Story transcripts

The Storm Riders

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reporter: Ben Fordham

Producer: Nick Greenaway

There's a wild, mysterious place down south in the Roaring 40s.

They call it Pedra Branca and it's known only to a few fishermen, sailors and the sharks.

A lone rock jutting out of the ocean, with huge, thundering waves.

Waves that no-one has ever surfed before, a real surfers' paradise.

It's the kind of challenge no red-blooded surfer could resist. Certainly not legends like Tom Carroll and Ross Clark Jones, surfing's odd couple.

Tom's the former world champ, cool and calculating.

Ross is the hell-raiser, anything for a bit of fun.

And Ben Fordham joined their expedition, chasing the monster waves of Pedra Branca.

Special features:

PHOTOS: Some of the meanest waves ever surfed

Full transcript:


BEN FORDHAM: I am leaving Hobart on a voyage of discovery with two living legends - Tom Carroll and Ross Clark Jones. How much do we know about where were going?


TOM CARROLL: All I all I know is, is it it's a rock, it sticks up out of the water 35 feet and it's just in the middle of nowhere. You know, 30-odd km south of the southern tip of Tasmania.

BEN FORDHAM: We're heading right into the middle of the Roaring 40s in search of a mythical giant wave at a reef called Pedra Branca. Until now, its never been surfed, And that's why were going. You just don't know what's there?

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: We don't know what's there.

TOM CARROLL: Well, there's a lot of seals there apparently.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: A lot of sea life, a lot of big sharks apparently, which is a bit of an issue.

TOM CARROLL: I think - I feel safe.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: He does look like a shark this git though. Look at him. Joining Tom and Ross on this mission are young Tasmanian surfers - James and Tyler Hollmer-Cross and Marti Paradisis. They all shun competitive surfing just to chase big waves.

MARTI PARADISIS: This is pretty much what I base my lifestyle on now. To be able to do it at home in my own waters it's a bonus. And to be able to do it with guys like Tom and Ross, they're really experienced with this type of stuff

BEN FORDHAM: Well, it's been a long night a long journey and we are a long way off Tasmania. The situation here at Pedra Branca seems to be OK. The sun has just risen and the swell is big. You can feel the boat rocking and there's not a lot of wind so the forecast seems to be just right. So the boys will now ride on the jet skis and make sure there's some ridable waves.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: Got to it and it's just a big open hole!

TOM CARROLL: Massive set, a massive set and I was looking at Ross. I was on the inside looking at the wave breaking. Ross is looking from the side on the edge of the wave and I thought "I wish I had a photo of that" because he was so small. And I'm just, my heart in my throat, just going "We've got to ride that today?"

BEN FORDHAM: And ride these monsters they did! We've only been out here a short time and already it's living up to expectations. We've got another one, here we go. It's like finding the holy grail in the ocean. The waves massive and to get a true sense of its power Tom Carroll invites me out on his jet ski. It's exhilarating but a little terrifying. The waves are so big and fast the skis must hit 40 km/h just to get the surfer in position. Do you have as much fun riding this as you do being on the wave?

TOM CARROLL: Well yeah, I love riding this and I love getting my buddy into the best wave I can, So that's part of the timing and getting that all right.

BEN FORDHAM: All morning the boys play a game of cat and mouse with the ocean. In slow motion you can see the sheer volume of water crashing over the reef. Get smacked by one of these and it's like being slammed by a marauding pack of rugby forwards.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: It's apparently 0.5 million kilograms of water pounding down and and trying to cut us in half basically.

TOM CARROLL: I think it's moving about 100 km/h at some point. You know, on a wave that size, a 20 foot wave.

BEN FORDHAM: So, how often do people tell you you're crazy?


BEN FORDHAM: Ross and Tom met more than 20 years ago on the set of 'Mad Wax', a typically bad surf film that became a minor cult classic. Check this out mate, you won't believe it.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: I got thrown into the role as 'the Wizzz' and a bit of an acting career blossomed right there but sort of finished right there. I mean it was fun. Oh, Tom Carroll, he's going to be there and he was sort of like, you know, had the head on, you know, he's world champion. "Who are you?" I was like, "Oh, he's a real prick, isn't he? God!" But ah, yeah, no, who's this Ross Clarke-Jones guy?

TOM CARROLL: Yeah, how many names has he got?

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: He thinks he's ripping.

TOM CARROLL: Oh yeah, he's got so many names, like. (LAUGHS)

BEN FORDHAM: They became best mates and forged a deep mutual respect in Hawaii, the birth place of big-wave surfing. It was here in the 90s that tow-in surfing started. Catching waves that were once deemed unrideable.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: Or your with it I mean or ride it like a dragon. Ah, come out and it's breathing fire all over you, you dance round. You get on its back and ride it. Yeew! I mean, that's it!

BEN FORDHAM: In 10 years, the sport of extreme surfing has come a long way. The boards are now computer designed, smaller, heavier - weighed down for maximum speed.

TOM CARROLL: If I didn't have weight on the board, just like any sort of ballast in anything it wouldn't hold its speed and its momentum. I take these weights off and this things going to stop dead. At certain points it may stop dead when I don't want it to stop dead, I want the thing to keep moving. It is almost like, yeah, it starts cutting through the water like a knife through hot butter.

BEN FORDHAM: And despite surfing's beach-bum image, it's now the boffins who are crucial to the success of these missions. Ben Matson is a meteorologist who's tracked this swell for 4,000 km across the Southern Ocean as it heads for Tasmania. BEN MATSON: It's exhilarating actually. I mean, you, you're constantly just living on this adrenaline rush. I mean even though I won't be surfing tomorrow I'm equally as excited, you know looking at the weather maps and seeing this thing materialise that, you know, were, you know, had its infancy a couple of weeks ago. And we've just kind of watched it and we've got progressively more excited over the last two weeks and here we are, you know, we're on the verge, I'm about to chew my nails off, so. It's, it's just, it's, it's fantastic!

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: But he's a meteorologist that's got a passion to to predict surf.

TOM CARROLL: Wave, waves, surf.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: I mean not just, is it going to rain today or be cloudy?

TOM CARROLL: Pulses of movement in the ocean. I just love it. I love hearing that stuff.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: No, he, I've never seen anyone get so excited about predicting a wave. We get excited about riding it and he he gets excited about telling about it.

BEN FORDHAM: For the past year they have all joined forces to chase some of the wildest swells on record in Australia. It's part of a Discovery Channel documentary called 'Storm Surfers'. But while science is making the swells more predictable surfing them is just as dangerous as ever. Earlier this year at a place called Shipsterns, in Tasmania, Ross tempted fate. Lucky to limp away with just torn ligaments in his ankle. When do you reach a point when you say "Hang on, that's too big?"

TOM CARROLL: Um, I think the first time I've had that was just recently, that I just actually pulled away from the surf and Ross got injured and and that was at Shipsterns and it was it was just too, too nasty.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: Is that what happens? I mean he's the only person I've met, never seen pull back. And he pulled back, and I mean that I actually worried, I was a bit worried for myself going on, you know. Going, "I am I going to turn into a pussy like him?"

BEN FORDHAM: But Ross knows his body has paid the price for all these pounding waves. Immediately after our Pedra Branca mission, he's booked himself in for spinal surgery. But right now he's happy to risk everything for one more ride. Then...potential disaster!

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: That wave I got slapped on, it felt like I hit my head with a cricket bat. It felt like my whole skin got rearranged and I can feel it in my neck. Going, "OK, well, I'm going to get operated on anyway so it doesn't matter." My nose started bleeding and it was pretty, I feel a bit cross-eyed right now.

BEN FORDHAM: Luckily, there was no further damage and Ross, unbelievably, went straight back out into the cauldron.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: They say as close to death to feel more alive and I believe that. I mean, when we surf these waves you're so close to getting hit by a lip that could crush you in a second or drown quite easily. And ah, I mean when you come off this wave you're feeling so alive nothing matters.

BEN FORDHAM: Is it a healthy thing to get a little bit scared when you're out there amongst it?

TOM CARROLL: It's very healthy. I think there's a point where it will tell you to back off. But I'll take every precaution to observe the conditions, observe what's going on, use all my experience to preserve life. I'm not here to kill myself.

BEN FORDHAM: Our mission to Pedra Branca will now become part of Australian surfing legend. The waves, some of the biggest ever ridden in this country. The myth is now epic reality.

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: This is like it could be once in a lifetime you'll never see this wave like this again in our lifetime, I mean, it's such a rare occasion to get no wind out here, a large swell. This is like an Hawaiian-style swell

BEN FORDHAM: And she'd never been ridden until you guys turned up!

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: She was a virgin. She's not anymore! (LAUGHS)

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