Wisdom: Richie Lovett

Insights from former WT surfer Richie Lovett on his career, cancer, and life after

Richie Lovett has a lot to smile about these days. Photo: Bott

Rob Bain was sitting on the wall at Manly. He'd been watching me surf and whistled me over. I remember his exact words: "You've got something, grom. You better get keen." I remember I ran straight home and said, "Mum! Dad! Rob Bain just told me to get keen and that I could be a pro surfer!"

Barton Lynch really inspired me. He had this professionalism, this aura about him. I was so lucky to have those guys at my local beach; they were good surfers and good blokes. I went on to realize how important role models like that are to kids.

Manly is home. I live over the hill now and can walk to Curl Curl Beach, but I get in the car and drive two minutes back to Manly to surf every morning. It's a real grounding and humbling thing, having that kind of connection with a place.

It took me eight years to win a contest. I guess I didn't have the head that Kelly and Andy did. They went out there knowing they were going to win the contest, I went out there hoping.

Being carried up the beach at Trestles that day I was happier for everyone who'd stuck with me over all those years. It was relief. It's what you dream of as a kid. It was a pinnacle moment I'll take with me to my grave.

There's your life before you have cancer, and there's your life after. Two different worlds. You're like a fish that's just been scaled. You're nude, you're vulnerable and there's suddenly no certainty with anything. The fact you could die dawns on you pretty quick. I could die. And when you're faced with death earlier than you thought you would it definitely makes you reassess.

I e-mailed my friends with the X-ray of my new hip. I titled the e-mail "Check out the new hardware!" It was really important to laugh. If you're happy and have a good outlook you'll heal better, and I feel I recovered really well because I had that state of mind early on.

When you find yourself in the world of cancer all of a sudden you have this common denominator with these cancer survivors, cancer sufferers, cancer victims. I encountered people who were so much worse off than I was. I spent a lot of time with some kids who would eventually lose their battle. That just breaks you open.

I was always going to surf again. That was the most important part of my recovery, having that goal in front of me. I'd worked toward being a pro surfer, worked toward winning an event, now I was working toward going surfing again despite what the doctors and surgeons were telling me.

I caught two waves on my belly before I finally stood up. A friend of mine who has just had a heart transplant was on the beach filming it, screaming.

It's one thing all the cancer books will tell you: make sure your family and friends don't treat you any differently. I had such a great group of people around me that I didn't even have to pull them aside and tell them. The jokes were flying and it didn't take long for those guys to make light of the situation I was in and I just ran with it as well. I appreciated the fact they could do that. It's one thing I love about my mates: they're solid. They don't waiver and you need that.

Our boy Lennox is this new ray of light in our life. I find it hard leaving the house of a morning and I find it hard staying at work because all I want to do is come home and hang out with him.

Any moments you get to be in the ocean are golden, especially now. Two or three days out of the water and I change. Thirty minutes in the water and I'm better again.

The biggest challenge I find is to stay true to the promises I made to myself when shit hit the fan, when I was at my lowest. When I got cancer I drew up a list of stuff I'd swore I'd never do, and daily I have to pull myself up cause I get back into bad habits and I do things I swore I'd never do. It's easy to forget how lucky you were.