Tom Carroll in a Gath helmet and inventor Ric Gath.
Tom Carroll gives hell to G-Land in a Gath and, right, Ric Gath in the wild bloom of youth. | Photo: Quiksilver/Ric Chan

Margaret River’s Ric Gath, inventor of the surf helmet, dead at 67

How many precious skulls, kids, big-wave thrillseekers, did the Gath save?

The pioneer of surf helmets, Ric Gath, a man more influential than pretty much anyone from Margaret River, has died after a long-illness aged sixty-seven.

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 Gath 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.

“It was a dream launch,” Ric told me a few years back when I called him about an American surfer claiming he’d invented surf helmets.

His story is a good one.

Ric Gath, a noted 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 Gath was a can-do sorta guy. He made some drawings and three years later it was everywhere.

Ric Gath helmet drawings
Drawings of the first Gath surf helmets by Ric Gath.

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, according to Ric Gath.

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,” Ric told me. “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.

Eventually, he got his son Jess and wife, Jennifer, running the show, the company chasing Europe’s lucrative kite and foil market, something he said was gonna spike after governments there are starting to legislate for compulsory helmets while foiling.

“The future is looking really good for us,” he said in 2020, adding that 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.

As cool as they come, he didn’t get bummed about much.

Ric Gath still talked to one of the investors who took him down and, with characteristic whimsy, saids the liquidation of his business with all its legal documents “improved my reading.”


Wavepool king Tom Lochtefeld on his Palm Springs Surf Club Miracle!

How to create the best wavepool on earth and why Surf Lakes gonna self-destruct!

All that heat about the new Palm Springs Surf Club wavepool, featuring the tech of wavepool king Tom Lochtefeld, has been entirely warranted despite earlier fears it was a modern incarnation of the old Disney Typhoon Lagoon.

Three years ago, the world’s best surfers lined up to ride the then proto-wavepool built on the site of the old Wet N Wild, the same pool used in the opening sequences of North Shore, a film from 1987 that tells the fictional tale of Arizona’s Rick Kane, a boy from a broken home who learns to surf in a wavepool and then attempts to transpose his skills to Pipeline with mostly pleasing results.

The Tom Lochtefeld tech, which is called Surf Loch, is diff to Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch, Wavegarden, American Wave Machines and Surf Lakes. It uses a combo of vacuum and pressure to make waves.

“An opening at the bottom of each chamber allows the wave energy pulse to be released into open water independently of each other. The controlled variations of the independent pulses can generate an infinite variety of wave swells.”

The Hawaiian-raised surfer Cheyne Magnusson, who turned the Waco tank into the hottest party in town, was handpicked to run the tank and help push it to its full potential.

“He is a phenomenal wave composer, a virtuoso on our equipment,” says Tom Lochtefeld.

“I come in and play the piano,” Cheyne told me of his role complementing the Surf Loch tech. “Give me a bunch of knobs to move water and I can make it sing.”

The pint-sized proto was built and surfers, including Mason Ho, Jackson Dorian etc, came from all over the world, flared and made clips. The pool was then demolished to make way for the full-sized tank, which opens to the public on January 1, 2024. 

Tom Lochtefeld is a long-time friend of BeachGrit and its co-master Charlie Smith.

In this long-form interview Lochtefeld reveals the secrets behind creating better-than-perfect waves, why Surf Lakes is gonna self-destruct and why the Slater plough is destined for the junkyard.


Jamie O'Brien (pictured) pondering lawsuit against scurrilous Surfer.
Jamie O'Brien (pictured) pondering lawsuit against scurrilous Surfer.

Surfer magazine bot throws sexually charged grenade at Jamie O’Brien!

Trigger warning.

The very sad degradation of Surfer Magazine has been one of the stories in 2023. Purchased by The Arena Group just one year ago, the “Bible of the Sport” has been plagued with embarrassing stories since, including “Emily Morgan,” “Jake Howard” et. al. eventually culminating in a damning expose that the aforementioned Arena Group was using AI bots as writers.

C-Suite executives were fired followed by their Chief, Ross Levinsohn while the stock price plummeted.

Dark days.

And yet the bot clicks away unconcerned with “human stuff.”

Most recently, a word salad was uploaded by “Dashel Pierson” about Jamie O’Brien and Pipeline, ostensibly, and shall we read together?

They’ll stand in the parking lot, insulated, $75 coffee cups in hand, gossiping, grab-assing, procrastinating, and contemplating a session for ridiculous periods of time – questioning the crowd, the tide, or any number of ludicrous, inhibiting factors.

Sometimes, it’s almost like…do we actually even wanna paddle out? Or are we just a bunch of posers who pretend we surf, but find any excuse possible not to?

Eventually, most of us finally do paddle out, but after much deliberation.

Like the Jamie O’Brien clip above.

What the heck?

Which amongst O’Brien’s crew is standing around with $75 coffee cups sexually harassing whom whilst pretending to surf?

The charge is extremely loaded in this day and age.

Asses no longer there for unsolicited grabbing.

Here’s the clip, anyhow.

Surfer, man.

Ugh.


French Olympic chief (insert) sneering at ISA and its puny demands.
French Olympic chief (insert) sneering at ISA and its puny demands.

French Olympic Committee sneers that it will build its Teahupo’o tower, International Surfing Assoc. be damned!

"Sniveling upstarts..."

Who but who could have ever seen this fight coming? Oh, Olympic committees and organizers bowling over the poor and powerless in order to build civic monuments to world sport is nothing new. Likewise, international sport governing bodies sucking off the Olympic teat for a taste of that sweet, sweet Coca-Cola dollar is an old cherry. But here, on the idyllic island of Tahiti, we have local folk standing tall and we have the upstart International Surfing Association waving a fist toward Paris.

All shouting “Non!”

Bizarre.

As you well know, the aluminum judging tower proposed to replace Teahupo’o’s wooden one has caused quite the ruckus. Protests rocking the “end of the road,” incompetent barge drivers smashing reef etc. Yesterday, in a shock move, the aforementioned ISA declared it “will not support the construction of the new aluminum judges’ tower at Teahupo’o (Tahiti).”

Bold but odd considering how thirsty ISA chief Fernando Aguerre was to court the Olympics, traipsing the world in garish local costumes etc. His wish was granted, Olympic surfing’s Tokyo debut came off… uninspiring but whatever but Teahupo’o on the horizon. A wave so grand it is sure to stamp our favorite pastime as THE event.

Telling Paris chiefs how to run the show, in any case, a dangerous gambit.

Well, those Paris chiefs came back today, sneering in a very French way.

Tony Estangue, president of the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics Organising Committee, hours ago declared, “We respect the almost unanimous decision taken locally to continue with the launch of the construction work” and added that the ISA proposal, a tower on the beach with a long lens camera, “was judged to be not feasible on several fronts. On the technical front in terms of filming the images but also surrounding security it poses a lot of questions.”

Sorry not sorry, puny ISA.

A clear win for Big Aluminum but will this saga take another unforeseen turn?

Stay tuned.


ISA president Fernando Aguerre and new Teahupoo tower
ISA prez Fernando Aguerre and artist's impression of the sexy aluminium tower that'll be bolted onto the Teahupoo reef. | Photo: ISA/Paris 2024

ISA blames French Polynesian government for Teahupoo Olympic tower fiasco

ISA absolves Paris 2024 organisers of blame for environmentally catastrophic judging tower.

After maintaining a conspicuous silence on the building of a five-million dollar judging tower atop Teahupoo’s fragile coral reef, the International Surfing Association has taken a baseball bat to French Polynesia’s government while absolving Paris 2024 organisers of blame.

In a just released statement, the ISA, governing body of world surfing apparently, says its advice was the Teahupoo contest should be judged remotely via “live images shot from land, water and drones” although “subsequently the French Polynesian Government decided to go forward with a plan to build a new aluminium tower on the reef.”

You hear a little alarm bell going off?

The ISA’s advice was on December 9, three months after locals started throwing heat at Paris 2024 for the Teahupoo build.

Multiple protests followed, you’ll remember, and a visit from the mayor of Paris ensued as the ISA remained silent.

Nothing on social media, no statements, crickets, as they say.

Why silent?

The ISA didn’t care to rock Olympic masters?

A reflection of the fragility of surfing’s inclusion in the Games?

And, correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t the president of French Polynesia Moetai Brotherson tell the Pacific Islands Forum that maybe, in light of  opposition from Teahupoo locals, they should shift the three-day event to Taharuu, forty or so clicks back towards Papeete?

“At the time, it wasn’t possible. In view of the issues at stake and the protests today, perhaps we can revise this option,” said Brotherson.

Teahupoo just beat out Taharuu as the choice for Paris 2024 following a visit by delegates in 2020.

In a response to Brotherson, Paris 2024 organisers said in a statement,

“Tahiti was chosen because of the Teahupoo site and its legendary wave, one of the most beautiful in the world. As our president, Tony Estanguet, recently pointed out, our priority today is to find a solution that will enable us to organise the surfing events of the Olympic Games in Tahiti, at the Teahupoo site, in the best possible conditions.”