Dr. MR

Newcastle, NSW, Australia, Sept. 30, 2004:
Mark Richards, “MR” –now “Dr. MR” — is awarded an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Newcastle for his lifetime of outstanding achievements. It is the first time a professional surfer has been honoured in such a way by a university institution, and there couldn’t be a more deserving candidate. What follows below is the citation given at MR’s presentation ceremony and, while written for a general audience, the speech is an accurate and poignant summation of “the Wounded Gull’s” extraordinary life; {{{review}}} for many of us, but certainly worth a read:

There would be few people who have not heard of the world-class surfer, Mark Richards, who became the first man to claim four professional world championship titles in consecutive years, along with countless other surfing victories and accolades. However, some people would not realise that this Novocastrian is also a highly successful businessman who has contributed significantly to the Hunter community and is also involved in several charity organizations, locally and nationally. For all these reasons, Mark Richards is highly deserving of the award of an honorary degree from the University of Newcastle.

Known to friends and fans as “MR”, Mark Richards was born in Newcastle on the 7th March 1957 and spent much of his childhood catching waves at Merewether Beach. By the age of six he had already mastered a surfboard and won his first trophy in the Newcastle “Under 14 years” school competition. By 15 years, Mark had placed and won at several school-based and national surfing championships and was also beginning to shape his own twin-fin boards to suit his loose, angular surfing style. Throughout his junior surfing career, he received enormous support from his family and friends, and in 1961 his father transformed his {{{used car}}} dealership into a surf shop, becoming one of the first places in Australia to sell surfboards outside Sydney. Four decades on, Mark has continued the Richards Surf Shop on Hunter Street and now exports about 250 handcrafted surfboards a year to countries throughout the world. He has remained true to his craft and shapes all the boards himself.

The rise of Mark as a world-class surfer paralleled the rise of professional surfing as an international sport. At 18 he came on to the surfing scene with a splash, winning the Smirnoff Pro-am at Waimea Bay and the World Cup at Sunset Beach in Hawaii. In 1979, Mark won his first world title and soon dominated the pro-surfing circuit, winning again in each of the next three years. His efforts also led to him being recognised three times as Surfer of the Year by US “Surfing” magazine and also twice nominated as ABC Sportsman of the Year. Suffering a back and ankle injury, in addition to mental and physical fatigue, Mark relaxed into semi-retirement but by 25 years of age had achieved legendary status in the surfing and sporting worlds. He later came out of retirement to win the Billabong Pro twice and the World Masters Championship Over 40 Division in 2001.

Throughout his career, Mark became known as the “Wounded Gull” in recognition of his peculiar surfing style: knees braced, hunched shoulders, arms extended and hands bent up at the wrists. Despite this seemingly awkward stance, he was smooth, balanced and flexible through the water and this matched his temperament which Nick Carroll described in a tribute: “at every turn in his life he’s shown us a gracious, humble character, competitive without spite, winning without greed, losing without bitterness.”

It is these characteristics that have undoubtedly drawn Mark towards the various community-based roles that he now undertakes. He is the Honorary President of the Australian Surfrider Foundation, an environmental organization dedicated to protecting the coastal environment and along with his wife Jenny, is patron of the Sids and Kids Hunter Region organization. Together they have raised more than $500,000 for research into sudden infant death syndrome after they tragically lost a child through cot death. In addition, Mark has supported the John Hunter Children’s Hospital, CanTeen and a NSW government campaign against violence towards women. He received an Order of Australia Medal in 1994 and the Centenary Medal in 2003.

Mark has continued his involvement in surfing as a volunteer coach and mentor but also through the Mark Richards Pro, which has become the main event of Newcastle’s annual Surfest. 2005 will be the 20th anniversary of the event that is estimated by the NSW government to generate around $2million annually for the Newcastle economy.

Mark Richards is a man whose passion and talent for surfing led him to become the world’s best but it is a true reflection of his loyal character that he has remained in his hometown and contributes to Newcastle’s future through sporting, business and community circles.

Chancellor, it is with great pleasure that I present to you Mark Richards for admission to the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.