What everybody seems to remember about my 1989 SURFER profile on Richie Collins was that he spoke, on record, briefly but proudly, about jerking off. He was (and I think still is) a devout Born Again Christian, and thus wasn’t supposed to be having sex. But he was also a masterful provocateur. At some point during my talk with Collins the conversation veered to the place within striking distance of both sex and religion, and I asked Collins if he was a virgin:
Of course I’m not a virgin. But I haven’t been with a girl for a long time. When it comes down to that I’ll just go crank it in the corner. I tell girls that’s what I’m going to do, like, “I’m just going to go in the shower for awhile.” [Collins at this point made the international up-and-down motion with his fist, smiling.] And they’re all, Whaaat? But some of ‘em…they like you for it! They like that you’re just coming out and saying it!
I certainly liked Collins for saying it. Kept a friendly, neutral expression on my face, but I remember feeling a huge thrill, as juvenile as was professional, that I had a top World Tour surfer on tape talking about wanking.
You remember Richie Collins as a punk and a brat and loudmouth? Sure. A lot of people do. That, plus he was not the most stylish man to set foot on a board: “Skeletor,” they called him, and there for sure was something cartoony about the way he rode—all flying elbows and knees, and a shaved head back when that had real shock value. Went big on the claiming, too. Man-on-man against Tom Curren, the contrast was almost dizzying.
But Collins was unique, amazingly so, in a lot of ways. Made his own boards, for one thing, and unless I’m mistaken he’s the only ASP-era World Tour pro to have done so. Slightly weird-looking boards too, different from anybody else’s, with pronounced wings, and blockier rails, with Collins’ own kindergarden paint-splatter artwork on the bottom of deck. More than that, he was simply the most confident 20-year-old I’ve ever met. You could see it in his surfing, which was fast and creative and virtually brake-free. (“I just hit it again and again as hard as I can, until I fall or the wave ends, one or the other.”) I watched Collins win the 1988 Coldwater Classic in slow kelp-covered rollers at Steamer Lane, a break that could not be any more different than the Orange County shorebreak waves he grew up in, and he didn’t put a foot wrong all week. Again, not the prettiest performance. But lots of abandon, and total control. He won that thing going away.
Collins’ confidence was directly plugged into his showmanship, which expressed itself best by tearing down surf-world pieties. The first time I ever talked to Collins was for an overly-earnest 1988 SURFER survey article called “Changing Shades of Soul.” Asked about their definition of “soul surfing,” other surfers offered the usual gauzy mind-body-spirit tropes, often at length. Collins batted the question away with “I’m not a soul surfer. I only surf for competition.” That got the purists shrieking—which I think was pretty much the whole point of Richie’s remark.
Where Collins’ confidence really shined, however, was in how honest he was. Yes, to the point of grinning schoolboy talk about masturbation. But when I go back and read that profile now, what really jumps out is how open he was about his relationship with his father, Newport kingpin shaper Lance Collins. This is how I wrote about it in the profile:
There is no question that Richie Collins is a chip off the old block, and that Lance Collins was, and still is, the most influential person in Richie’s life. For the most part, they hang around together with the natural ease of two brothers, not father and son. They can be nearly identical in appearance, attitude and mannerisms. Both are cold, and quietly hostile, to people they don’t know. Both will go to extreme lengths to help out a friend.
There’s an intense love-hate connection between the two. When Richie was younger Lance would walk into his room early in the morning, announce that he was going surfing, then go out and start the car, leaving Richie to chase after him down the street in his underwear, holding on to his board and struggling into his clothes.
He received no encouragement from Lance in his early competitive career. “When I was a little kid I’d win a contest, come home and tell me Dad, and he’d say I was still a kook. That night I’d go to bed and lay there for hours, thinking, ‘That asshole. That prick. Man, when I’m world champion he’s just going to be bowing down to my knees.’ So I’ve always had this feeling of, ‘I’ll show him, I’ll show him.'”
A few minutes later, Collins followed up with this. “People, my Dad and everybody else, tell me not to do things. But the thing is, I already know I’m not supposed to do things. I know it. I kind of wish my Dad and everybody else would just go, ‘Okay Rich, you do what you want to do. Just be careful.'”
Collins was weirdly naive and advanced at the same time. Amazing to me that, while just barely out of his teens, he didn’t hold that shit in, or try to spin it. Just venting and grappling, in a way that, to my eyes anyway, 25 years later, seems really healthy. And I think he was right. Collins, on his own, worked things out faster than other kids his age.
One final example of how Collins was different. Again, in retrospect, this just seems remarkable for a 20-year-old: “When you go into my room, there’s not one picture of surfing on my walls. They’re just clean, white walls. I think about surfing so much that sometimes I hate the whole thing by the time I get home. I just want to go to my room and lay my head down, with nothing on the walls, and think of anything besides surfing.”