Ross Clarke-Jones Interview from the 2004 Towsurfer Vault
RCJ has accomplished much since this interview which took place 13 years ago. Seems like a lifetime ago, but what and adventure it has been for him. Ross has also laid down the path for riding some of the biggest waves ever towed into in Nazare, Portugal during the past 5 years.
April 15, 2004
by Eric Akiskalian
Name: Ross Clarke-Jones
Marital Status: Married to Marcia Clarke-Jones
Children: Two children from his first marriage
Current Residence: Bells Beach, Australia
Years Surfing: 27
Years Tow surfing: 10
Occupation: Professional Surfer and Adventurer
Sponsors: Quiksilver and Red Bull
Other Interests: Abstract and surreal paintings and sculptures from natural objects, snowboarding, blowcarting, skydiving, bungee jumping and driving at high speeds.
Current Titles: 2001 Eddie Aikau Champion
Raised in Avoca, Australia, Ross Clarke-Jones showed great promise as an early professional competitor and broke onto the big-wave surfing scene in 1986 with an impressive performance during a surf contest at Waimea Bay in Hawaii. Without hesitation, RCJ charged the 20-25-foot waves and showed the world what he’s made of. His manhandling of the biggest and craziest waves in the world is the same approach he applies to his life- full tilt, bared teeth and a hunger that cannot be sated. Since that epic day, Ross has become a regular in the lineup at Waimea and the outer reefs of Hawaii.
Exploration and adventure are in his blood. His Great Grandfather was Sir William Howell, an English Explorer who was one of the first white men to enter the savage jungles of Borneo. Sir Howell returned home from his travels with his bride, a pure blooded native headhunter from the vicious Dayak Tribe.
With his father’s blessing, RCJ dropped out of high school and pioneered expeditions to exotic big wave locales around the globe including the remote corners of Tasmania and the lush corridors of the Amazon. RCJ’s inherent sense of intrepid exploration, combined with the freedom to surf allowed him to consistently break new barriers in the sport.
His physique and intense gaze only partially reveal a character of great determination, wit, and intelligence who simply will not back away from any wave, no matter what the size, weight, or apparent consequences. As a result, RCJ has broken his back, shoulder, nose, ribs, fingers and bicep tendon and pulled countless muscles. RCJ proves time and time again that he is willing to risk death in order to celebrate the passion of living.
Considered one of the best big wave surfers in the world for a number of years, it wasn’t until 2001 when he won the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, the most prestigious event in surfing that RCJ showed the world what he’s made of. The contest, dedicated to big-wave surfing pioneer Eddie Aikau, is an annual event in a minimum of surf 25-feet plus that exclusively invites the top 30 big-wave riders in the world.
Competing against 48 of the top big wave riders, RCJ charged his way into the biggest waves, committing himself to elevator-drop take-offs and using his experience to survive the crashing white-water force. Ross rode into victory and became first non-Hawaiian to ever win this big wave contest, forever impressing his conquest in global big wave folklore.
Ross’s other interests include abstract and surreal paintings and sculpture from natural objects-things he considers “mixed media.” He also enjoys snowboarding, blowcarting, skydiving, bungee jumping and driving at high speeds. RCJ lives in Australia with his wife Marcia Clarke-Jones and his two children from his first marriage.
RCJ can’t seem to satiate his need for big waves and today, he travels in search of the perfect wave aboard the Quiksilver Crossing, a 75-foot vessel that travels the globe looking for uncharted waves. Future plans include trying to find and film the world’s biggest rideable wave to share with the world, doing motivational talks on dealing with fear and if possible, having more fun than ever before! Ross is sponsored by Quiksilver and Red Bull.
Ross Clarke-Jones is an adventurer whose intrepid exploration is breaking new barriers, whether that’s in the remote corners of Tasmania or the lush corridors of the Amazon. The story of RCJ is compelling and mind-boggling all at the same time. His manhandling of the biggest and craziest waves in the world is the same approach he applies to his life- full tilt, bared teeth and a hunger that cannot be sated.
“The Sixth Element” The Ross Clarke-Jones Story is a documentary film narrated by Dennis Hopper and takes the viewer on an incredible journey through RCJ’s radical life, all set against the biggest waves ever surfed. Please note that this is not a surf film. Featuring Kelly Slater, Jamie Brisick, Matt Hoy, Noah Johnson, Doug Silva, Gary ‘Kong’ Elkerton. Jeff Bushman, Wayne Bartholomew, Bill Cilia, Mark Occhilupo, Tom Carroll, Darrick Doerner, Eddie Rothman, Peter ‘Joli’ Wilson, Brock Little, Maurice Cole, Tony Ray and more. This film will take you to as close to his life as you would want.
Towsurfer.com: Whatever made you decide to drop out of High School to start pioneering expeditions to exotic big wave locations around the world?
RCJ: It was a progression through amateur contests which let me into ten years on the ASP tour. After that, I decided to do what I really enjoy doing and that is hunting down and riding large waves.
You are known for being one of the best big wave surfers in the world with many years under your belt. Up to this point in your professional surfing career, what has been the most rewarding time or event for you?
Equal between winning the Aikau and Riding Jaws with Kalama and the boys.
Tell us how you got started with towsurfing and what your first session was like.
Mike Willis took me for a spin on his ski in 1994 and I remember his straps being too wide for my stance. Had a blast though and bought a ski with Tony Ray that same season. We have been addicted ever since.
Talk to us about the importance and value of having a trained and experienced surfer and driver as your tow partner.
It is so important when it’s serious size. It helps to reduce the dangers and to catch a hell of a lot more waves. Everybody has to start somewhere and it can be an advantage to teach someone so you have back up drivers and never get stuck without one. Someone with common sense and wave knowledge usually makes a pretty good driver.
If someone is truly serious about becoming an experienced towsurfer, what should their commitment be to themselves and their partner with respect to safety, training and surfing experience?
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, THEN PRACTICE LOTS MORE IN ALL CONDITIONS. MAKE SURE YOU BOTH HAVE CLEAR MINDS!
Talk to us about your tow partner Tony Ray. What makes your team partnership with him so valuable, unique and worthwhile?
Tony has been the perfect partner for me for a number of reasons. Besides being one of the best surfers, he has amazing ocean and wave knowledge. His wave selection has helped me enormously, as I tend to take anything that comes my way and he chooses much better waves. He is like Dr. Spock in terms of being so logical. When I start frothing at the mouth, he calms me down and when he is being a lazy bastard, I crack the whip on him. We are two very different people with the same goal I guess. We are the Laurel and Hardy Tow Team!
What was the scariest or heaviest moment you ever experienced while towsurfing?
Besides being mowed down on the biggest Wednesday in 1998 by a 35’ wave, (old school) we ended up drifting in the channel for three hours, not knowing whether or not we would be found. Finally, Noah Johnson spotted us and came over to make sure we were alright only to go back to the peak for a few more bombs before giving us assistance.
How did you overcome the initial fear or anger during this moment?
By screaming and blaming Tony for catching the wave. I felt terrible once I saw the footage as he got beaten way more than I did. It was really my fault as I should have swapped with him and not been so greedy.
What is your biggest personal fear that you have yet to be challenged by?
Being face to face with a Great White Shark and something I hope I’ll never have to confront.
How do you feel about government intervention or government regulation regarding tow surfing, especially with the State of Hawaii making it a law and requirement to have a license to tow surf?
It is very essential I guess in case someone gets killed as it makes towsurfers look responsible. Which is ironic isn’t it? My prediction is it will become like base jumping. You will have to find spots to tow that isn’t under the radar.
There are currently about 500 licensed tow surfers in the state of Hawaii. What are your thoughts when you think about this number of towsurfers in Hawaii alone?
Can they all swim? Have they paddled into 20’ waves first? This should be part of the license I reckon. They must know what it’s like to be without the aid of a ski as it’s the mechanical thing that can fail. This is practical, not theory.
The scary thing would be, “I got my license, now I’m going to Pe’Ahi.” Isn’t this the kind of attitude and approach that will get people hurt or even killed one day?
Maybe, but as DoubleD once said, ” Nature has an amazing way of sorting people out”. Hopefully just slapped hard and not killed and sent back to shore for more practice.
So what do you say to people with this approach?
Use your common sense! Would you do a cliff jump without first learning how to turn your snowboard? If the answer is yes, you have no common sense and will put other people in harm’s way who risk making the attempt to eventually rescue you.
Would you say you are more into tow contests/events or the exploration of new never before tow surfed locations, and why?
Exploration is my true passion. Contests? I find are just too restricting.
If you had your choice to paddle surf 20’-25’ perfect Waimea or towsurf giant JAWS, which would you do right now if it was going off and why?
BOTH! A late drop or two at Waimea followed by a tow session at Jaws would be the perfect day. It is the only sensation towsurfing doesn’t have, the late drop from a stationary position. But towing has everything else and more.
Tell us about your towboard designs and specs and how your equipment has changed in the past 2 years.
Maurice Cole has been living in Bells Beach since I moved here four years ago and we’ve been working on my aspects of design together. They are shorter than ever and every new board rides better than the last. That’s all I know, it’s a very personal thing, a lot to do with height and weight…..
Explain to us the concept behind foiled fins along with knowing and understanding how your fin system works best.
FINS NEED TO BE PERFECTLY FOILED AND PLACED. ANY NICKS CAN CAUSE PROBLEMS AT HIGH SPEEDS. FIN DESIGN IS WHERE I THINK THE PROGRESSION OF TOWSURFING CAN REALLY GO TO ANOTHER LEVEL.
It must be pretty exciting to cruise around on a 75-foot vessel called the Quiksilver Crossing, in search of the biggest and never before surfed waves around the globe.
Not to mention the use of seaplanes and submarines. It’s a dream come true for any fun-lover.
Red Bull has been great to you as a sponsor. Is this a relationship/partnership that you plan on keeping for a while?
For as long as I can surf big waves and have the passion for doing so.
Does Red Bull sponsor you and Tony together as a team? I think this is the direction sponsorships should be heading with respect to towsurfing. What are your thoughts?
Red Bull Sponsors me, and Tony Ray receives the benefits. I tried the team concept some years back and nobody took a bite.
What the heck is blowcarting?
It is a three-wheeled aluminum framed cart with a sail on it for land sailing up to 60 mph.
Tell us about your new film called “The Sixth Element”.
Basically, the film is a chronological story of my life and what was going on in pro surfing during that time. It was designed for inspirational purposes and from the comment that a cancer patient gave me after watching it, it worked.
It covers life, death, relationships and dealing with fear. Things that everyone can relate to in some form or another. It is very real and honest. Dennis Hopper’s Narration locks you in a trance for 66 minutes and everyone seems to walk away in thought. The Directors Justin McMillan and Chris Nelius did one hell of a job. Not to mention all the other people that worked so hard on the project. Thank you, to all involved and contributing photographers who donated their work.
Thanks Ross for the solid interview and I hope to tow with you some day.
Cheers Mate! Towsurfer.com is the only access to any real information on the sport of tow surfing and its participants. IT’S UPDATE AND ACCURATE…- Ross Clarke-Jones
“WATCH THIS MOVIE AND PREPARE TO CHARGE. ROSS CLARKE-JONES BRINGS OUT THE BEAST IN ALL OF US.”
– Evan Slater, Surfing Magazine
“I DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM AS A KID. HE MUST HAVE HAD A STRESSFUL SITUATION IN HIS HOUSEHOLD.”
– Kelly Slater, Six-Time World Champion Surfer
“YOU CAN JUST SEE IT IN HIS EYES, HE’S CRAZY, BUT IN THE BEST SENSE.”
– Noah Johnson Big Wave Surfer and Towsurfer
To contact RCJ management and or purchase a copy of his film, contact:
Eda Kalkay Public Relations, LLC
Phone: (212) 877-5551
Fax: (212) 229-9281