MR rides the wave of life

MR rides the wave of life

Last March, Merewether Beach hosted the 27th Surfest event. The drawcard for most of the world ranked surfers to compete in Newcastle was being in the presence of four times world surfing champion Mark Richards. Even if the beach isn't your preferred destination, or surfing isn't your bag, if you live in the Hunter and even beyond you will know the name Mark Richards - nature's gentleman.


When we caught up at Merewether Beach there were some nice right-handers coming through but Mark had already been out that morning and his board shaping business beckoned.


Apart from his ability to surf, what qualities make Mark a special person?


He talks frankly about sportspeople being role models and expresses his belief that those who research extraordinary medical cures or who deal with world tragedies are the real heroes. Mark believes that because sportspeople can run fast, jump higher or tame massive waves, they are merely following their passion. They are not role models. He does not treat his celebrity status as a commodity to be displayed, but as a resource to benefit the community.


Mark adds to the conversation by stating that it is parents who set the rules, standards and direction for their children, not the sportsperson. He promulgates a lifestyle of peace, love and goodwill.


It is with genuine excitement that Mark proclaims his love for the city of Newcastle. Whilst he is a huge supporter of major events coming to Newcastle, he proudly boasts that Surfest is the only annual international event in the city. An event where the world's best surfers "tear the waves to pieces" has to be great for Australia in general, he adds.


He acknowledges the genius and hard work of contest organiser Warren Smith who "runs Surfest better than any other event in the world". High praise indeed from a man who has competed internationally at most breaks. Mark adds that the surfers love coming to town as the Hunter community makes them feel so welcome and shows them a good time.


Mark does question the fact that many surfers fail to elicit happiness from the surfing experience. He adds that so many surfers wear an angry face and don't appear to get any fun out of the experience. Indeed he sometimes views surfing as a microcosm of society, with some surfers thinking they are entitled to every wave that comes through. He is adamant that just as people wait in a queue to buy a movie ticket or enter a stadium, so too should surfers wait their turn to take a wave. That's why he enjoys surfing with his mate Charles Petersen in ordinary waves that others ignore.


His faith in young people is heightened by the overseas students who study at Newcastle University. He loves their appreciation for this city and the fact that whether students come from Germany or Asia they embrace all the Hunter has to offer, be it the town beaches, the wineries or Blackbutt; "It's all paradise."


Mark doesn't recommend that kids follow the example he set while a student at Sacred Heart Primary and later Marist Brothers Hamilton. Surfing was not a school sport back then so he would sneak out of school with mate Peter McCabe (also a well known Newcastle surfer and board maker). But they paid the penalty and were 'detained' after school.


He has passed on his love of surfing to his sons Kyle and Nathan while daughter Grace prefers to dance. Mark extols the virtues of surfing as an activity you can enjoy until you "end up in the grave". It's the changing conditions of the ocean that provide the challenge, and the thrill of catching waves hasn't evaporated after fifty years of surfing.


Having recently closed Richards Surf Shop, which has been an institution in Hunter Street, what's in store for Mark? He lives day to day and has no long term plans. He is currently busying himself shaping boards but does miss the connection to people that retail offered. He is grateful however for a little more free time to go snowboarding where he can ride the chair with others, enjoy the cold weather and ski down a mountain; to him, it's akin to riding a huge wave.


Mark is philosophical about life and doesn't worry about what others think. He treats people the way he likes to be treated, reiterating that in the scheme of life, possessing a sporting skill doesn't make you a better person.


The lyrics of the song "Ocean" pumped out by his favourite band Pearl Jam could well be his catch cry for life.


You don't have to stray
The oceans away
Waves roll in my thoughts
Hold tight the ring
The sea will rise
Please stand by the shore
I will be
I will be
There once more.

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