Richo Recovering After His Wild Ride In The Tropics

WORDS: Jason Oxenbridge PHOTOGRAPHY Supplied

Gold Coast surfer Mark Richardson is back in the water doing what he loves.

The surf coach is relaxed with a new lease on life after almost dying during a surf trip to Bali last year.

Having survived some heavy beatings surfing around the world, it wasn’t the board-breaking barrels of Bali’s Padang Padang, or freight-training Uluwatu that almost ended ‘Richo’s’ days in the water, but rather a nasty stomach ulcer.

Thinking he had a bad case of ‘Bali Belly’, he was holed up in a hotel for three days before going to a local hospital where he was rushed to the intensive care unit.

As he was critically ill from internal bleeding, medical staff at Bali’s Siloam Hospital struggled to source rare A-negative blood supplies to save the 51-year-old.

“I knew something was up once I got to the hospital. And then I found out that I needed blood, A- negative, and they didn’t have it,” says Mark.

“I felt like I was at the end. I only had a couple of hours left in me when they told me that there was no more blood… no more donations. That’s when it really hit me that this could be quite tricky.”

Mark is now counting his lucky stars – and waves – knowing how close he came to a meeting with ‘Huey’ – surfing’s mythical wave god.

“I’m doing much better now,” he says, gazing across the shimmering blue mass near his home in Palm Beach.

“It’s been a little bit of a process but I’m just looking after myself and being as healthy as I can and putting a bit of time into getting back on my feet,” he says.

“I’m just focusing on my coaching, working and surfing and looking after myself. My health is number one. I feel like that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned, how important your health is.”

It has been a radical ride as Mark continues to recover from his ordeal, focusing on coaching emerging surfing stars on the Gold Coast, where its famous point breaks churn perfect tubes and prodigious surfing talent.

Mark has won the Australian Surfing Championships five times and is a respected coach, imparting his wave warrior wisdom with World Surf League shredders Liam O’Brien, Courtney Conlogue, Isabella Nicholls – and even ‘Parko’ – former world champion and brother-in-law Joel Parkinson.

“The support has been absolutely amazing,” he says.

“I had a million messages on my phone and on Instagram. I had some teary moments, where I was just overcome by emotion that so many people supported me and wanted me back where I love to be – at the beach coaching people.”

Part of Mark’s recovery has been thanking the people who have supported and saved him. In a moment of gratitude, he was recently reunited with LifeFlight Australia’s aeromedical team – the same crew who saved his life and transported him safely home from Bali to Darwin Hospital.

In emotional scenes at LifeFlight’s Brisbane base, Mark fought back tears when reunited with Captain Adam Minutello, Critical Care Doctor Louis Snellgrove and Flight Nurse Natasha Grieve.

It’s a mission the LifeFlight Air Ambulance medical team will never forget. Arriving at the Bali hospital room, they quickly assessed that Mark required urgent general anaesthesia, intubation and life support to keep him alive.

Captain Adam Minutello said every minute was critical in Mark’s repatriation.

“It’s great to see Mark looking so well. He wasn’t looking so good the last time we saw him,” he says of their recent meeting.

LifeFlight Flight Nurse Natasha Grieve says she was shocked the moment she entered the Bali hospital room.

“When I first saw Mark, he was very white,” says Natasha.

“It was obvious he needed blood. So, the first thing I did for Mark was start a bag of blood.”

During the next four hours in LifeFlight’s care, he received a whole litre of blood – one unit in his hospital room, another in the ambulance on the way to the LifeFlight jet and two more in the air.

“We had to work quickly to get Mark started on the medications that he needed to save his life,” says Natasha.

“Without LifeFlight, I’m not sure Mark would have made it home. He was incredibly unwell. I’m not sure he would have made it another 12 hours without LifeFlight’s intervention.”

Critical Care Doctor Louis Snellgrove says the LifeFlight aeromedical team was in and out of the hospital in less than one hour.

“We did an urgent assessment of Mark and we intubated and sedated him and put him on our ventilator,” says Dr Snellgrove.

“Without us going to bring him back he wouldn’t have made it. We needed to use an ultrasound machine because Mark was quite swollen having been in hospital for a week.”

Mark doesn’t remember being loaded into the ambulance in that life-changing moment on the tarmac at Denpasar. It wasn’t until the ‘flying ICU’ was in the air that he became aware of his surroundings.

“I remember the jet engines; I remember hearing them. It was a beautiful sound. I knew I was on my way home. I could hear the doctors working hard on me, checking all my vitals, and making sure that I was in good shape.”

While Mark can now focus on providing guidance to surfing’s elite athletes, he also has advice for fellow surfers travelling abroad.

“Travel insurance is so important. You would never want to go on any trip overseas without travel insurance. Anyone who’s going overseas, make sure you get your travel insurance.”

And with that the 51-year-old grommet is off, gliding into the ocean, counting his lucky waves.