Take a lil stroll back to 1986…
Yesterday we ran, unquestioning, Terry Simms’ claim that he had invented the world’s first surf-specific helmet, something Simms repeated “many, many times,” says Chas Smith.
Simms’ helmet, the Simba, with its Roman Gladiator styling, is certainly eye-catching.
But it ain’t the first.
In the late eighties, early nineties, y’couldn’t find a lineup in Western Australia that wasn’t filled with surfers wrapped in Ric Gath’s eponymous surf helmet.
Ric launched it at the 1989 Margaret River Masters, a contest won by Dave Macaulay wearing the wild-looking plastic thing. A photo taken on the day appears to show Dave’s wife hugging the helmet.
That same season, Tom Carroll won the Pipe Masters with a Gath.
Kong won it the year after, wearing a Gath.
Tommy won Pipe again, the following year.
“It was a dream launch,” says Ric, now sixty-four.
He ain’t too concerned about anyone claiming to’ve invented surf helmets.
Still, his story is a good one.
Ric, who is a big-waver from Margaret River, Western Australia, had ears that gave him hell in a region famous for its cold wind. First he used divers balaclavas, then when Rip Curl brought out a peaked neoprene hood he wore that, although losing it in a wipeout was common.
So he switched to carpenters’ ear muffs with the padding taken off and with the balls resting over the ears. Ric dislocated his jaw on that idea.
Then his three-year-old kid, this is 1986, nearly copped his fins in the face after nose-driving in a little shorey.
Ric is a can-do sorta guy. He made some drawings and three years later it was everywhere.
In Bali, surfers used ‘em as motorbike helmets. Mums agreed to let their kids surf with the stipulation they wore a helmet.
Ric says they were moving around 12,000 units a year. It’s not massive in today’s sorta numbers but thirty-ish years ago, big enough to make a little cash and save a few skulls.
Almost as quickly as they’d arrived, howevs, the Gath disappeared.
Two reasons, says Ric.
First he heard that surf companies weren’t real thrilled that his “parasite” company was getting free press in their editorial photos and started telling photographers they weren’t going to run shots with helmets.
Second, biz probs.
In 1994, his three investors showed him the door and they all went to court to see who got to keep the intellectual property.
“Three chiefs and one Indian and I was the Indian,” says Ric. “I went straight from a surfboard and into business to going into a liquidation meeting.”
Ric, who had to go back to carpentry to fund the case, won.
In 1999, he picked up the pieces and was back in biz by 2005.
Nowadays, he’s got his son Jess and wife, Jennifer, running the show, the company chasing Europe’s lucrative kite and foil market, something that’s gonna spike now that governments there are starting to legislate for compulsory helmets while foiling.
“The future is looking really good for us,” he says, adding he might be sixty-four but surfing makes him feel eighteen, even if he’s given a reality check every time he walks past a mirrored door and he catches his reflection.
He ain’t too bummed about much these days, still talks to one of the investors who took him down and, with characteristic whimsy, says the liquidation of his business with all its legal documents “improved my reading.”