Forget the physical training. Never mind the mental prep. For former world champion surfer Tom Carroll, the urge to surf down a 30-foot wall of water — sometimes dozens of miles from shore — is all about testosterone.
“Some people have it, some people don't,” he says. “[Men] have got 100 times the testosterone levels of [most women]. So we're built for confrontation. We're built to get out there, kill something, and bring it back.”
In Carroll's case, and that of his best friend and surfing partner, Ross Clarke-Jones, the trophy of the hunt is adrenaline-fueled footage of their heart-pounding sessions in Storm Surfers 3D. The film, which screens this week at Hollywood's TCL Chinese Theatres, follows the Australian natives for a winter of chasing big waves and horrific wipeouts. The eye-popping scenes had the audience clapping and cringing in a screening at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica this past weekend.
As we get towed with the surfers into massive, watery bombs, it's more than brawn that fires up this buddy movie about having balls of steel, ocean know-how, and big-brand funding from Red Bull. Carroll, who set an industry precedent with the first million-dollar Quiksilver contract, and Clarke-Jones, who was a hard-partying, middling member of the professional tour, together are like excited little kids in sun-soaked, muscle-bound bodies. With their competitive days now decades behind them, their focus is on chasing the world's biggest waves, and uncharted, ocean territory. Equal parts athletes and comedians, the two often crack jokes and poke fun at each other.
Despite their boyish banter, both men are keenly aware of age and professional evolution. On a recent, sunny morning in Malibu, the pair leaves behind their tow-in gear, film crew, and surf forecaster for a less dangerous session with this reporter and a small team of publicists. As a father of three girls, Carroll grapples with the weight of more than water with every wave. “Now there's a level to where I'll go,” he says. “I don't rush out like I used to, whereas back in the day, I was just hungry for it.”
As for fatherhood, he recalls, “I didn't like it at first, that I was holding back or that there was another voice in there — [the hesitation] is dangerous. I rubbed out the idea that I was a father for a long time. It was complicated for me. And it took a while to understand that it was OK to have both pieces.”
Just as subject matter veered for the shoals of deep thoughts, he adds, “It took a while, because I'm pretty slow. I'm slow on land.”
As Carroll sips his coffee on the sand, Clarke-Jones kneels nearby, waxing up a shiny new longboard and prepping it for his first paddle-out at Surfrider Beach. This is not a day for chest-thumping, hollering storm chasers: With waves maxing out at two feet high, the session is going to be more of a walk in the park than an epic excursion.
Still, putting the wax down, he says, “I'll go out no matter what, even if it's ugly, like we did at Shipsterns [a surf spot in the film, pictured], which was horrible. But I took one for the team. I'd just traveled from Europe. All the boys were out there.
“That's rewarding in itself,” he says. “We used something [from it for the movie]. And I didn't die.”
Out in Malibu, facing mortality was far from the agenda. Instead of mountains of water inviting death-defying stunts, weak waves rolled in with barely enough power to push a surfer down the line. But Clarke-Jones and Carroll rode each tiny wave together, cheering and laughing like children — and hollering at this reporter to paddle just a little faster.
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