Gordon Richardson, A Life in Surf

In over fifty years of involvement in the Surf Life Saving community, it’s fair to say that there isn’t much that Caves Beach Life Member Gordon Richardson hasn’t achieved.

He’s held just about every position possible to hold at his club including president and patrol captain among others, but his true passion remains in surf boat racing.

We recently caught up with this dedicated clubbie who generously shared his memories and experiences of a life lived on the waves.

This is his story;

G’day Gordon, thanks for talking to us here at SLSNSW.

Can you tell us about your beginnings with Caves Beach Surf Life Saving Club, and what attracted you to surf boat racing?

In the 1959/60 season I joined Caves Beach as a cadet and started rowing in the juniors pretty soon after that. I originally joined with a group of school friends as the thing was you played soccer or rugby league in the winter and cricket or surf lifesaving in the summer. My friends and I formed a team - I was hooked and fell in the love with the sport.

You had some great mentors in those early years. Did those people help you achieve the success that you went on to accomplish almost from your first day in a boat?

We had great mentors around the club who were happy to share their experiences and really looked after us coming through.

In the senior team Kenny Murray was sweeping and he was regarded as the best in Australia, and the two Ellercamp brothers Mick and Danny as well. Overall there was just a huge amount of talent there at the one time.

They all taught us lessons that we hope to pass on to the young kids coming through now to continue their education in surf boat rowing.

In my first season of rowing we came 2nd in the Interstate in Tasmania and 2nd at the National Titles, and in 1962/63 both our junior and senior teams won the triple of Interstate, State and Australian Championships. I don’t think it’s been done since and that was a massive moment for our little club.

All up I’ve won around 9 medals at Aussies and a whole lot more at State as well as two World Masters Titles in New Zealand. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have enjoyed success with all those teams over the years.

Is it fair to say that the club culture was fairly strong back then?

It definitely was and there really was a community spirit. We had a very strong group of rowers and were regarded as a surf boat super power in those days. Whenever we toured people always expected us to perform strongly and I think a lot of that was due to the culture we created.

Surf Boat Racing has given me so many experiences, and I’ve made a lot of friends and enjoyed some fantastic moments from my time in racing.

In 2012 you became involved in the Queens Jubilee Celebrations, how did that come about?

It was purely by chance that I heard about the opportunity. I was at Manly for a carnival and heard an announcement saying if anyone wanted to go to England and participate in the row down the Thames to celebrate to get in touch. It was one of those throw-away advertisements you hear sometimes, but it certainly spiked my interest.

My wife and I were going anyway to meet some relatives I had spoken to by phone but had never met, and to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in the UK. I did some research and checked the calendars, and the dates just happened to fit.

It was absolutely unbelievable experience. I wanted to sweep but ended up rowing! They said they needed someone with experience on the river to sweep, which is fair enough given how crowded it was.

We started off near Chelsea and finished up near Tower Bridge so we travelled around 8 miles down the Thames. I really had to pinch myself there were so many boats and people hanging off balconies and lining the river.

In the 1990s a group of people from Caves Beach built two surf boats and later raced in them. That must have been a special project?

In 1996 we decided to build and race in our own surf boat and I believe we were only the second club to do so. A Sydney club did it over 40 years ago, but we don’t know if they used it in competition. It was just a volunteer project but brought the club together as we spent weekends doing it. The club named the first boat after me, which was a huge honour as I wasn’t expecting that at all.

Two years later we all decided to have another go at building a second craft and name it after Tommy York, also a life member of Caves Beach. Unfortunately Tommy fell ill during the project, but we all banded together and really hustled to get it finished. We were able to get it into the water a few days before Tommy passed away so that was a special achievement.

What are your thoughts on modern racing and the possibility that lifejackets for competitors might be reintroduced?

It’s an ongoing conversation within the lifesaving community. When I first started competing lifejackets were mandatory. They were the old cork heavy things that fastened over your head and stomach with a buckle.

I don’t remember them ever restricting our movement, but obviously there must have been resistance to them because they stopped being compulsory. Wearing them didn’t bother us as we still won races.

We’ve come full circle in a way as they’re talking about bringing them back. Could participation rates be down because parents don’t see it as a safe sport? I don’t know, but I think it’s a serious discussion we as a community need to have.

Do you have plans to stay involved in Surf Life Saving or is it something you feel you need to start cutting back on?

I was actually talking to Mick (Ellercamp) who is in his 80s now about this topic recently, and he reckons that as long as you’ve got your health you should do it as long as possible. He believes as do I that being involved and staying active keeps you young.

I love working with the youngsters, I don’t do as many teams as I used to do but I love being involved and helping out with the program that we run with the high school students. I’m not an active patrolling member anymore.

There’s still a question mark about whether I will be able to compete next season as my wife wants to do more travelling. I think I owe her that!

Read more of Gordon’s story in the spring edition of Beyond The Flags, if you are or know a clubbie story that you would like to share please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our communications team on (02) 9471 8000 or email webmaster@surflifesaving.com.au

Photograph - Gordon Richardson (back row 2nd from left) and the 1962-63 Junior and Senior Caves Beach boat crews. Courtesy of Gordon Richardson

Thu 9 Jul 2015