It was the impossible title.
Yet somehow, Newcastle's Mark Richards managed to win it. The triumph happened in 1979 - the first of his four consecutive world titles.
The defining moment came during the last event of the world tour that year - the World Cup at Haleiwa on the famed North Shore of Hawaii.
"I was in a situation where, for me to win a world title, I had to win that event," Richards says.
He recounted the experience to the Newcastle Herald, ahead of the pro-surfing world tour event in Newcastle which started on April 1.
For Richards to claim his first world title, four scenarios had to happen. Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew, the defending world champion, had to be eliminated in the first round.
"If he got through the first round, I couldn't beat him," Richards says.
"He was knocked out by a guy called Ken Bradshaw, who was a local Hawaiian surfer. He got into the event as a wildcard."
Then there was Dane Kealoha, who was rated second on the world tour at the time.
"He had to be knocked out in the quarter finals. He was one of the best Hawaiian surfers. He was a world title contender. He lost to Edwin Santos from Puerto Rico, who got in as a wildcard and had only competed in a few contests up until then.
"Dane being knocked out was the second thing that would never normally happen."
The third thing was Peter Townend had to beat Cheyne Horan, who was the next contender to win the world title that day.
"Peter had to beat Cheyne in the semi-finals. That happened, which no one thought was possible because the surf wasn't huge that day," Richards says.
"It was big, but not crazily big. Cheyne was expected to win that and Peter won. So it was Peter Townend and I in the final.
"So Rabbit, Dane and Cheyne had to be knocked out and I had to win the final. They were the four scenarios that had to go down on that last day."
As history shows, Richards won the final and the world title.
"It was a bit of a miracle. If any one of those guys had won one more heat during the year, I wouldn't have won the world title. That's how close it was."
Peter Townend was the first male champion of the world tour, which began in 1976. Richards and Townend were good friends but, as they paddled out for the final, friendship was left on the beach.
"There are things you don't forget," Richards says.
"Prior to paddling out, as we're getting our contest singlets on, Peter looked at me and said 'I want you to win, but I am going to do everything in my power to stop you'."
Richards recalled Townend using a few choice words, too: "He wasn't going to lay down and die for me."
Townend wasn't in contention for the world title, but he obviously wanted to win the event.
"Peter was an intense competitor. He was really hard to compete against. But he was one of those guys who played by the rules and was very fair," Richards says.
He remembers that the "hassling in the final was intense".
"There was no priority rule in those days," Richards says.
"It was perfectly acceptable to be slightly aggressive in your paddling, bump into someone, paddle over the top of them, or try and block them and get the inside position."
It was not an easy final to win, but Richards was known as a fierce competitor himself. He was confident, believing strongly in his ability. Richards says about three or four competitors on the tour were "a challenge to try and beat tactically".
"Peter more so than anyone was the sharpest when it came to competitive tactics," he explains.
"There were a lot of guys on the tour who were great surfers and had the ability to win contests and world titles, but competitively they had no idea what was going on.
"There were other people whose surfing ability wasn't 100 per cent, but tactically they were incredible at putting together what you need to do in 20 minutes to win a heat. Peter had both things - he was a great surfer and, tactically, he was nearly unbeatable."
Before any battle against Townend, Richards would be concerned about how he could beat him.
As the world tour began in 1979, Richards got off to an amazing start.
"I'm pretty sure I won four of the first eight events and had a crazy lead in the ratings. I was thousands of points ahead," he says.
After the last event in Japan, fellow Australian surfers Ian Cairns and Townend urged Richards to commit to the rest of the tour.
The pair told him all he had to do was "basically turn up and do half decent".
"Because of my lead, they told me I'd definitely win the world title that year," Richards says.
"I kind of chose not to take their advice. I thought my career focus was surfboard shaping, not being a competitive surfer."
So he skipped four of the scheduled 13 events, according to the World Surf League, including two events in South Africa and two in Florida. As such, he was ranked fourth going into the final events of the year in Hawaii.
"I made the final of the Pipeline Masters. That kept me in fourth place in the ratings," he says.
"Then there was the Duke Kahanamoku memorial event, which I won but it wasn't a rated event unfortunately."
That victory stood him in good stead to win the last event and take the world title. Richards clearly remembers the moment he first won surfing's biggest prize.
"I can picture it, but I don't really remember any massive joy or celebration, or jumping up and down, throwing my arms up in the air," he says.
"Probably the most memorable thing was my wife Jenny - she wasn't my wife at the time - we were still pretty young then and still going out. She arrived in Hawaii that day. She was coming over to spend the last few weeks of the Hawaiian season with me. A friend picked her up from the airport because I was competing.
"I can't remember if she saw the semi-final, but she saw the final.
"I think she arrived after the final had started. I think I was probably more excited to see her and have her there than winning the title because it hadn't really sunk in. It was a goal that seemed unattainable because I was not in that situation where I'd thrown everything in [to win the world title]."
Nowadays the pro-surfers call the world tour the "dream tour".
"Among all the competitors - the guys and the girls - there's probably a certain amount who are on the journey for the ride, and a certain amount that buckle down and give it a serious attempt," he says.
Some know they have a good chance of winning the world title.
"At the end of the year, there's only one male and female surfer who ends up world champion. There's a lot of people whose hopes, dreams and aspirations have been shattered," he says.
"For me, it was more of a shock than a mission accomplished.
"It wasn't a mission or a dream or something I'd set out to achieve at the beginning of the year. I hadn't sat down before the first event kicked off in March 1979 and thought to myself, 'I'm going to have a serious attempt at winning the world title this year'."
This lack of expectation may have helped.
"A few people have asked me if I felt any pressure on that day going into the last event. I didn't because I didn't expect all those things to happen," Richards says.
"If you'd said to me prior to the event starting that Rabbit, Cheyne and Dane would all get knocked out as the event progressed, and if you win the event you'll win the world title, I would have gone 'That's just impossible. That will never ever happen'.
"So the only time I felt a little bit of pressure was when Cheyne was knocked out in the semi-final and I realised if I beat Peter, I'd win the world title."
Richards reckons competition is "all about what's going on in people's heads".
"The moment I put the coloured singlet on, all of a sudden it was like looking at something blurry that became a laser-like focus," he says.
Asked how the first world title changed his life, he says: "It's a really hard question to answer".
"In some ways it did. In a lot of ways it didn't. It was sort of like, cool, great, I've won.
"When I got home, all my friends and family were all pretty excited for a few days, then it was like you're just another brick in the wall. Don't let that head expand.
"Everyone was stoked for me for about a week. Then it was 'OK, we're over it now'.
"I didn't get a lot of time to bask in the glow of it."
While on the world tour, Richards would stay in Hawaii until late January, early February.
"We used to go for four months," he says.
"That was the highlight of the year, to go and surf in Hawaii and surf the biggest and best waves in the world.
"You weren't so much excited about going to the events, you were excited knowing you were going to Hawaii, knowing the type of surf you would get to ride.
"I'd generally come home at the end of January, early February, and the first event of the year was always the Stubbies Pro at Burleigh Heads, which kicked off early in March."
So, Richards would spend February "shaping, fibreglassing and spraying all my own boards".
"February was basically designing and shaping myself a new quiver of boards for the new year.
"It was usually two twin-fins. In those days I rode twinnies all year until I got to Hawaii."
Soon after he won the title, he was able to focus on the new boards.
"It was like, 'OK, I've got a month to make a couple of new boards'. And then we're back on the tour bus again."
Asked if it was a good life, he replies: "Yeah, it was amazing".
"I guess it really is now because the surfers go to exotic locations and most of the events are held in areas where there's exceptionally good surf.
"For me, it was really exciting to be able to travel and compete and see places in the world and have experiences I never would have had, except for pro-surfing.
"It's been really good for me. I have friends all over the world. I've probably got more friends in other countries than I have in Newcastle.
"And it gave me a career path as a surfboard shaper."
Richards was one of a handful of pioneers who started professional surfing and the world tour. These trailblazers went to Hawaii and surfed with style, aggression and courage.
Richards, though, felt lucky to have two careers linked to surfing. When his pro-surfing career ended, he didn't have to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
"For me, the chosen career path was a surfboard shaper and manufacturer," he says.
"Pro-surfing and winning world titles and contests was basically a diversion for a few years."
He still has the trophy from his first world title, but "it's not very impressive".
"I think I've got three or four trophies. They're not displayed at home. They're in a cupboard somewhere," he says.
"The two or three world title ones are basically just plaques about half the size of an A4 page. They're both timber. They're not very impressive. I don't think they gave me one in the third year because they were a bit over me winning."
For his fourth world title, he was awarded a toy wooden car.
"That's the funny thing about competitive sport. People are stoked for you if you win occasionally, especially your other competitors," Richards says. "If you win a lot, they're totally unstoked for you. If you win consistently, you're basically raining on people's dreams and aspirations."
He received the toy wooden car for his fourth world title "because I'd made some comment in an interview about what I do with the trophies".
"I said they're in a plastic basket in the garage, gathering dust. They figured because I threw them in a plastic basket in the garage, they'd give me a toy wooden car. That's no exaggeration."
As great as the tour was back then, it wasn't financially viable for the surfers.
"There was no prize pool for winning the world title. It was just personal satisfaction and a plaque. Or, after winning four of them, you get a toy wooden car," he quips.
"Back in those days, there was virtually no prizemoney either.
"Most of the first prizes in the events through the late '70s would have been a $3000 first prize. It was usually $2000 for second and $1000 for third. If you did any worse than third, you got a couple of hundred dollars.
"That was why, back in the '70s and the beginning of the '80s, you could have a really successful competitive career, but afterwards, once you stepped off the tour bus either voluntarily or the boys kicked you off because you were past your prime, you were back in the real world and had to find a job."
There was no sponsorship money, either.
"The sponsorships in those days were virtually nothing because the big clothing and wetsuit companies like Billabong, Rip Curl and Quiksilver were still very small cottage industries," he says. "They hadn't really hit the mainstream or global popularity at that point. But they were quite happy to supply everyone with products. We loved getting free boardshorts and wetsuits, but they weren't making the money to actually have surfers on big-money contracts."
The surfers needed to perform well "to try to make a little bit of money to get to the next event".
"Surfboard manufacturers could, at the most, only afford to supply team riders with the occasional free board. Most of the time, people actually paid for their boards. Peter won the world title, then Shaun and Rabbit. They struggled financially to follow the tour and cover the costs of travelling. A lot of the time, they'd have nowhere organised to stay," he says.
"So I competed during '76, '77 and '78 sporadically on the tour. I surfed in the Aussie events, some of the Japanese events and the Hawaiian events. I saw being a surfboard shaper and manufacturing surfboards as a way of making a living, but also being able to do something that I really liked and was really interested in."
He says he has "always enjoyed competing".
"I liked competing because I liked winning trophies. I started out competing in Newcastle schoolboy events against Peter McCabe and Col Smith from Redhead."
The trio usually battled for the top three places. Prior to pro-surfing beginning in 1976, Richards had gone as far as he could in amateur and junior surfing.
"I'd started surfing in senior amateur events as a junior and doing well. Then, all of a sudden, we had this tour in '76 where you could go to places in the world and compete."
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