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Chat: Ross Clarke-Jones

Monday, October 27, 2008
<b><p>Interviewer: 60 Minutes presents a live interview with Ross Clarke-Jones, here to talk to us about big wave surfing.  </p><p>

Interviewer: 60 Minutes presents a live interview with Ross Clarke-Jones, here to talk to us about big wave surfing.

Interviewer: Ross thank you for talking to us tonight, in our live online chat room.

Ross Clarke-Jones: Thanks very much putting it on there, it's great to watch on 60 mins. Sorry if I'm not as responsive, I'm still recovering from surgery!

Ingrid asks: What an amazing story! How did both of you get started in surfing?

Ross Clarke-Jones: First when I was 11 years old I moved to the central coast and starting actually life saving where I learnt to surf. Because that was the thing to do in that environment.

Cameron asks: When one surfer is paddling for a wave, how do you know who gets to ride it?

Ross Clarke-Jones: That’s a good question, it’s usually the person on the inside who has right of way. Or in other places like Hawaii, the biggest meanest guy always has right of way.

Idols asks: Where is Pedra Branca? The waves that one can find there look set to challenge the most experienced surfers!

Ross Clarke-Jones: It’s not secret, but surfers aren’t suppose to tell anyone where is it and I won’t be the one to tell, but I can say it’s an island near Tasmania. Sorry, I won’t be the one to tell, it’s funny how many surfers get upset over that, but it’s really not that hard to find.

Spicer asks: What is considered a good stance?

Ross Clarke-Jones: Most surfers stand in the “natural” stance when your left foot is forward on the board and the other way is called goofy foot, when your right foot is on the front of the board. In early days, goofy was considered goofy cause it looked funny. But now it’s so common, like left hand right hand, it’s almost natural. If people’s legs are too wide apart it can look strange though.

HarlemAngel asks: Where are some of your favourite surfing spots? Any hidden gems that you can tell us about?

Ross Clarke-Jones: No, because that’s why they are hidden gems and I’d like to keep them that way. Because it’s true, a lot of the time if you expose a place, and people see how good the waves are, it gets crowded in a year or two. That’s why I like to go to places no one knows about and are hard to get to. Especially when there are locals there that enjoy the place themselves. I do have one or two hidden gems that I would never film or talk about.

RobbieW asks: What tips do you have for someone who is just starting out in surfing?

Ross Clarke-Jones: Depends on the age, at first you definitely want to be a confident swimmer and then start on very small waves and try and understand the ocean as far as with timing of the waves. Understanding the rifts and ocean by itself without surfing. Such as ocean knowledge. Surfing schools weren’t around when I started, but they seem to be a good way to accelerate the learning curve I guess. You won’t get the stand up really early, but soon you’ll get there as it takes a while.

Beachbabe asks: Where do the biggest waves in the world break? Ross Clarke-Jones: The majority of the biggest waves are in the northern hemisphere around California and Hawaii. Every Winter from November to March I have been to Hawaii for the last 22 years.

FlwrPwr asks: I've been surfing for a few years and I'm wanting to now upgrade to a new surfboard. What tips can you give us for selecting the perfect board?

Ross Clarke-Jones: It’s a very personal thing, surf boards. The perfect surf board might be good for one person, but horrible for someone else. A lot depends on your weight and height. For example, if you’re quite heavy it’s good to have a thicker board, and have it a little bit wider. No two boards seem the same, some of the ones mass produced in China or Thailand probably don’t have the best performance, but the ones that are handcrafted by the best surfers in the world mean that the two that are never the same. It’s important to build a relationship with the shaper who can watch your surf. That would be the best way.

Sasandjack asks: You could have seriously injured your spine! Do you have family that were worried about this extreme surfing?

Ross Clarke-Jones: Yes I have two children and a brother, two ex-wives and a wonderful girlfriend that are my family. But they have never felt threaten by what I do and they’ve always know since they met me that I do that sort of thing. But on that wave that you saw on the show, that was the one that I got hit with was probably the hardest I’ve ever been hit in my 25 years of surfing. And it was in the worst possible spot to get hit, right in the head. I couldn’t out run it or get inside it.

Runway asks: What advice do you have for someone who may come across a shark in the water when surfing?

Ross Clarke-Jones: I’ve always had a horrible fear of sharks, but have never actually seen any in the water while I’ve been surfing. I have been to South Africa where I went into a shark cage. We were out about 5km from the area where they jump out of the water and I was petrified. I was with the shark experts, he was touching them on the nose when they came out of the water and I think that best advice is to just stay still if you see one coming at you. But if it’s got a hold of you, punch it in the nose or eyes, that’s what I’ve always been told. Their noses are very sensitive. Avoiding them is the best thing, don't go surfing in the morning or too late, when it's feeding time.

zkyf asks: Hello Ross. I've been wondering if there is a special technique to surviving being dunked by a wave the size of the ones shown in the 60 minutes segment just shown.

Ross Clarke-Jones: The technique is to either out run it or go inside it, and then hold your breath as you are about to get hit and try and ball up your whole body to take the impact and just hang on for the ride. And really try and relax mentally, knowing that it all will be over soon and you’ll be fine. Now we wear life vests which help cut down the time we are underwear by about 30 seconds, before we used to be underwater for 1-2 minutes.

walshy asks: When do you think you will give it up, surely getting on in age, and surfing isn't the best combo?

Ross Clarke-Jones: Actually it depends on the type of surfing, I mean there are surfers who are surfing long into their 70s in Hawaii. There are a lot of 60 year olds and they’ve surfed everyday and they haven’t stopped. Obviously the more injures I get will shorten my time and I’ll give it up when I don’t have that need to do it. Right now I feel like I need to do it, the passion is still there. Or else I’ll stop riding big waves when I start to feel scared and insecure about riding them, cause then I’ll know I don’t want to do it anymore. Apparently it happens, after 50 your thinking can change.

Stoked asks: What preparation do you do before riding such large waves?

Ross Clarke-Jones: Try and stay fit all the time, constantly try and be as fit as possible cause you never know when the call to ride a big wave will be. And it happens all year, not just Hawaii, Australia, Chile, Africa etc. You have to constantly be training, cardio and light weights. Try and get as much sleep as possible before the big day. And lots of water before you go out cause you can get really dehydrated. Also making sure all the equipment is secure is very important.

paul.c asks: The older I get, the harder it is to hold my breath. What do you do you do to improve in this area? Apart from yoga?

Ross Clarke-Jones: I’ve only done one lesson of Yoga in my life, and many lessons of meditation for breathing that Tom taught me, but I’m too impatient for either. I’ve also tried to do breath holding techniques with certain swimming trainers, tried to carry rocks underwater in Hawaii. But I don’t do it consistently and I really don’t think any of it helps. It all comes down to the moment when you need to hold your breath, not to panic and think about something completely different when you’re getting smashed around.

And it will soon become second nature, think of a BBQ with your friends or something. Cause when you don’t panic you can hold your breath for a long time. Make sure you take in a lung full of air, it also helps act as a buoyancy and will bring you to the surface faster. If it gets too much, let little breathes of air out, just don’t breath in! Watch the Discovery Channel: Storm Surfers that airs in December 17, you can see Tom and I holding our breaths in a swimming pool. I did 2 minutes and Tom actually did 3 minutes since he let little bits of air out. You can check out and ask us any questions.

Steve10 asks: Hi guys. Are you superstitious? Do you have a ritual or something special that you take with you before you surf these huge waves?

Ross Clarke-Jones: I used to be superstitious, mainly because I was married to two Brazilian women (not at the same time), but I had 20 years married to Brazilians and they are very superstitious. There used to be all sorts of little things, too many to remember. I used to carry a little bit of crystal, meant to keep me safe at all times. But now it’s just positive thinking that is the best for me and creating a good scenario ahead of time. That seems to work.

rochest asks: I really want to hear what these waves sound like, but every surf movie, and now 60 minutes, feels the need to drown them with music. Why? How loud are they?

Ross Clarke-Jones: On the Discovery Channel show, you can hear it yourself because we have microphones strapped to our back and you can really hear the waves. That’s why we did it. We get that question a lot, our senses are so tuned to height and the feel that you aren’t really listening to anything. It’s almost blocked out, but it’s a bit like thunder.

taylaspence asks: What advice do you give young surfers who are wanting to get into Big Wave surfing?

Ross Clarke-Jones: I think only do it if you really want to, and not for the sake of sponsorship or any other reason besides really wanting to ride the wave. And then paddle, paddle first. Paddle the biggest waves you can find before getting into the surf. And stay fit and healthy and always have respect for the ocean.

B_E_N asks: What do you think about starting out on a longboard compared to a short board? Shouldn't people learn to ride a short board straight away?

Ross Clarke-Jones: No, long boards are much easier to stand up on, just don’t get stuck on it. When you’re sure you can get up confidently enough, then get a shorter board. But if you get a short board straight away you’ll probably get frustrated over it. It's good to ride all sorts of different sorts of boards. Long, short and wider boards. Don't get too used to the one piece of equipment. And boards change over time, cause of resin and the way they cure. They can become brittle, and if it gets too old it feels dead and dull.

Leo-Dulla asks: I'm interested in the weights you tape to the board. How do you determine how much weight is required and why don’t you build something into the board to fix the better?

Ross Clarke-Jones: I tape it on more for travelling, if they are fixed on, the boards’ weight can go over the 32kg limit and you can’t travel with it. In the movie Jaws, the lead was imbedded into the foam, it’s definitely much better but we’re still experimenting with the weight. There’s something very important there, as it’s still not right. It’s definitely better inside the board and evenly distributed.

seebee asks: Surfing has changed over the last couple of decades, where do u see it could head in the future?

Ross Clarke-Jones: I think the progression is with bigger waves is because the equipment has changed so dramatically and there is more experimenting being done. I think the materials are what will change, we’ve been using fibre-glass and foam since the 50s and we’re still using it. We’re using carbon graphite. But essentially, something has got to change there.

Matt asks: Most surfers seem confidant in waves under 8 feet. What shifted you into a new realm of confidence in massive waves?

Ross Clarke-Jones: It’s from an early age of about 13 years old, I’ve only been surfing for two years and I could surf a place called Terrigal Haven and that was probably 8-10 feet and I felt really confident straight away and felt it was never big enough. I always wanted bigger waves, until the age of 19 when I went to Hawaii. It was my first year as a professional surfer and rode one at 25 feet. It felt like I was at home. I've always had this passion for it.

Huppypuppy asks: How do you learn to read the waves? I've always wanted to learn because I'm also into boating!

Ross Clarke-Jones: Reading the waves is a skill that comes over the years of experience. Some people have a gift of reading it better than others, depending on the break, a reef break always breaks the same way. No two waves are the same. But reading it properly comes with time and experience, it's the only way of learning it.

Interviewer: Unfortunately, we are out of time, do you have anything else you would like to share before we finish tonight?

Ross Clarke-Jones: It’s was such a pleasure to work with the 60 minutes crew and the Tasmanian kids there, I was impressed with the Tasmanian boys out there. And knowing that big wave surfing is in good hands with those guys, watch them in the next 10-20 years I say. And a shout out to Justin McMillan for preserving and helping to prolong my career.

Interviewer: Once again thank you and goodnight.

Interviewer: This concludes our chat with Ross Clarke-Jones, Sunday October 26, 2008.

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