Tracks - - Buzz -

In the be­gin­ning Long story, short? Ross shapes his own boards, is gear­ing up for a pad­dle ses­sion at The Right, uses a tram­po­line to prac­tice airs, surfs small waves ex­cep­tion­ally well, can­not sleep the night be­fore a big swell, has a mu­si­cally gifted girl­friend, and a crap load of bees.

"I in­her­ited about 30 hives from an old home­less guy down south and I think I've got enough honey to last a life­time," reck­ons Ross. "I've had some pretty wild ex­pe­ri­ences get­ting so stung, some­times 50 at a time. They always seem to get me."

Who knows? The ge­net­i­cally blessed Ross could have also been a model. But the call of the wild was always go­ing to be too much, even for some­one born into a post­code burst­ing with per­fect waves. He'd al­ready chis­elled out a solid rep­u­ta­tion in waves of con­se­quence, but it was his plateau­ing com­pet­i­tive surf­ing ca­reer that ul­ti­mately fu­elled the de­ci­sion to pack his bags, head east out of Mar­garet River, turn right at Nan­nup and just … dis­ap­pear.

"I'd just been knocked out of a com­pe­ti­tion and I was re­ally down on my­self," Ross re­calls. "Some friends had been telling me about th­ese waves down south, so I thought, I'll just go and check them out. I We're go­ing, like, right now It'll start about seven days out. And af­ter all th­ese years, Paige knows ex­actly what's com­ing next. The phone calls, the metro­log­i­cal talk and the god­dam size. Four me­tres … in­ter­ested; seven me­tres … for­get din­ner, we're on standby. The bags will be packed, the car fu­elled and pointed in the right di­rec­tion and the sleep­less nights will be­gin. Any minute now, a flurry of blond-headed ex­cite­ment with a dis­tinc­tive up­wardly in­flect­ing speech pat­tern will pull the trig­ger, whisk her into the car and the long drive south will be­gin.

"He used to be much worse, but he still gets so, so ex­cited," says Paige.

"He" is Chris Ross. The hard­est charg­ing man of mys­tery who ever did surf for free. saw the waves, and that was it, I was gone."

Months went by, ru­mours spread and the leg­end be­gan to grow.

Two guys en­ter a bar About the same time, pho­tog­ra­pher Rus­sell Ord set out with his own goal in mind, nail­ing the per­fect surf shot. On a hunch, Ord also headed south and the long­time friends bumped into each other at the top of a hill over­look­ing the most beau­ti­ful beach on earth. Out to sea, thick walls of wa­ter lurched out of the deep South­ern Ocean, turn­ing the most mag­nif­i­cent shade of blue be­fore vi­o­lently det­o­nat­ing onto a barely cov­ered rock shelf. Per­fect.

"I knew it was what we'd been look­ing for," Ord re­called. "We put to­gether bits and pieces of ru­mours and pic­tures that had started to ap­pear in body board­ing mags. And then we over­heard some guys talk­ing in the pub one night…" Ord swam, Ross grabbed the towrope. It didn't take long for the first shock­ing images of Chris Ross at The Right to ap­pear. Stand­ing tall in the belly of the thick­est beast that dan­ger­ous stretch of coast of­fered, wear­ing lit­tle else than a wet­suit and a huge grin.

"That first surf there … it was like noth­ing I'd ever seen, felt or heard,'' Ross says. "I pretty much knew straight away this was where it was go­ing to be at for me.''

Mum knows best Those first few images took even less time reach­ing Ross' par­ents, Jim and Yvonne, who re­call burst­ing with pride af­ter dou­ble click­ing the first email at­tach­ment sent to them by Ord.

"A lot of peo­ple ex­pect me to feel fear when I see pho­tos of Chris at The Right," says Yvonne. "But I just feel so proud and I know he has a pretty good han­dle on what's go­ing on. I ac­tu­ally feel bet­ter when I see the pho­tos be­cause at least I know there were a few other peo­ple there."

Years be­fore, Yvonne had coaxed her young son

back into the gen­tle waves of Cowaramup Bay af­ter Ross had tried to match it with fa­ther Jim at solid Mar­garet River Main­break.

"I just got clob­bered, my head smashed into my board and I didn't want any­thing to do with surf­ing af­ter that," Chris re­calls. "But mum was re­ally good, she used to take me boo­gie board­ing out at Huzza's and re­ally en­cour­aged me to get back into it."

Yvonne no­ticed her son's con­fi­dence re­turn­ing, al­beit aided by a healthy fas­ci­na­tion with ac­tion fig­ures.

"As a kid he was ob­sessed with that car­toon char­ac­ter Skele­tor," she re­calls. "And when we used to go surf­ing be­fore school he'd come pad­dling up be­hind me and say in the same voice as Skele­tor, 'Don't let fear stand in the way of your dreams'; that was his favourite say­ing."

With the love for surf­ing re­turned, Ross swapped boards and started haunt­ing the waves around Mar­garet River. First on the list was River­mouth, the punchy lit­tle beach break that still serves as the per­fect can­vas for young rip­pers in­clud­ing Shaun Man­ners, Ja­cob Will­cox and Jack Robin­son.

"We started surf­ing there and slowly moved out to Sun­day Reef, which is the lit­tle re­form in front of The Box," Ross said.

First love "As soon as we started at Sun­days, I started watch­ing the Box and it just looked like the funnest thing on earth. Then (lo­cal rip­per) An­drew Sheri­dan got a cover shot on a mag­a­zine that to this day is still the best bar­rel I've ever seen out there, so we hit it. Soon as we did, I never wanted to surf Sun­day's again."

Thus be­gan a love af­fair with big thick juicy bar­rels. And just as a mur­der of crows will tell you, one does not have to travel far in Mar­garet River to find those.

"I started get­ting pretty ob­sessed with The Box and all those big bar­relly waves around Margs," Ross re­called. "Once you get a taste of waves like that, ev­ery­thing else seems not quite as spe­cial as it once did."

Back in black With his con­fi­dence in full swing, Ross re­turned to Main­break, the same wave that al­most ended his surf­ing ca­reer years be­fore.

"I think ini­tially I'd see Dad out there always out the back go­ing for the big­gest ones and I guess you always as­pire to do what your dad does," Ross says.

"Look­ing back though, I went out there a bit too big a bit too early, but in a funny way it kind of con­di­tioned me, be­cause when I went back out to big mas­sive Margs, I no­ticed a few crew were a bit freaked out, but I felt pretty calm. That's when I fig­ured I could do al­right in big­ger waves."

Sub­con­sciously, Ross had also de­vel­oped the abil­ity to hold his breath for ex­tended pe­ri­ods while free div­ing for the show­piece of the West Aus­tralian bar­beque, the hum­ble cray­fish.

"I used to be ob­sessed with get­ting those things. Some­times I'd just be peak­ing out un­der­wa­ter with­out oxy­gen but I could see that cray sit­ting there and I just couldn't let it go."

Ross em­ployed the free div­ing method of hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing be­fore plung­ing to the depths, which purges the body of de­bil­i­tat­ing car­bon diox­ide thus re­duc­ing the urge to breathe.

"It's re­ally only when you get pushed to that point where you think you're about to die that you re­alise if you push through it, you can hold your breath for at least twice as long as you think you can."

Jim Ross was quick to no­tice his son's re­newed con­fi­dence amongst the big waves.

"You'd be out there pad­dling like mad for the hori­zon and he's yap­ping away pad­dling with one arm. It all came to him, but he did put a lot of work into it. Peo­ple for­get that."

Boyz in da hood It was also around this time Mau­rice Cole in­tro­duced the new buzz sport of tow surf­ing to those for whom too much of a big thing was never enough. Ross quickly teamed up with fel­low big wave devo­tee, Lief Mu­lik, and the duo set to work amongst the miles of un­tapped waves the re­gion had to of­fer.

"It was just par­adise, the ab­so­lute best thing in the whole world,'' Ross re­calls of those first for­ays off­shore. "In­stead of slowly pad­dling around with the crowds and wait­ing for a set, you could just grab that towrope and it was just (claps hands) ac­tion, ac­tion, ac­tion. In­stead of pad­dling into a bomb and just hop­ing to make the drop, you could be set­ting up for the bar­rel straight away."

The learn­ing curve was not with­out its mo­ments of hu­mour though.

"I ended up send­ing Lief's ski over the falls out at Margs' Bom­bie one day. I was tow­ing him into a wave and kind of got stuck in the lip. I prob­a­bly could have rid­den it out, but I pan­icked and let go. Jake Pater­son towed us in and we got it fixed but it kept on break­ing down af­ter that. I think that was Mau­rice Cole's old ski any­way, I'm sure it had been sunk heaps of times."

Mu­lik, who was at the end of the tow rope seconds prior to the sink­ing, re­calls be­ing flung into the wave at warp speed.

"I think he (Ross) just saw the wave and wanted to flick me into it so bad he just for­got I was there. He whipped me in so fast I kind of ended up go­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion."

Which bank? But Ross' fate was for­ever sealed in 2007, the same day Court­ney Gray yanked Da­mon Eas­tough into his award win­ning 66-footer at the newly dis­cov­ered Cow Bom­bie.

That waves of that size could ex­ist in his neigh­bour­hood blew the sec­ond-last fuse left in a mind al­ready ex­posed to a life­time of big.

"I just could not be­lieve what I was see­ing – it was a com­plete nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non" Ross said. "Just the size of those waves … it was like Jaws, be­fore there was Jaws."

Shortly there­after, Ross found him­self high­tail­ing it back home af­ter an­other ses­sion down south at the newly dis­cov­ered Ron­dogs.

"That was it for me. I drove straight to the bank and got a $22,000 loan for a jet ski."

And as luck would have it, just as Ross went look­ing for a big­ger sand­pit to play with his squeaky clean Tonka truck, pho­tog­ra­pher An­drew Buckley found him­self fir­ing off a se­quence of Kerby Brown at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion way down south that would send Ross, and the surf­ing world in gen­eral, into an ab­so­lute frenzy.

Are we there yet? "I'll never for­get that feel­ing of com­ing round the cor­ner and see­ing The Right for the first time," Ross re­called. "I went down there with a mate and it was just windy and wild. We were both think­ing, 'What are we do­ing out here? This is a joke'. But then we got a look at it and I'd just never seen waves pitch so round, so thick and so big." Fi­nal fuse, blown. "We had a rea­son­able first ses­sion, but what stood out most was the amount of wa­ter draw­ing up the face of the wave, it just made you feel like you're go­ing as fast as you'll ever go."

It was also at this junc­ture where Ross' of­ten over­looked knowl­edge of board de­sign came into play.

"It took a while to fig­ure out what works best out there. My first cou­ple of ses­sions there, I rode a board with a real straight rocker, two big side fins and a leg rope. The board would always catch a rail and then I had a real bad hold down, the leg rope wouldn't break and I dis­lo­cated my an­kle. I thought to my­self, 'I gotta get th­ese boards right oth­er­wise I'm go­ing to get killed ev­ery time'."

Ross sought ad­vice from men­tor shapers Marty Lit­tle­wood and Chris Chap­man.

"We de­ducted the size of the side fins, added a big back fin and lots more rocker. We did play around with adding weights for a while, but we swapped that for heav­ier glass jobs and pretty much once we got that sorted, the rest was his­tory."

Look mum, no floata­tion de­vice "The one thing Chris re­ally wor­ries about out there is the lip," says Ross' girl­friend Paige of The Right's not so sub­tle fall­ing wall of wa­ter.

Paul "Ant­man" Pater­son flat out claims he came as close to death as he ever has while on a spur of the mo­ment trip to The Right with Grant "Twiggy" Baker.

"I hon­estly thought I was done. I was driven down so far, I opened my eyes and it was pitch pitch black," Ant­man re­calls. "I was down for two waves and I was just lucky I came up and the third wave had backed off and didn't break. Some­one was look­ing out for me."

De­spite the dan­gers, Ross chooses not to wear floata­tion.

"If you go down out there the lip is go­ing to snap you in two any­way. All the train­ing in the world isn't go­ing to help with that," says Ross. "I put most of my ef­fort into read­ing the wave right."

Paige how­ever of­fers an al­ter­nate view­point as the se­cret to Ross' seem­ingly in­de­struc­tible na­ture amongst the beastly waves.

"His ap­proach is def­i­nitely un­ortho­dox, but I think he's just nat­u­rally phys­i­cally and men­tally equipped to deal with what­ever hap­pens there," she says.

"And it's al­most like he's pre-surfed the waves on the days lead­ing up to a big swell. He can't sleep, gets re­ally edgy and has trou­ble just chill­ing. You can re­ally see his mind is go­ing a mil­lion miles an hour."

It goes to 11 Be­fore long images of Ross and other devo­tees in­clud­ing Ben Ru­fus, Cale Grig­son and Chris Shana­han be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing and a new gold rush be­gan.

About 14,000 kilo­me­tres away in the North Western coastal town of Carnar­von, My­ron Porter took one look at the heav­ing dark blue bar­rels on of­fer and quickly added the spot to his bucket list.

Porter, a self con­fessed fore­cast junkie who was on hand for the 2012 mega swell in Fiji, quickly fig- ured out the vari­ables and be­gan high­tail­ing to The Right at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

"I scru­ti­nise the shit out of ev­ery fore­cast model be­fore I make the call to head down there though," Porter says. "And I'll always call Crossy to make sure he's froth­ing on the swell too."

But the gold rush also at­tracted big­ger crowds with ev­ery new swell, adding to tension in the line up and a fairly rapid di­lu­tion of the im­pact pic­tures of the wave once had.

The tension came to a head dur­ing the last ma­jor swell, re­sult­ing in an over­crowded lineup and a punch up in the car park.

"It's always in the back of our minds," says Cross, of the over­ex­po­sure of the once se­cret spot. "We do cop a bit of flak from some of the older lo­cals though and it does seem like we cop a lot of flak for other peo­ple's ex­po­sure."

But Porter, like many, was quick to de­fend Ross' mo­ti­va­tions.

"He just wants to surf and get bar­relled," says Porter. "No hype, no machismo, no spec­ta­tors, egos or ac­co­lades. He is the ab­so­lute real deal."

Plan B, C, D and E Such is Ross' de­vo­tion to The Right that he's re­lo­cated to a farm­house down south to be closer to the wave he gladly ad­mits to "fall­ing in love with".

He's also found a sec­ond house fur­ther down the road where he is free to shape boards, tend his bees and bounce to his heart's con­tent on the newly ac­quired tram­po­line.

"I've missed a few days out there and I get so down and dev­as­tated I re­ally feel like I'm go­ing to re­gret it for the rest of my life," he says. "So I fig­ured, if I can be right near it, I'll be happy till the end of my days."

Bees and bar­rels are Chris Ross's two ob­ses­sions.

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