When Terry Richardson looks at a board, he doesn't see wax, fibreglass or paint - he sees memories.
One of the South Coast's finest surfers, Richardson has donated his most precious possessions for The Green Cathedral, a sprawling homage to the region's surf culture opening at Wollongong City Gallery on Sunday.
"The show brings to the public eye what surfing has been on the South Coast; not just that we have good surf, but national and international stars," he said.
"It's unreal they're showcasing it."
In the "boardroom", Richo's world championships, hand-shaped boards and well-loved rashies sit alongside a staggering collection of surfing history.
A 1930s plywood toothpick board and 1950s balsa model are set against the first board shaped in the new Skipp factory in 1970, flanked by trophies from homegrown champions Mick Lowe, Pam Burridge, Sally Fitzgibbons, Owen Wright and Dylan Longbottom.
"The idea has been on the backburner for a while, waiting for the right time," curator Milly Hyde said.
Upstairs, decades of surf photography is documented in Shooting The Curl, with dozens of images of the region's iconic coastline and surf breaks. Back downstairs, a range of contemporary surf-themed art in The Green Cathedral room includes a large wooden model of a wave, surrealist artwork, and a range of ceramic thongs from surfer Gerry Wedd.
Hyde said the South Coast had long been a hot spot for beach bums and serious surf safaris alike, but the surfing talent in the region sometimes went overlooked.
"It's not always as well known, and the aim of the show is for the people of Wollongong to recognise and celebrate surf culture and history," she said.
"Surfing is like a big family, and I think the show will bring it all together."
Richardson echoed the sentiment, saying the Illawarra was often forgotten in conversations about Australian surfing culture.
"We've always been pushed down from Sydney and the Gold Coast. That's what the media and films focus on, but that's not the mecca of surfing," he said.
"When you analyse what came out of this area, it's a force to be reckoned with."
The Green Cathedral opens on Sunday at 2pm at the Wollongong City Gallery.
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