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Coasting : Issue 2 2009
4 SEA CHARGER: Ross Clarke-Jones pulls into the pit of another punishing big wave. By DAVID STEWART SWELL SWELL Former Terrigal surfer Ross Clarke-Jones lives in a state of perpetual readiness to drop everything and chase the biggest waves on the planet. R GUY FAST LEARNER: Ross Clarke-Jones now travels the world hunting the biggesst swells, but he rode his fi rst big wave at Terrigal at age 11. Picture courtesy of Red Bull. OSS Clarke-Jones reckons there’s a lot to be said for tough love. The big wave surfer was just a kid when his father, Robert, fi rst demonstrated the benefi ts of the tough love approach while teaching Ross beach safety. “I remember at a very early age Dad letting me get sucked out by a rip one day and him just standing there watching me,” ClarkeJones said. “I was thinking ‘What are you doing?’ But he just said ‘Work it out’ and I did work it out. He told me to swim across the rip, rather than trying to swim against it. “I was crying and carrying on, but I’ll never forget [the lesson].” Today, Clarke-Jones, 42, is revered around the world as one of the most fearless men to have ever ridden a surfboard. For more than 14 years he has hunted and ridden thunderous walls of water at sites with names such as Jaws, Mavericks, Geronimo and Poro Roca. His death-defying feats have become the stuff of legend, attracting rich sponsorship, and providing hours of unbelievable fi lm footage. Prior to embracing big waves full-time, Clarke-Jones spent 10 years on the Association of Professional Surfers (ASP) world tour, where he laments that the waves were rarely big enough for him to make his mark. His love affair with surfi ng began on a foam board at Terrigal. And by the time he started high school the love affair had intensifi ed, and nothing - and certainly no school bell - was going to get in the way. He liked school. It’s just that there weren’t enough daylight hours for him to indulge his real passion and his responsibility to attend classes. “I was never on time for school and I always used to leave at lunchtime, if I could, to go surfi ng,” Clarke-Jones laughed. “But the teachers and principal at Terrigal High School were very accommodating, really. They all just expected me to come in to school late and with wet hair.” Taking the plunge The teenage Clarke-Jones clearly remembers the day that he realised he must become a professional surfer. “I was having a surf at Terrigal Beach one morning before school and I met up with [Central Coast pro surfer] Bryce Ellis in the water and he was telling me all about how he was going to go on the tour with [Wayne] Rabbit [Bartholomew] and Gary Elkington. I just looked at him and thought: ‘That’s what I want to do’.” Clarke-Jones contested the world amateur titles with fellow Central Coast surfer, the late Mark Sainsbury, in 1986. “Mark won it and I came third, and we both decided to go professional, so we went to Waimea Bay in Hawaii and did well in our very fi rst event,” Clarke-Jones said. “I was on the tour from 1986 to 1996, competing around the world in smaller waves, mostly, but I had this reputation as a big wave surfer because I did so well in that very fi rst event in Hawaii.” The big ones In 1995 Clarke-Jones bought a jet ski. “That’s when the big wave thing really started,” he recalls. Red Bull saw the marketable potential in the wild Australian, and jumped on board with Clarke-Jones’s existing major sponsor Quicksilver, helping to drive his big wave image, and taking it mainstream with an IMAX fi lm of his outrageous exploits. In 2001, Clarke-Jones cemented his place in surfi ng folklore when he became the fi rst non-Hawaiian to win the prestigious Eddie Aikau Big Wave invitational event. “That gave me a title,” Clarke-Jones said. “It was something I’d been trying to win for 14 years, so it was pretty special.” Crash tackled For his latest venture, Clarke-Jones teamed up with his good mate the two-time world surfi ng champion Tom Carroll to produce Storm Surfers, a documentary for the Discovery Channel. The doco follows the pair as they attempt to pioneer a wave called Dangerous Breaks off the north-west coast of Tasmania. What sets this surfi ng safari apart is that the pair embraces science. With the use of a global positioning system (GPS) and other gadgets they examine such aspects as board speeds, and the G-forces involved in a wipe-out. “At one stage I got hit by 10-and-a-half Gs in four seconds three times,” Clarke-Jones said. “They said it was equivalent to a rugby
Issue 3 2009