‘The first time I saw Pipeline. I went down to the water’s edge, bent down and kissed the sand.’ Says Richard of his love affair with surfing’s most hyped spot. ‘I appreciated it so much. I had to put money underneath my pillow for ages just to actually get there, and I had realised that dream. I had always wanted to surf pipe. I would lie in bed with my chin propped on the edge of my bed staring at a double page spread of Pipeline. Especially after a good day’s surfing South Beach, which is normally 1-2 foot.’
But Pipe did not give up her jewels so easy. Nuh uh. If the Hawaiian locals are like protective older brothers, you have to believe that the deep water hurling, shallow reef curling beauty can look after herself. Sillsy has been paying for each barrel in blood. A few years ago he was surfing the Pipe Masters trials, he ended up going over the falls, his board shot through the wave on its leash and the nose stuck in his eyebrow. ‘I was almost brain damaged, had fluid leaking out my brain, salt water borne bacteria trying to get in, bubbles in the back of the brain… I couldn’t fly home, so I just had to stick it out.’
‘And that’s just one of many,’ he continues, ‘hit the rail with my shin, stitches in my shin, stitches in my face… tweaked knees, because the lip just comes down and crushes you. Picture a Mercedes Benz coming down on your head, that’s sort of what the lip at Pipeline feels like.’
But more than the Pipe itself, the local Hawaiians seem to have a particular penchant for turning Richard into their punching bag. Frankly it’s not surprising, Richard is just a freakshow in the water, the kind of surfer who, in his element, dominates. For the powerful goofy footer, raised on Durban slop, Pipe is his element.
‘Basically there’s a small rock syndrome,’ he explains, choosing his words carefully. ‘There are a lot of people in a small, confined space. So it’s pretty intense and you can’t blame the locals. There are only so many waves and there are so many more people who want those few waves. But I always felt that I was there to share the waves not take them away.’
After the first beating Richard was banned from Pipeline for the season. ‘People were eyeing me out and threatening me in supermarkets, telling me to get off the island and shit. But I held in, stayed there for six months and just surfed the other spots.’
‘Then the fourth winter I went back and asked for forgiveness and the dudes said it was cool, and one day I was out at Pipe and whole lot of guys paddled around me and basically I came in.’
No doubt, dropping in on a big Hawaiian in the process.
‘These guys came after me and punched me. I put my hands behind my back and asked what was wrong, they all come down fuming, walking around me, the next thing I know someone punches me while I was talking to another dude. I had my hands down, I’d just been punched. So I swore him off. That was it. I couldn’t do anything, there were about five of them, I couldn’t fight back. So I grit my teeth and did another season laying low. I had guys coming for me at night, saying I’m stepping on toes, but it all worked out fine. At the end of the winter I got a perfect ten in the contest, but I couldn’t paddle out at the Pipe House, I had to paddle out from the channel down below. I was still banned, but if I want to surf the contest they can’t stop me. So I paddle out there in the rip, by the time I was halfway the siren had gone and everyone had caught a wave by the time I got out. I went the deepest, right to the top and waited for a set. I took off on the biggest mountain that came through and dropped in behind this huge lip and pulled into the cathedral, got spat out in front of everybody and everybody stood up and started clapping on the beach. I got a 10 for that wave. That was cool. I then paddled back out there and got a 9.5. And that was it for that winter. After that there were still bad vibes but I showed them that I can surf the place.’
Then back in Durban, Richard did something that changed the way he would be perceived at Pipe in the future. Being a popular Durban surfer, a lot of Richie’s crew had heard about the rumbles on the Rock and were keen for some payback of their own. Bruce Irons and some other Hawaiians were coming down for a QS event and the stage was set for a rematch. Until the goofy Ghandi, Richard Sills got involved.
‘Volcom, myself and Quiksilver had to hire bodyguards for Bruce Irons and some of the boys because of what they had done to me, but two wrongs don’t make a right, so I got him protected when he came to South Africa. Ja, guys wanted to shoot his kneecaps. But I got it sorted.’
‘So when I paddled back out to Pipe this last season, when the locals saw me, they all thanked me for looking after Bruce, then Sean Lopez paddles out, the guy who I dropped in on and who punched me, and he paddles out and says, “hey boss! How you doing?” We actually got to talk after two years of hostility. Now everything is island vibe. Being friends with the locals makes a huge difference, you’re at ease in the water so you can focus on the waves, because it’s life threatening out there.’
But Richard has learnt his lessons in the school of hard knocks. He takes nothing for granted.
‘I feel cool, I feel positive, take it as it comes, don’t expect anything, but prepare yourself for everything. Each time you go to Hawaii you face your fears, be it on the beach or in the water. A good surf there wipes everything away. One big, solid barrel that you get spat out of, in Hawaii, is better than anything, and it makes you forget everything.’