Richie “Vas” Vaculik is an extraordinary athlete who because of his own good nature and humbleness doesn't even realises it. He’s a professional big wave surfer, mixed martial artist who spent many years in the UFC, an analyst on Fox Sports, life guard, carpet layer and most importantly a father and husband.
He wears many hats and I was intrigued how he balances it all, but he does it and does it all very well.
There was much to learn from the life of Richie Vas from growing up as part of the Bra Boys and following his idols and best friends into the surfing culture which would be notorious for young men who grew up in the area. They have a deep bond and support which has seen much success from the group despite unfair wraps and criticism over time.
But just as any young man growing up we all make mistakes and have to battle adversity along the way. Rich is very open and honest of his trials and tribulations but from his own mistakes you find a man taking responsibility for his actions and finding out what is truly important in life.
There are some great takeaways and learning opportunities from the podcast and I encourage you to listen to the entire episode below or continue for my key learning points from our powerful chat.
Having had three of Rich’s close mates on the podcast previously they all speak so highly of him and you get the idea that he is very much a glue within his friendship group.
“There the boy’s I’ve grown up with since we were kids. I’ve been on some wild adventures in the ocean with Mark Mathews and Ryan Hipwood and grown up with Reni Maitua and trained with him and had fun times partying down in Maroubra where we were fortunate to grow up. I’ve got a lot of good mates down there and still the same bunch of mates I’m hanging around with now it’s pretty special and a lot of fun”
PASSIONS CAN LEAD TO NEW OPPORTUNITIES
Sometimes your passions can lead to other opportunities to extend yourself and challenge yourself in areas you may not have thought previously would be possible.
"My two passions have always been surfing then later in life mixed martial arts. I’ve been fighting professionally for 11 years and only did it as a way to stay fit for surfing. But I fell in love with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Boxing and it kind of snow balled from there. I picked up a trade along the way laying carpet. Down Maroubra every second blokes a carpet layer but one of the older boys lost his license so when I was 18 he asked me if I wanted to drive for him. I was on my P’s but ended up learning the trade, so I’m kind of like the jack of all things, master of none but I like to keep it changing. I get bored with a few things easily so it’s good to have a few options. With Fox Sports I did no media training and that’s what helped me relax into the role, I didn’t have to be really articulate or have crazy grammar. It’s made me relax and over time I felt more comfortable in front of the camera and it’s a lot of fun"
Fear is an interesting topic for a man who pursues what he does for a living.
So whats frightens a man who surfs 50 foot waves and fights in little gloves in a cage?
"When I think about it logically you're going out in the middle of ocean and getting wiped into waves that can kill you that’s way more dangerous. I’m shit scared of it but it’s that Adrenalin of being shit scared that makes it attractive like roller coaster rides and scary films. Mixed Marital arts came a little later in my early 20’s so that initially was more scary than the big waves as I’ve always grown up around the ocean. I developed a level of comfort in the ocean and I found that with experience in the cage even though I still get shit scared in the octagon. With experience you can handle those nerves and world wind of emotions. Public speaking is something else you get that lump in your throat, those sweaty palms and your shitting yourself, they all get your sweating for different reasons"
You can have all the talent in the world but there is nothing like find discipline to complement your skills. Marital Arts was the key ingredient for Richie to both sports and life.
“I’m so grateful that marital arts came into my life because at the time I had no discipline or direction. I could do whatever I want, I was at that age where there was no consequence to everything I did. I was about going as hard as I can whether it be surfing or partying whatever it may be. I was actually 18 when I got introduced to BJJ with Bruno Pano and Alex Prats they lived in Maroubra and surfed that’s how they met the boys, the word spread and we all started attending classes. There was like 50 of the boys all white belts across the room trying to rip each others arms off. It was awesome to jump in with your mates everyone was competitive and Bruno and Alex were awesome coaches”
“I was super focused on big wave surfing with Mark Mathews and Kobe Abberton leading the charge from Maroubra who became two of the best big wave surfers in the world so I wanted to jump under their wing. We were travelling all the time chasing waves in Hawaii and Tahiti and I was super focused on that and make a career out of it. But that still meant I could go out and get blind drunk from Monday to Sunday then when a swell comes you take two days off the piss and your sweet. I was not that discipline but Marital Arts is a clean lifestyle year round. That was the difference, I was still motivated and had goals to achieve stuff but the introduction to Martial arts changed my lifestyle and that really complemented my surfing”
LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
Many years ago while young and reckless, Richie made a mistake which would change his life forever, a make or break moment that would be the start of him growing up and being a responsible adult.
“Mick Fanning was coming home from winning his first world title. I had a bunch of mates on the Gold Coast, Ryan Hipwood and all the boys. We went and had a few beers, when you have a few beers you always got to take to excess and carry on like a goose. Its small man syndrome you always have to do everything bigger than everyone else. That night spiralled out of control I got into a fight at the pub woke up with a sore head and thought nothing else of it. A few months later I was called into Maroubra police station not knowing what it was about. I was put straight into a cell then a five day deport back to Queensland and realising in that fight I hit someone and they have a broken jaw and there pressing charges. At that age I was young, I was stupid and I just thought that’s how you prove yourself as a bloke and a man you don’t back down if someone says something to you. Looking back now it was a blessing in disguise. One of my least proud moments but there were lessons it taught me. It was a point where if I didn’t change, I had some opportunities lying in front of me but if I didn’t pull my head in and change stuff I wouldn’t come close to achieving anything I wanted in both sports plus it was tearing up my family”
We all make mistakes but our ability to take responsibility and make the necessary adjustment is how we are defined. After his own mistakes, Rich made some positive key steps and more importantly took responsibility towards moving where he didn't need to be.
“I removed myself from the places I was finding myself in trouble, I wasn’t in some club at 4:30 in the morning, I was wasn’t getting full to my eye lids in piss. That was what I did initially and I put focus on training and fighting. So I changed the environment first then I slowed my drinking down. I wanted to feel fresh all through the week. I slowly started to realise that you feel better without the drink and I was motivated and had things to focus my energy on. I could say no to a beer and my mates understood it when they saw how motivated I was”
The birth of his daughter Grace brought Rich some fresh new perspective and reflection.
“I want to be more of a provider, living the lifestyle of chasing waves and taking fights everything has been about me it’s a very selfish lifestyle. But now being selfish as a dad is a pretty hard thing so I’ve had to learn it’s not about me anymore. She the centre of my universe, she comes first. Then I got to help the wife and provide more. I was always content to get by from week to week I didn’t need to earn much I’ve never had the idea I had to earn millions. Now with a kid and family you want to try and be that provider that’s my role as father. I just sit there and stair and wonder what’s she going to do when she grows up, what’s her passions going to be”
WATCHING YOUR BEST MATE GET HURT
Richie had the unfortunate experience of watching his best mate Mark Mathews get injured while they were surfing the south coast of NSW. It also got him thinking of risk tolerance and what that meant to his life.
“I was standing in the barrel as he fell it was such an unspectacular wipe out for Mark. He had just got back in the water from a crazy shoulder injury from a year of rehab. I was on the Jet Ski and when I heard yelling from the impact zone, I thought he did his shoulder again so I darted in there. I dragged him on and I could see his leg was kind of deformed it didn’t look right with a wet suit on. He was in a lot of pain but we got him to shore. The paramedics did an amazing job of picking up he had no blood flow to his foot, it was crazy they pumped him full of drugs and all of a sudden Mark was having the time of his life. They got the helicopter in and his was whisked off to Canberra hospital. I definitely came back with my stomach was in a knot and I thought I got a kid on the way those thoughts did go through my head if I wasn’t able to provide what would you do. You do get a bit of a risk assessment when I was growing up in my teens and early 20’s I didn’t care if I got injured I didn’t care and with that approach I never got injured as soon as I got injured and thought about it I got injured again. So I don’t want to change the way I approach surfing big waves or fighting too much, I did tone down the attitude so I think a little different but not to the point of thinking of not getting injured”
There is some great takeaways from the chat. Sharing stories and being vulnerable is a key ingredient to educating and relating to other. Through Rich’s story there is a lot to reflect on as we all grow.
To summarise what I learnt the key points are:
1. Surround yourself with great people who will continue to help you push forward and grow
2. Use your passions to create opportunities
3. Tackle your fear head on
4. Discipline can take you from good to great
5. Learn from your mistakes by taking responsibility
6. If you have made a mistake, analyse why and make a change to rectify
7. Life can take you to places you never thought possible, embrace it
8. Happiness can occur when you stop thinking about ourselves and consider others in your decisions
Think about how can you use Rich’s experience to help you in your own journey?
Be sure to continue to follow Rich on his journey.
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