Soft-spoken and methodical big-wave rider from Santa Cruz, California; runner-up in the 1999 Maverick's contest, and founder of the Richard Schmidt Surf School. Schmidt was born (1960) in San Francisco, the son of a Lutheran minister, raised in Santa Cruz, and began surfing at age eight. He came to the attention of the surf world in 1980, after Surfing magazine published photos of him charging the thick, explosive waves of Puerto Escondido, Mexico.
Schmidt's friend and fellow Santa Cruz surfer Vince Collier also gained notice at this time, and the two were often spoken of as a unit. But whereas the barrel-chested Collier was loud and coarse, the slender, white-blond Schmidt (5'8", 155 pounds) was quiet and focused. He rode in a medium-narrow stance, with arms and hands extended a bit rigidly out to the sides, rarely backed down from the waves he paddled for, and made few mistakes. Bottom turns were a specialty. "There are top pros," Australian surf journalist Nick Carroll later wrote, "earning six times his money with 20 times the ego, who curl up and die upon witnessing the Richard Schmidt big-wave bottom turn."
Schmidt visited the North Shore for the first time in 1979, and steadily built a reputation as a cool hand in larger surf. In 1989 he won the XCEL Pro and placed third in the World Cup, both held at Sunset Beach; he placed third in the 1990 Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau contest at Waimea Bay, and a photo of Schmidt racing down a 25-foot gray-blue Waimea wall during the Quiksilver finals was published on the cover of Surfer. The following year, he was one of the first Santa Cruz surfers to ride Maverick's, the terrifying big-wave break located between Santa Cruz and San Francisco; Schmidt was 38 when he finished runner-up to Santa Cruz surfer Darryl "Flea" Virostko in the inaugural Quiksilver Maverick's Men Who Ride Mountains contest. Virostko and fellow Santa Cruz big-wave ace Peter Mel have both cited Schmidt as a primary influence.
While working as a Santa Cruz Parks and Recreation lifeguard In 1983, Schmidt began giving individual and group surfing lessons at Cowells Beach, near the Santa Cruz pier, and in 1990 he began running weeklong summer surf camps. In 1998, he incorporated as the Richard Schmidt Surf School. Learn to Surf and Ocean Safety with Richard Schmidt, a one-hour instructional video, was released in 1997, and updated in 2002. Schmidt himself has appeared in more than two dozen surf movies and videos, including Amazing Surf Stories (1986), Gone Surfin' (1987), Mental Surfing (1993), and Twenty Feet Under (1998).