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
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
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
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
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'
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.