1980 Australian Champion, former world ranked number seven (1982), and advocate for channel bottom surfboards, Terry Richardson discusses his upbringing in Wollongong, turning pro at 25, working in coalmines and why he’s loving surfing more in his sixties.
Firstly, you’ve had a solid career as a professional surfer, but also are a quite accomplished shaper. Would you say you’re a shaper who surfed? Or a surfer who shaped?
I’m a surfer who shaped, simply because I fell in love with surfing first and then I discovered shaping, which allowed me to make a living while I was travelling and surfing around the world. So as I travelled the world surfing, I was also trying to become a better shaper.
Where did the interest in shaping stem from? Was it through wanting to ride better equipment?
I was a bit of a perfectionist. I was like that with my surfing and when I started shaping I wanted to be on better boards, so I kept pushing my shaping to ensure I was surfing as good as possible. I think I succeeded, but to succeed long-term is a challenge in itself as designs vary. As everyone knows, we went from single fins to twin-fins, to bonzers, to thrusters to pretty much everything. To still be here shaping and having people like my boards makes me really content and proud.
Do you remember the first board you ever shaped?
I sure do. I befriended a few of the top shapers on the south coast from out in the water surfing. I’d follow a lot of them back to the shaping room and be mesmerized by them and overwhelmed by the fact they knew how to shape a board. One day, Kevin Parkinson (south coast surfing and shaping legend) said to me, ‘pick up the bottom of this board and plane the bottom for me. By the end of the week I was mowing down blanks for him and I was getting familiar with the foam and knew how to handle a planer. It was a quick trade that I fell in love with. It was really good to learn something that would help you out as a professional surfer and make money from also.
How old were you when you began to discover your love of shaping?
I was 16-years-old and just about to leave school. My Dad was trying to push me into all these different trades that had nothing to do with the ocean and when I was making surfboards I was pretty much making pennies, but I was doing what I loved. Before I knew it I actually began to make a bit of money from shaping and people began ordering boards from me. At the same time, I was getting results in competitions also, so one was complementing the other.
Whose boards were you getting up until that moment?
I used to save my pocket money and just buy boards here and there. Skippy (John Skipp – legendary Wollongong shaper) took a bit of a liking to me and my surfing and put me on a bit of a sponsorship which gave me boards at a cheaper rate, but you never got anything for nothing back then. Basically, I learnt to look after my boards and nurture them as best I could.
You retired from professional surfing in the early-to-mid 80’s too didn’t you?
Yeah, I actually only turned pro when I was 25…
And you began surfing quite late.
Yeah, I was around 13 when I started ,which was early back then. I didn’t turn pro until 1980 and I got some good results on the tour in that year, the year after and then 1982 I had my best year on the world tour and it all snowballed from there until 1986. And then I tried to let it all go and focus on my family and not travel as much. I began to export boards to Japan, came across Matt Archbold and got him on my channel bottoms, which he just ripped on. I kept my seed for a long time, which was definitely hard to give up as a competitor.
So you were never forced to stop competing, it was all by choice?
Yeah, it was all by choice. I still want to compete now, but you need to look at it and draw a bit of a line to stop. It’s always in you though, it’s like being an old boxer, you never want to hang the gloves up, but sometimes you need too.
Channel bottoms are something you’ve become quite synonymous with, what is it about channel bottoms that inspire you?
They’re unique and certain people love them. Others are inquisitive. Not all shapers enjoy doing them, but I really love doing them. To do them correctly is a pretty big statement and to do them correctly is a bit of a secret.
Who have you seen of the new guard that is really doing a good job with channel bottoms?
Surfing wise, I’ve noticed Mick riding them a bit and did them proud on the boards I saw him on. Shaping wise, Phil Myers deserves full credit and is doing a great job with them. Other than that, I haven’t noticed too many other people making them. I’m actually looking to get Archy back on them and hopefully that will all happen when I do my book launch soon. It will be good to get a few more under his feet.
Did I read it correctly, that you were also juggling shaping with working in the coalmines, but you’ve since retired from that?
Yeah I finished last year and I’m hoping to stay out of there, but with my lifestyle of surfing, shaping and travelling the world, I haven’t been able to accumulate much superannuation (Australian equivalent to a 401K). I’ll go back if I do need to top up some funds in my old age, so I don’t think you can say I’ve officially retired.
Now in semi-retirement then, are you finding you’re having a second wind with your shaping, now that you’ve got that bit of extra time?
Yeah, I’m really enjoying my shaping now. There’s a lot of people who want retro boards and I’m not so into them, but I don’t mind doing the bonzers, channel bottoms or twin fins when guys want them. I’m trying to do a certain amount of boards a year. If I can shape 100 boards a year, then I’ll be stoked. I want to also spend a lot more time surfing. I’m still quite fit for my age and I just want to take advantage of that. Just because you’re 60, doesn’t mean you need to drop dead.
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Words and Images: Ethan Smith