The Surfersvillage Interview
Learn heaps from a man who almost died, a few times
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 22 June, 2014 - For whatever reason, Richie Lovett has a lot of Hollywood moments: Squeaking onto the World Tour with a Cinderella win in macking Hawaiian surf, shark attack, being diagnosed with cancer, developing innovative tools for surfing and authoring a book. ..Wow.
But while most of us will hashtag our beer-in-hand selfies on Instagram with a "YOLO", few of us will understand you only live once the way one does when death is very real and near. We’ll have stories of big day hold-downs, “my life literally flashed before my eyes.” Scary, yes, but those episodes end when we break the surface. The bitch about a cancer diagnosis is that you have time to struggle throughout each long this-is-possibly-my-last day, time to bear the tedium endured with each doctor’s appointment, research finding, treatment and those flashes of doubt. It’s a marathon.
In case you don’t know, Richie Lovett is a former World Tour Pro whose career was cut short with the diagnosis of a rare bone cancer called clear cell chrondrosarcoma. He’s alright now, a few years later and has gone on to spearhead two companies, Global Surf Industries and FCS, while also writing a book. Impressed? We were, and felt thankful to have a glimpse and get insight into the life of a truly remarkable human.
You had cancer. Very few people can relate to the gravity of something like that. Does it change you? Is it like in ‘Breaking Bad’ where you change absolutely everything in your life, and maybe you go overboard and start cooking meth like Walter White. How did that experience change you?
It’s the ultimate injection of mortality, and the gravity of a cancer diagnosis definitely makes you take a good hard look at yourself and your life. For me being diagnosed was a complete life changer, it wasn’t like I just left my job for a while, had treatment, and then went back to work. My life did a complete 180-degree turn; one minute I was travelling as WCT competitor, the next minute I was learning to walk again with a huge piece of metal inside me where the top of my femur used to be. The whole process was scary, but there was a ton of positive things that came out of that shitty situation. In my mind if you don’t learn from a situation like that there’s something seriously wrong with you.
It gave me a new appreciation for my health and my ability to do the things I love like going surfing, bike riding, playing golf etc… things we typically take for granted on a daily basis. It also had a positive effect on some of my relationships. Where’d I’d previously taken people for granted and perhaps acted in a selfish way, I now had time to sit back and process things differently, basically spend more time thinking about how other people felt and were feeling rather than just always thinking about myself. Probably the main thing it did though, was give me clarity about what was important and what wasn’t. I now try and focus more on the bigger things that mean the most, my family, friends, my relationships with those people, and less on the little things that tend to just be time wasters.
How would you describe what you do for work to a very small, inattentive child?
Sheez, that’s hard to explain in a simple sentence…. Here goes… I design surfboards, surfboard fins, and all the different things you need to go surfing, and I also write about them and talk about them on videos.
Translated to an adult… I hold hybrid positions across two main companies, Surf Hardware International and Global Surf Industries. My official title is Brand Ambassador, and within those roles I work across marketing, product development, team, product design, copy writing, video presenting and sales. I can also add author to the list now as well.
Which is harder, being a pro surfer or being a surf industry guy?
I’d say being a pro surfing is more stressful because your success is measured by your results, and your livelihood hinges on how well you’re performing, but the lifestyle is definitely not harder. I guess being a surf industry guy is made harder by the fact that I’ve already had my perfect job. Pro surfing is a hard thing to live up to, but seriously I really enjoy what I do, and for that reason its not that hard.
What is that you do professionally that you are most proud of?
Excluding writing the book, which I’m immensely proud of because I wanted to share my story and hopefully inspire people… In my working career I’m really proud of the boards I design. Knowing that someone’s day was made better because they had great surf on a board I designed makes me feel good.
Tell us what has been your biggest mistake?
I had the opportunity to sign on with Billabong when I was just starting my pro career, I didn’t, and that was probably a big mistake at the time. Overall my biggest mistake would be not making the most of every situation I had when I was travelling. I should have experienced more and used my spare time to better use.
What did you learn from that mistake?
Life is short and unpredictable. Make the most of every situation and live in the moment because you never know what’s around the corner.
Is there something going on in the world that makes you scratch your head and think: “But this is soooo important! Don’t they get it?”
Honestly, I try not to get too caught up in world dramas, because if not regulated that stuff can consume you. Sure, think about it, act on it, but don’t spend too much time dwelling on it. A few things that spring to mind though; building a cruise ship terminal at Kirra, drilling for resources on the Barrier Reef, and the toll road at Trestles. It baffles me why anyone would want to destroy such beautiful places, they’re obviously not surfers.
Share with us your biggest Rocky Balboa moment.
It’d have to be my victory at the 1995 Wyland Galleries Hawaiian Pro. I actually had to win the event to qualify for the WCT. I went into it as a Hawaiian rookie and I would’ve been a 10,000 to 1 odds of winning. The waves were massive and I was completely out of my comfort zone, but I was determined to give it everything I had. Heat after heat I progressed, surfing against the worlds best, and before I knew it I was in the final. 30 minutes later and I was standing on the winner’s podium with a trophy and ticket onto the next year’s tour. It was the moment my pro surfing dream became a reality.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing? Selling shoes?
Who knows if I didn’t get cancer I might still be on the tour? Seriously though, it’s a hard question because I really don’t know what else I’d rather be doing right now. I have both creative outlets and more structured outlets, and I also get to work solo and as part of a team. Not to mention I get to surf as part of my job. I don’t know, I like building things, creating things; maybe I’d be a builder.
OK, you get to drop into five moments in history – surf or otherwise. Please name them and why.
1. Woodstock 69, the whole positive vibe of that festival would’ve been great to experience first hand. Not to mention listening to some amazing musicians playing live at the gig.
2. Occy versus Curran at Bells 1986. To watch this live would’ve been to witness one of the defining heats in surfing history. Two of my favourite surfers at the peak of their careers absolutely tearing Bells apart.
3. Elvis concert, maybe the Hawaii concert he did in 1977. The dude was a great entertainer and I’ve always been a mad fan. It would’ve been great to watch him perform live.
4. The era when surfers like Bob McTavish were exploring the east coast of Australia and rocking up to places like Noosa with nobody out. I read his book and I just love how he chased adventure and his dream of riding waves with little regard for responsibility and the consequences. It’d be hard to live like that now… but sometimes I wish I could.
5. Sounds weird but I would’ve liked to assist when the surgeon was operating on my hip and leg in 2006. I’d have a complete understanding of what he did and how he did it.