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vol 7 - issue 03 (nov 2004) :: interviews
ROSS CLARKE-JONES
Interview by Wayne Chinsang

WHAT MORE COULD BIG WAVE SURFER ROSS CLARKE-JONES DO WITH HIS LIFE? HOW ABOUT HAVE A DOCUMENTARY MADE ABOUT HIM AND HIS STORY. READ ON AS ROSS PROVES TO WAYNE CHINSANG THAT THERE TRULY IS A HAPPY ENDING AT THE END OF HIS TALE... AND THAT SURFERS REALLY LIKE TO TYPE IN ALL CAPS DURING EMAIL INTERVIEWS!

Wayne Chinsang: First off, it states in the press release that it is important to know that your documentary is not a surf movie. Why is that an important thing that needs to be said? Do you think there is a stigma attached to surfing, and is that why it was made clear that the movie wasn't a surf film?

ROSS CLARKE-JONES: MAINLY FOR THE REASON THAT MOST SURF FILMS ARE ONLY FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE INTERESTED IN SURFING. THEY ARE USUALLY MONTAGES OF WAVES WITH HIP MUSIC IN THE BACKGROUND, VOID OF A STORY OR THEME. HOWEVER, THE SIXTH ELEMENT WAS DESIGNED FOR MOTIVATIONAL AND INSPIRATIONAL PURPOSES FOR HUMANS IN GENERAL. IT COVERS EVERYDAY SUBJECTS, INCLUDING LIFE, DEATH, RELATIONSHIPS, HUMOR, FAILURE, AND DEALING WITH FEAR AND SUCCESS. THINGS THAT EVERYBODY CAN RELATE TO IN SOME FORM OR OTHER. THE FACT THAT A CANCER PATIENT COMMENTED AFTER WATCHING THE FILM THAT HE WAS INSPIRED TO LIVE AGAIN MADE THE WHOLE PROJECT WORTHWHILE. AND HE HAD NEVER SURFED IN HIS LIFE.

WC: Do you think the fact that it is a documentary and not a surf film will pull in a different crowd?

RC: I HOPE THAT IT IS OFFERED TO A DIFFERENT CROWD OUTSIDE OF THE SURFING WORLD. I THINK EVERYBODY GETS TAKEN IN BY THE SIGHT OF ENORMOUS WAVES, BUT THEN THEY'RE SPELLBOUND BY DENNIS HOPPERíS CAPTIVATING VOICE TELLING A STORY OF SOMEONE WHO HAS LIVED AN ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLE.

WC: So, you've been surfing now for two decades, and you've seen it go from a fun thing to do during free time to a money-making business. How would you say it has most changed since you began?

RC: BESIDES SURFERS BEING PAID TEN TIMES THE AMOUNT FOR SPONSORSHIP NOW, IT HAS CHANGED MOSTLY IN THE WAY ONE CAN BE SPONSORED. YEARS AGO, IT WAS ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO EARN MONEY OUTSIDE OF PROFESSIONAL COMPETITION, AS OPPOSED TO THE MANY FORMS OF SPONSORSHIP TODAY. THERE ARE PROS, PRO AERIAL SURFERS, PRO SOUL SURFERS, PRO ADVENTURE SURFERS, AND PRO BIG WAVE RIDERS.

WC: Have you changed with the sport? Do you feel older? Is it harder for you now to do things you could easily do as a kid?

RC: YES AND NO. I DID TEN YEARS ON THE ASP [ASSOCIATION OF SURFING PROFESSIONALS] TOUR COMPETING WITH VARIED SUCCESS. THEN, AS I DROPPED OUT, I DID FIVE YEARS OF ADVENTURE SURFING. MY COMMITMENT TO RIDING BIG WAVES WAS FORTUNATELY IN SYNC WITH THE INCREASING POPULARITY WITHIN THE INDUSTRY AND OUTSIDE INTEREST FROM MAINSTREAM MEDIA. WHEN I WAS A KID, I COULDNíT BE BOTHERED WITH CARRYING WAX, LET ALONE JET SKIS AND ALL THE EQUIPMENT INVOLVED NOW. THE TRUTH IS I FEEL WISER, BUT STILL HAVE THE ENERGY OF A 21-YEAR-OLD. I JUST DONíT LOOK IN THE MIRROR TOO OFTEN. HOW YOU FEEL IS WHAT REALLY MATTERS.

WC: If it wasn't for the corporate and sponsor surge and interest in your surfing, do you think you'd still be doing it?

RC: I WOULD LIKE TO THINK I WOULD BE, BUT THE REALITY IS THAT WITHOUT THE SPONSORSHIP I WOULD NEED TO WORK AT SOMETHING ELSE, THEREFORE LOSING ALL THE FREEDOM NECESSARY TO DROP EVERYTHING AND CHASE SWELLS.

WC: You've been around the sport long enough to have seen different waves (no pun intended) and generations of surfers come and go. Do you think the younger surfers of today coming into the business are different than you were when you debuted?

RC: MOST TALENTED YOUNG SURFERS TODAY ARE SCOOPED UP BY THE INDUSTRY AT AN EARLY AGE AND PAID ENORMOUS SUMS OF MONEY BEFORE THEY ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING. ALL THE POWER TO THEM, BUT I FEEL THEY MAY BE DAMAGED FOR LIFE IF IT DOESNíT WORK OUT. THEY ARE SO PAMPERED WITH MANAGERS AND HELP, THEY LEARN NOTHING FOR THEMSELVES. I HOPE THEY ARE SMART ENOUGH TO SEE THROUGH IT AND TAKE CARE. WE HAD TO STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE AND APPRECIATED EVERY MOMENT. NOT TO SAY WE WERE THE SHIT, BUT WE ALL LEARNED HOW TO DEAL WITH MANY LIFE EXPERIENCES. ONE OTHER GOOD THING IS THAT THE KIDS DONíT SEEM TO BE PARTYING LIKE WE USED TO.

WC: Has this hip and trendy vibe of "maximum sports"-- like the X Games and stuff like that-- changed the sport?

RC: IN A GOOD WAY, I GUESS. IT ONLY BROUGHT MORE TELEVISION COVERAGE. NOTHING WILL EVER REALLY CHANGE SURFERS DEEP DOWN.

WC: You said in the documentary that you quit surfing for a bit and concentrated on personal life stuff, but you eventually came back to the sport. If you would have stayed gone, what do you think you'd be doing?

RC: RACING CARS.

WC: When all is said and done, what role do you think you played in the sport?

RC: THE MANIAC WHO HAD THE MOST FUN.

WC: And what is the ideal role for the sport that you'd like to play?

RC: THE MANIAC WHO IS STILL HAVING THE MOST FUN. YOU HAVE AN ADVANTAGE WHEN EVERYBODY THINKS YOU ARE MAD.

WC: How did you and the director, Justin McMillan, hook up? Whose idea was it to film you and your life?

RC: ABOUT TWO YEARS AGO, A FRIEND MENTIONED THAT HE WAS INTERESTED IN LINING ME UP FOR SOME MOTIVATIONAL TALKS TO HIS CLIENTS ON DEALING WITH FEAR. HE ASKED ME TO COMPILE ABOUT TEN MINUTES OF BIG WAVE FOOTAGE AND DRAW UP A SPEECH. WHILST IN THE PROCESS OF DOING THAT, A FRIEND FROM RED BULL REALIZED HOW MUCH CONTENT I HAD TO CHOOSE FROM, SO HE DECIDED A LIFE STORY WOULD BE THE MOTIVATIONAL PIECE. WE THEN INTERVIEWED DIRECTORS IN AUSTRALIA THAT HAD FEATURE FILM EXPERIENCE AND SOME BACKGROUND IN SURFING. IT WAS VERY DIFFICULT TO FIND SOMEONE INTERESTED FOR THE LOW BUDGET WE HAD. WE WERE RELYING ON SOMEONE SO PASSIONATE ABOUT THE PROJECT THAT THEY WOULD DO IT ANYWAY. AFTER VIEWING ALL THE DIRECTOR'S TAPES, JUSTINíS WON, HANDS-DOWN, AS THE FUNNIEST AND MOST ORIGINAL. HE WAS ACTUALLY A MATE I HAD KNOWN FOR YEARS, BUT HAD NO IDEA WHAT HE DID FOR A LIVING. I KNEW HE WAS A GENIUS AT SOMETHING, BUT NEVER REALLY KNEW WHAT. HE APPROACHED ME AT A BARBECUE WITH EXACTLY THE ANSWERS I WANTED TO HEAR. HE RECRUITED CHRIS NELIUS AS THE WRITER AND NICK TOMNAY AS THE EDITOR. TOGETHER THEY PUT THEIR HEART AND SOUL INTO IT, AND I THANK THEM FOR THAT.

WC: You won big finally in 2001, some 15 years after your debut. It's a great feat and amazing victory, but how frustrating was it for you up until that point? And how good did it feel when you finally achieved it?

RC: IT WAS SO FRUSTRATING. IT WAS BORDERING ON MADNESS, TO THE POINT OF ALMOST GIVING UP ON A DREAM. WHEN IT FINALLY HAPPENED, IT WAS EXACTLY LIKE A DREAM THAT LASTED ABOUT TWO WEEKS. THE REALITY ONLY HIT ME WHEN I RETURNED HOME AND SAW MY CHILDREN.

WC: Is it weird seeing a movie about you and your life? Do you feel weird watching it?

RC: AT FIRST, IT WAS VERY WEIRD. ALTHOUGH SOME OF THE STORY HAS BEEN WELL-DOCUMENTED AND PUBLIC IN THE PAST, THE PERSONAL SECTIONS OF THE MOVIE MADE ME WONDER WHETHER TO ALLOW THEM TO CONTINUE OR NOT. IN THE END, I HAD TO STEP BACK, LET THE BOYS DO THEIR THING, AND NOT BE SO SELF-CONSCIOUS. THE REASON FOR THAT WAS TO HELP MANY PEOPLE THAT MAY BE IN EXACTLY THE SAME SITUATION, AND SHOW THERE IS SOMETIMES HOPE OF A HAPPY ENDING.

WC: If you only had one more chance to surf, where would you go?

RC: JAWS, HAWAII AT 100 FEET.

WC: You have children now, and are older and wiser. Is surfing a career you would encourage your children to get into? And if not, why?

RC: I TOTALLY ENCOURAGE MY KIDS TO SURF, BUT I DON'T PUSH THEM. I TRY TO OFFER EVERY OPTION POSSIBLE, AND THEN SEE WHAT THEY REALLY LIKE DOING. MY SON WANTS TO DO IT ALL: SNOWBOARD, SKATEBOARD, WAKEBOARD, MOTOCROSS. AND HE WILL IF HE WANTS TO.

WC: I know you've broken your back and had a few very scary moments while surfing. Other than the obvious, what other scary moments stand out in your mind?

RC: I TRY TO FORGET ANY NEGATIVE HISTORY THAT MAY AFFECT MY SURFING. I CANíT REMEMBER ANYTHING....

WC: Do dogs have lips?

RC: AS FAR AS I KNOW, THEY DO POSSESS LIPS.

WC: And lastly, when all is said and done, what do you want people to say about you, as a person and as a sportsman?

RC: HE WAS THE MOST GENEROUS AND LOVING PERSON IíVE EVER MET, WHOSE MOVIE-- THE SIXTH ELEMENT-- CHANGED MY LIFE. AND NOT A BAD BLOKE, EITHER.

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