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Tom Carroll

Interview with Tom Carrol
Video: 6 minutes

Regarded as one of the greatest surfers of all time, Tom Carroll describes his career.

This video was produced with funds donated by Tim Fairfax AC.

Tom Carroll: Learning to surf was a lot of trial and error. Because of the close proximity to the ocean and the, basically the love I had for the movement of the ocean and the free ride, that feeling of riding a wave. And I’ll never forget riding, standing up for the first time on my Coolite in the shore break at Newport on a Thursday afternoon after Dad came home early from work, and we all went down for a swim. And I stood up on this wave and went into the shore break, and it seemed like I stood up for like a minute. And I said, "Dad," and he’s standing right there. "I just stood up for about a minute," you know. And he deflated me straight away. The bubble burst. "You were up for about a second, Tom," you know. But time expanded, you know. Had that instant feeling of just fully engaged in the moment, and that moment seemed to last forever.

I’d surf every morning before school, and I’d ride my bike to school, to Pittwater High School, and ride back - it was a considerable ride on a pushbike with no gears, up and down the hills of the Northern Beaches here. And those rides trained me, you know. And I’d get home, I’d want to beat the bus back, because I know there’s guys on the bus that were going to go surfing; and if I could get back there quicker on the bike, it’d justify my riding. I still just loved surfing for what it was; it wasn't, it was just something I really enjoyed doing, that connection with the ocean. And that allowed me to, I don't know, at some other level deal with a bunch of other things that went on in my life at the time, as a young kid. And the ocean sort of held me at that point.

Back in the ’70’s, there weren't a lot of things to sort of, you know, distract us. We were pretty healthy, you know. We were just out there in the ocean pretty much every day, and that really held us in good health. And that competitive drive between each other was very strong. You know, we've got a community based around it, at one surf break - it’s a very powerful element to feeling like you belong in a place. You know, I won the first Pro Junior, Professional Junior event there at Narrabeen in January 1977, and I was 15 years of age at the time, and I was surfing against guys that were older than me. And it was a big win. And every bet, the best juniors in Australia would come down to compete. And it got me actually into the first man on man event, Stubbies event, as an invite, straight into the Stubbies event in Queensland - surf against my heroes. It actually launched me into this whole other phase of surfing, and a life that I couldn't have even dreamed of.

I really looked outside the sport to figure out what was going on, and it’s a pretty treacherous world. And when you get a lot of money really fast, or get a lot of attention, or anything very quickly without really knowing what that was about, is potentially, you know, really destabilising. I wouldn't say there’s more pressure. I think there’s just simply a clearer defined path, and what you need to do to, you know, aim up to those responsibilities, both for yourself and the sponsor, and to the business of being a professional. My own style on a surfboard, well I’d say it’s... you know, in the earlier days, it was pretty kind of, this pretty raw and natural, and it grew into a fairly aggressive, athletic approach, and it was more what everyone was calling power-based surfing. I think that’s changed over time, for me; I couldn't kind of sustain that. I think, you know, physically I couldn't sustain it - it takes a lot of energy and takes a toll on the body. But I still like those little bursts of energy that kind of come naturally.

Oh, gosh, another sort of default mechanism in surfing for me was to, you know, keep challenging myself. And still, you know, I had no idea this was going to turn out like this; I didn't really plan that, "Yeah, I’m going to be doing storm surfers; yeah, I’m going to be riding big waves; yeah, I’m going to be going exploring these crazy on the edge of the continent that big waves form on that no one has ever ridden or tried to ride," and I was stupid enough to ride them. So there’s a lot going on. Riding a wave is... one of those wonderful things in life for me, is that once I’m on a wave, I can’t hear music, I can’t hardly hear the person yelling from the side of the wave, going, "Yeah." You can hardly hear anyone, because it’s taking up all my attention. And I’m attending to a moving surface that’s changing all the time; so I’m responding with this thing underneath my feet that I've got to know. I’m going to know this thing’s second nature; I can’t be thinking about it. Go, "Oh, well that’s that, and that’s that." I won’t be thinking like that. And I guess at that point, we feel more alive than ever; and we can either... yeah, you know, we’re right on the edge with being alive, you know.

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