THIS weekend’s Ray Richards Memorial Man on Man is more than just a contest for Jackson Richards.
After seven years of physical and mental battles following a late-night incident that left him with a five-centimetre hole in his skull, Richards will compete in the Merewether Surfboard Club event needing “to get my life back”.
The 27-year-old, who is no relation to Ray Richards – the father of four-time world champion Mark Richards, was one of Merewether’s most promising surfers when he was struck in 2010 while at a private function at a local hotel.
He has competed only a few times since in what he describes as a “nightmare” period.
Richards was lucky to survive the initial blow, which led to a titanium plate being fixed over the hole in his forehead, then three more operations to address golden staph infections.
“All the fragments in my skull that were smashed in, if they were one millimetre closer to my brain, I would have had brain damage. I wouldn’t be here,” Richards said.
There were also significant mental scars to overcome, but he felt ready to return to competition this weekend and test himself for the first time in the annual man-on-man contest.
“It’s been a nightmare and I’ve only really put it together this year to be honest,” he said.
“I’m taking [surfing] pretty serious, even through my whole head injury, being in and out of hospital over all those years, I trained hard every day, even if I was injured or not. I never gave up, but there was always something in there that would push me back down.
“I’ve had mental battles as well, and been in and out of clinics to help with that as well, but I’m on top now. I’ve only recently just finished getting help and I still see psychologists about it.
“[But] I feel the strongest that I’ve ever felt probably and I’m surfing the best I’ve ever felt. I’ve got some long-term goals that I’m chasing down competitive-wise and I’d like to give a few more contests a go.
“I think it just made me stronger that whole thing, and more hungry, sitting on the couch that whole time.”
Richards returns on Sunday against a hot field including five-time winner and former championship tour competitor Ryan Callinan, free-surfing star Craig Anderson, veteran Simon Law, Jackson Baker, Jesse Adam, Jake Sylvester and defending champion Mitchel Ross.
He hopes the contest will be a stepping stone to testing himself at World Surf League qualifying series events.
“I’m just playing it the way it is at the moment,” he said. “I don’t have a team around me, no sponsors, I’m just training hard and doing it all on my own, as I always have.
“I’m going to start doing some 1000-point QS events and see how I go from there. It will give me a good indication this weekend whether I can still compete because it’s a pretty tough draw.
“To be honest, I saw the draw pop up and I didn’t want to even look at it. It’s going to be tough either way. There’s no easy heats.”