it had blades for rails, no release, no tucked edges right up past halfway and I went, “How could you even ride this thing?” “I don’t know, dude, I just ride ‘em.” I said, “Do you mind if I make you a board? You can give it back if you don’t like it.” So I went to Linden’s, knocked out a red-railed channel bottom and he never looked back. I tried my luck to do him one board, one channel bottom, and he just lit up the world on it. It was great for him, great for me, great for all concerned and it took Arch to another level and introduced me to the world finally as a designer/shaper/surfer.

So that was the start of your partnership?
Arch used to froth on everything. I made him a little square, what everyone was riding, took him down Aussie Pipe to try ‘em out the year he went in the Stubbies here in Oz and he was doing shit at Pipe on that board I’ve never seen anyone do, driving off the bottom when he should’ve been hanging on, he was doing big snaps then getting barrelled. Nothing special about the board, it was all about the rider. That year I made him some more with the channels and he went up to the Stubbies and he was blowing people out of the water. Every night I was getting these calls telling me he’s looking the best guy in the water in the freesurfs and then I didn’t hear nothing. I thought, “what happened?” Apparently he was having such a good time he went out and partied and got blind, ended up in a car that wasn’t his, wrecked it, opened his head up, got stitched up, went to the airport and flew home. I rang him up and he said, “Man, I’m so sorry. I got wasted.” Jesus. It was funny, the first year I went down to visit him in California I rang him up and drove down to Carlsbad and he said, “Get the bus down from LA and come down and I’ll pick you up.” Yeah, okay, all right. So I fly over with all new boards for him, get off the bus… crickets. “Matt, where are you?” Next minute this Mercedes comes flying down the road with arms and heads hanging out and it pulls up. “Dude, hop in!” I went, “Matt, what are you doing?” He goes, “Get in, I think the cops are following us!” “What about the boards? There are no racks.” He goes, “Just put ‘em on the roof and we’ll hold ‘em!” We drive off and we’re holding these boards and I’m having a heart attack and we race back to his place, get out, the guy drives off, and the cop comes straight around the corner and pulls him over. His buddy got arrested. Matt’s mum’s inside going, “Oh my god, Matthew!”

How long did you guys work together?
I took some boards over to him and he’s got all these other boards there that look just like mine. I had to ask, “what are you doing, Matt?” “Dude, this other guy just bought ‘em all around and I tried ‘em out and he’s just around the corner so it’s easier.” “You don’t understand Matt!” But that was a shame that it all ended like that after three years.

I’ve seen you quite a bit down at Bells over the past few years. Are  you reconnecting with the place?
I have great memories of going down to Bells with Brooksy and surfing the trials. The year MP won. 

You saw a bit of MP later in life when he moved to the South Coast, but how was competing against him in his prime?
Yeah, I surfed with him at Bells. Wally Tibballs won the trials that year, and the heats were six surfers. The heat was me, MP, Ronnie Ford, Reno Abellira, Fitzy and Wally at Johanna. They were surfing the right, I was on the left. I got the barrel of the contest and won the heat, Wally got second, Mick got third. But MP won the contest again. That was epic. That was me first time against Mick. I was rapt, then I went up and won the trials at the Coke in Sydney that year. The Narrabeen boys were spewing because Simon was supposed to win the trials. They weren’t happy. “South Coast boys, you can’t win nothing.” 

Was that the vibe with the South Coast guys? The Cronulla guys complained the Northern Beaches guys got all the breaks; was it the same for you guys?
The Sydney guys always gave us shit and they got all the breaks. You’re from Narrabeen? You’ll be right, mate. That was the vibe. You always felt like you were a piece of shit if you came from the South Coast. Critta, Greg McCann and Pagey slowly lifted the place up.

Richo today, out of the mines and into the light. (Brunton)

I’ve got to ask you about the big year at Bells in ‘81, and that one wave you caught where you dropped into it but it seemed like you could never get to the bottom of it. It looked like a 20-foot stationery wave.
That year I was in a panel van and I picked Barton [Lynch] up on the road and took him down and he made it through the trials. It was the year he dropped in on Wayne [Lynch].We looked at it that day and went, “Fuck.” I remember Lynchy going, “You want to use this thing?” He had a 7-foot rhino chaser and I went, “Shit yeah!” First wave was that wave. Rabbit was in my heat, he paddled out on a 6’2”. It was like Sunset out there and we’re paddling a hundred miles an hour. I looked at Bugs and he’s paddling over this thing and I’ve gone, “You know, I might as well take off.”

And that was the wave?
It was a big wave, hey. They’d loom then they’d back off then they’d throw. Nat Young was screaming his head off on the PA going, “I don’t know what’s out the back but you both better start paddling!” We saw this thing capping out the back and we paddled over the first one and these things looked like they were going to land on our heads and we’ve gone, “Fuck.” That was classic. I remember Bugs scratching on his 6’2” and I was on the 7-footer and it loomed up and I just went, “go you idiot,” in a moment. “What can happen?” I was coming off the bottom with so much chop and I seen the end of it looming and as I come down it’s gone straight over me, straight before the rocks at Winki. It felt like it swirled me underwater forever and I popped up on the beach. I was really fit and I thought I’d be fine to paddle back out. I grabbed my board and I could hear Nat talking it up and I went, “okay,” I started jogging and I made it up to the rocks thinking I’d get a 20-minute breather while I waited for a lull. Well, I got there and Nat yells, “Go now! There’s no waves!” I thought, “fuck, I can’t even breathe!” He’s screaming at me to go. I ended up just scraping out before the next set and I’m thinking, “Holy shit, I’ve got to catch another wave here.” We both got annihilated coming in. We were waiting for a lull to paddle in and catch a little one, and of course next minute a really big set has lined up and this thing has landed right behind us. Boards went everywhere. I nearly drowned. I don’t know about Bugs. We got to the beach and thought, “thank Christ.” Guys weren’t going out. We had the option but I needed to win some money.

That wave is still living in Bells folklore.
It seems to be. I try not to blow my trumpet but it’s lovely that people remember things about you. If it refers to Bells it’s awesome because it plays such a big part in people’s minds. Simon loves the place obviously and people associate him with there and I think because of that wave people associate me with it in a sense too, although I can tell you I’d never paddle back out at that size. I was chucking a mental that day and I’m still here to tell the story. It’s such a great place. It’s like you’re reliving it every time you go down. It feels like home when you go back to places like that.

I suppose there’s nowhere closer to your heart than Aussie Pipe. Tell me about when you first started heading down to surf it.
I love that place. From being a 14-year-old hitch hiking with a board under one arm and a bag of sultanas and nuts under the other. Take you all day to get there for an hour or two surf, then you had to worry about getting home.

Ever get stuck down there?
Nah, lucky enough I was a good talker in the water, and the last guy leaving I always made sure I was in his car with him to get a lift back to Nowra or the ‘Gong. I was blessed at that place. For what it done for me in the magazines and the people I’ve met and the times, I’ve had down there it opened so many doors. The reality is you surf a place you love and you surf it well, things happen.

It would have been a really different scene to today. I suppose it would have been just the Wreck Bay crew and the odd carload?
Early on it was Steve [Williams] and Ray [Ardler] and a few of the local boys and they were the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet, and sharing waves with them they’d tell you about the history of the place. As the years go on the new breed come through and they don’t know me from a bar of soap, but you drop Ray or Steve’s names and you jump up the pecking order. But we had some classic days down there. Had maybe two or three years with hardly anyone around. Surfed it real beautiful and surfed it at size, too. Up to eight or 10 foot. It gets pretty serious.

I’d like to see what it looked like at 10 foot.
Just big round holes. You get a good wind and just blows ‘em open that much more. I think the best days were back then. We’d get 25 waves without getting your hair wet. Just drop in, snap, one barrel, two barrels, come out a million miles an hour, turn as hard as you could and pull off. And my hair’s still dry today!

There’s that famous images of your Aussie Pipe cutback on that red-railed board that ran in Surfing World. You still got that board?
Nah, wish I knew where it was. Reckon I’d cry if I seen it. It was 6’5” by 20”, red bottom, red rails, white deck, corrugated channels – not the deep clinker things. I don’t know why we went into doing them. Maybe we thought they were a bit easier. I don’t know.

When was the last time you were down there?
I went down with my girlfriend for a picnic last year. We get there and it was thumping, six foot. There would have been half of Cronulla’s bodyboard team out there and I scabbed a few waves and got dropped in on a bit. Bainy was out there too so I shared a few with him, and the only decent wave I got was my wave in that someone took a shot of and it ended up as wave of the day on Swellnet. Bainy had been up at 5.30 that morning, while I just came down for a picnic and got the wave of the day! That made my whole year.

How’s life?
Life’s good, I’ve got a lovely partner and my boys are healthy and I’ve got a couple of grandkids and I’m at that part of my life where I can say I’m healthy and I’m still surfing and still doing a few spinners here and there. Eat your heart out, DH! I’m blessed in knowing the beautiful people I’ve met. What a great feeling, you know?


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Sean Doherty