The Worlds First Multiple Surfing Champion…starting with 4

From 79-’82 MR was ‘The Man’. The worlds best surfer for 4 years straight and with -by far- the most unique style.

You wouldn’t know what a fierce competitor he was from his demeanor on land…low key, kind and humble. But let the record speak. SNN.

Real Surf Stories presents:




Mark Richards, known as MR, is an Australian surfer AND four time world champion (1979–1982). Richards was born and grew up in Newcastle, son of Ray and Val Richards, both keen beachgoers. Ray Richards was an accountant, but he wanted more than that career could offer and started a a dedicated surf shop, one of the first in Australia. Richards surfed many junior competitions around Australia, taking time off school to go in some cases. He also made trips to Hawaii for winter on the North Shore as a teenager. The highlight of his junior career was a win at Margaret River in 1973. In mid-1973 Richards father allowed him to leave school midway through fifth form, to pursue surfing. Anyone could leave after fourth form, but that was usually to take up an apprenticeship. To leave for surfing was radical at a time when surfers were regarded as long-haired layabouts. The deal with his father was that if it didn’t work out in a year then he had to get a trade. At the end of 1974 Richards returned to Hawaii for the North Shore winter. This was his fourth trip, and his first taste of really big waves. He got a late entry into a contest at Waimea Bay, and did well enough on the first day of competition to make the semi-finals the next day. That day the surf had jumped and 30-foot clean-up sets were closing out the Bay. Even local big wave riders were saying it was too big to compete. Organiser and 1968 world title holder Fred Hemmings had other ideas; with sunshine, offshore winds and television coverage he threatened to go out himself if nobody else wanted to. Richards made a decision to go. At 17 years old and without Waimea experience nobody would have thought less of him if he didn’t, but he felt to walk away would end his hopes of surfing professionally, and put him back in Newcastle at some unappealing apprenticeship. He went with survival uppermost in his mind, and reckoned his first wave twice as big as anything he’d surfed before. By the end of the heat he was game enough on the monsters to actually bottom turn, yet was glad not to reach the final and have to go back out. In time he came to enjoy big waves, without being regarded as a big-wave specialist. Image was important for Richards, and in 1975 he had Hawaiian artist Albert Dove design a superman-style badge with “MR” inscribed in it. He used that logo on all his boards and wetsuits for most of his career. Richards was interested in twin-fin surfboards and in shaping. At the Surfabout in 1976 he saw Reno Abellira on a highly manoeuvrable twin-fin fish and thought something like that would be better than a single-fin for small waves. Back in Hawaii again for the 1976/77 winter, aged 19, he took his father’s suggestion to pay for shaping lessons from noted pioneer Dick Brewer. It meant Richards was able to put his thoughts about design into actual foam. He credits Brewer for the style of shaping he came to use. Brewer made Richards a twin-fin, and Richards took aspects of that and Abellira’s fish for his own designs. The result was boards faster and more manoeuvrable than the single-fins of the day. By 1979 Richards reckoned his career as shaping primarily, and just competing at home in Australia and in Hawaii where he would go for the northern winter anyway. For 1980 Richards changed his strategy, and set out deliberately to get a second world title, doing the full tour. Although he’d won the ratings in 1979 he wasn’t universally thought the best surfer, with Dane Kealoha reckoned the best by many. Richards was also competing against Wayne Bartholomew, Cheyne Horan and Peter Townend. In the end his results were very strong and took the 1980 title by a record number of points, and ended the season as the surfer against whom others were judged. Richards won in 1981 and 1982 too, with his chief rival being Cheyne Horan. Right through Richards’ career his parents went with him to see him compete, within Australia at least. They preferred sitting in among the crowd, no doubt a little out of place among the teenagers and surfie types, even though they would have been welcome in the VIP areas. Richards and his parents were close and he would celebrate a win by having a meal with them, a marked contrast to surf and party animals of the time. Today Richards still lives in Newcastle with his wife, Jenny, and three children, Kyle, Nathan and Grace. He runs the Mark Richards Surf Shop in Hunter St, the same shop started by his parents. source: Wikipedia Cover photo by Norman Seef Footage: Bez Newton, Bill Delaney, Alan Main, Hugh Thomas, Austrailian Surfing Hall of Fame

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