Pioneering Inventor Of The First Surf Helmet Dead At 67 - Stab Mag

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Rick Gath in 1988 with one of the early prototypes. 

Pioneering Inventor Of The First Surf Helmet Dead At 67

Rest in Power, Ricky Gath 

elsewhere // Dec 20, 2023
Words by Holden Trnka
Reading Time: 3 minutes

It’s with great sadness that Stab learns that Australian surfing has lost another legend. After almost two years battling Stage 4 gastric cancer, Western Australian surfer and inventor of the first surfing helmet, Ricky Gath, has died at the age of 67. 

Born in 1956, Gath grew up in Margaret River, WA, and after winning his fare share of local and regional events, began suffering from ear aches from cold water and stiff winter winds, and according to Gath,  “frequently visited the doctor to have his head stitched” and  “realized he needed some form of head protection to keep surfing.”

Almost four decades after inventing the first Gath Helmets, Ricky would have been thrilled the last few years as the increased awareness around mental health and traumatic brain injuries has cause a massive spike in Gath’s and other surf helmet’s popularity, especially at places like Pipeline and Teahupoo, but all around the world as well. 

According to Gath, the iconic helmet and visor design came about “after years of using a hood and eventually having two operations, one to remove the bone growth in his ears (exostosis, commonly known as surfer’s ears caused by exposure to wind and water) and a second operation to remove the skin growth across his eyes (pterygiums cause by long term exposure to glare) and finally after witnessing his young son’s surf board fin narrowly miss his head while learning to surf in small beach breaks, Ric began working on the surf helmet design.”

“The initial design combined the snug fit of a wetsuit hood with a protective light weight plastic helmet shell and included a visor for protection against the sun… After studying standard requirements for lightweight helmets, creating the design drawings and initiating Patent protection the next phase involved knocking on doors in the plastic industry in Perth to enquiring into how the helmet components could be made.  Eventually Ric received an introduction from a WA Government body, The Design Innovation Centre, to a company that could help produce a proto-type helmet.”  

Ric spent a few years tweaking the designs, hand sculpting the molds in Margaret River, finalizing details as far as components and materials, before raising investment to bring the first Gath helmet to market. 

The surf world got their first glimpse of the Gath at the 1989 Margaret River Pro Masters, which was won by Dave Macaulay wearing one. 

The next year Gary Elkerton won the 1990 Pipe Masters wearing a Gath, followed by Tom Carrol who not only won the 1991 Pipe Masters wearing a Gath, but landed on the covers and in the pages of nearly every major surf magazine and in every surf movie of the time. 

Gath became incredibly popular amongst windsurfers, kayakers, and bodyboarders throughout the 1990s, but for their innovation and design within surfing, Gath received “endorsements from the International Surfers Medical Association, ASP Association of Surfing Professionals… an Australian Design Award, wins a Honour Award for Design Innovation in the Surfing Industry and is inducted into the Surfing Hall of Fame.”

Today, Gath is still a proudly family-owned, family-run Western Australian business. According to Ricky, “it has all been worth it when receiving feedback from happy customers saying their Gath helmet has saved them from either serious injury or saved their life.”

Ricky leaves behind his children Jesse and Byron, daughterin law Jennifer, and grandchildren Sage and Hunter. 

From the countless thousands of surfers, photographers, and Gath users and fans around the world, thank you Ricky Gath. Rest in Power.

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