Two New Surf Books, Richo and Lennox, Different Worlds – Nick Carroll
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RICHO! THE TERRY RICHARDSON STORY By Terry Richardson with Rob Reynolds
SURFING LENNOX, FROM THEN TO NOW by Lennox Head Heritage Committee and Lennox National Surfing Reserve Ltd
Reviewed by Nick Carroll
“The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”
This is a famous, even epic line. It opens a book entitled “The Go-Between”, by the British writer L.P. Hartley, who wrote it early in the 1950s. “The Go-Between” has nothing to do with surfing at all, but its central idea — that when looked at from a distance, the past might seem strange, even unrecognisable — maybe increasingly does.
In both these books, the past is a living thing. Richo for a start. Terry is a working class man to his bones and boots, not that I can recall him ever wearing boots. Though he must have when he went down the mines to make a crust, after surfing didn’t quite do that for him. He grew up around Corrimal in the 1960s and learned to fight young. He’s also one of the most graceful and naturally gifted surfers ever, in Australia or the world for that matter. To see Richo setting a rail and accomplishing a turn anywhere on a wave, much less that completely flawless cutback line, is to see surfing the way we hope it can be, then, now, or any time.
Today, in this surreal modern pro surfing world, he’d be rich. I think. (You never know of course. Richo might have recoiled a little from the demands of surf stardom in 2018; as the book recounts, he wasn’t always across its requirements 40 years ago.) As it was, he lived in a surfing world where being rich wasn’t even on the cards. On his first trip to Hawaii, in 1973, he showed up at the age of 17 for a three-week stay with $35 in his pocket, and knocked on Midget Farrelly’s rental door, only to find no room at the inn. That night he slept under the bushes at Sunset Beach. Like, who does that now?
Then again, who finds a place to stay free in the garage at PT’s and Ian Cairns’s house, meets Gerry Lopez, surfs the lefts at V-Land with Gerry, and is then invited down to surf Pipe on a board Gerry offers up, an 8’1” that he eventually just gives you for keeps? That cannot happen now, either. “I realised soon enough that Gerry Lopez wasn’t some kind of god inhabiting a temple,” Richo tells his co-writer. “The religion was respect, and Gerry himself was its temple.”
Vast amounts of the narrative is taken up by accounts of Richo’s pro tour ups and downs, friendships and rivalries played out in heats. An intense new kind of life at the time. Yet it also makes clear his wrestle with the great debate faced by his and other early pro era generations: was this all OK, or was it commercialising something best left unmuddied by dollars? You can’t imagine a modern pro being afflicted by this question for a nanosecond; after all, the dollars are there in their millions, the way surfers of Richo’s time could barely imagine.
He doesn’t resent the change, but there’s some yearning in the way Terry talks of the amazing Matt Archbold, who once rode Richo’s magic channels with timeless skill, but never won a thing. “On the one hand you have Archie,” he writes, “on the other you have an industry that requires a winner.”
This is self published and there’s a few typos, but Rob Reynolds does an excellent job, and I suspect some of the real flashes of literary craft are his. Like: “Sometimes life becomes a dream of drowning.” That’s a hell of a sentence.
Lennox Head is another story. Like all our great surf zones, it exists simultaneously in the past and the present — in the memories and photos of young surfers now grown old, in the actions of surfers today, and in the endlessly recurring swells and winds.
I’ve been a bit sceptical about the value of National Surfing Reserves over the years, but Reserve status has urged a great thing on many surf communities: it requires a history to be set down in print. Surfing Lennox is a re-work of the original, compiled by Max Perrot, George Leslie, Robyn Hargrave, Vic Leto and Phil Myers, and it’s full of love and affection for the area and its surfing history. People are respected but they’re never worshipped, and surprising figures surface, like 18 year old Judy Gibbon, the first woman to surf Lennox, in 1964. (Today’s Lennox has the All Girls Surfriders club.) Judy beat Country Soul by six years.
She also beat Richo by eight years. Terry went up to Lennox with some mates in the winter of 1972 — one of the classic surf pilgrimages of the day. When they got there it was three to four foot and pumping. They began preparing for a surf when an old car pulled up. Its driver: Michael Peterson. “We surfed for an hour and then just sat and watched him go off,” recounts Terry. Thus the flawless MP-inspired Richo cuttie, and his connection with Colin Smith and with Free Flight channel bottoms, which are still being made today by Phil Myers, co-author of the Surfing Lennox book.
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