Two-time World Cham­pion Syd­ney, Aus­tralia

Surfer - - Contents - - As told to TODD PRODANOVICH

Tom Car­roll, 56, Syd­ney, Aus­tralia

“No mat­ter who you are, you’ll face highs and lows in a long and suc­cess­ful ca­reer. When you’re down and need to lift your­self back up, that’s when the hard work truly pays off."

We choose our role mod­els based on our in­spi­ra­tion. My first role model in surf­ing was Col Smith from Narrabeen. He was a bril­liant goofy­footer, just a su­per-rad­i­cal surfer. He never used to drink, he wasn’t a big party guy, but he was all about fun — get­ting out in the ocean and re­ally surf­ing up and down a wave. That’s what I wanted to do. He be­came a big in­flu­ence on me both in and out of the water. With all the chal­lenges you faced at that age in the ’70s, that in­flu­ence was in­valu­able. It may look all groovy in hind­sight, but the ’70s were a pretty dan­ger­ous time around Syd­ney.

A friend once told me, “In life and in surf­ing, re­mem­ber that there will al­ways be some­body bet­ter than you.” I al­ways tried to keep that in mind and stay grounded, which proved to be pretty hard as I moved on as a young surfer. Pro­fes­sional surf­ing had no def­i­ni­tion in the early days — it was all a gray area — and with all the at­ten­tion I was get­ting, my friend could see it was a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion for me.

The abil­ity to con­cen­trate and work hard is more im­por­tant than hav­ing raw tal­ent. I think that pays off in all ar­eas of life. Sure, John John [Florence] and Kelly [Slater] have a lot of raw tal­ent, but a lot of work went into their ap­proach, and there’s con­cen­tra­tion in the surf­ing they do and the im­por­tance they put on it. And no mat­ter who you are, you’ll face highs and lows in a long and suc­cess­ful ca­reer. When you’re down and need to lift your­self back up, that’s when the hard work truly pays off.

When money en­ters the surf­ing pic­ture, it def­i­nitely places more ten­sion in the camp. You’re forced to lift the bar, the pres­sure starts to mount and it’s re­ally up to the surfer to com­part­men­tal­ize that. The best surfers to­day do a won­der­ful job of it, though. If you’re us­ing that money to run a re­ally tight ship with a good sup­port net­work and a good man­ager, you can put ev­ery­thing else aside and stick to your surf­ing.

You need to find your own mo­ti­va­tion that helps you reach a goal, and it’s dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­one. For some peo­ple, be­ing an­gry can fo­cus the body and mind to achieve some­thing. For me, us­ing anger as a driv­ing force in com­pe­ti­tion al­ways seemed to mess me up. I car­ried a lot of ten­sion when I was com­pet­ing, and I think my surf­ing im­proved when I left the Tour. I re­al­ized that we’re not box­ers go­ing toe to toe in a ring; surf­ing is a solo dance per­for­mance. We have these mo­ments to per­form and show our style, our grace, our power and our sense for the ocean.

If some­one is com­pet­ing for a rea­son greater than them­selves, watch out, be­cause that’s in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful. Los­ing some­one in my life right on the cusp of surf­ing the Pipe­line Masters, it just kind of cleared all the other shit out of my head. [Car­roll’s sis­ter was killed in a car ac­ci­dent in 1987, the day be­fore the fi­nals. — Ed.] It’s like when you drop oil in water and see ev­ery­thing sep­a­rate; it just sep­a­rated all the crap that didn’t re­ally mat­ter from what was ac­tu­ally im­por­tant. I wanted to skip the event and go home, but my fa­ther said, “I think she would like you to win the Pipe­line Masters.” As it turned out, surf­ing was ac­tu­ally the per­fect thing for me to do in that sce­nario to work through what I was feel­ing. Ev­ery­thing was stripped back, and it’s al­most like the event wasn’t hap­pen­ing. I was surf­ing for my sis­ter and en­tered this flow where noth­ing was in the way. You can’t cap­ture that, you can’t con­trol that; you just go with it and let it hap­pen. In­juries al­ways seem like shit at first, but can turn out to be a gift. I never want to take breaks from surf­ing; I love surf­ing ev­ery day. But when I have in­juries and can’t surf, it’s a time to ac­tu­ally sit down and take stock of things I’ve ne­glected, or new things I should do. There’s so much more to life than just surf­ing, even if we get pretty sin­gle-minded about it.

I don’t know if it’s pos­si­ble to get clean from drugs and al­co­hol with­out hear­ing the mes­sage of re­cov­ery from other peo­ple. Our re­cov­ery pro­grams use anonymity, which is re­ally im­por­tant for peo­ple to get com­fort­able and open up, but I felt that I had an op­por­tu­nity to of­fer the mes­sage to more peo­ple look­ing for help by speak­ing about it pub­licly. I was five years into so­bri­ety when I felt strong enough to share the mes­sage in a book. I talked to Nick [Car­roll, Tom’s brother], and with him be­ing a bril­liant writer, and be­ing my brother, it was the per­fect sce­nario to be able to just talk clearly, hon­estly and openly about the jour­ney. I could re­ally trust my brother. It’s a very per­sonal thing and I wouldn’t ad­vise any­one to just go out and do that willy-nilly. Some­times you feel like you’ve got to tell the world, but if you do that too early, you might still be on shaky ground. It’s very im­por­tant to get grounded and have a lot of sup­port be­fore you do some­thing like that.

There are so many in­spir­ing things hap­pen­ing in surf­ing to­day that keep it in­ter­est­ing. But I’ve al­ways known that I’d be in it for the long haul. I try dif­fer­ent ways of en­gag­ing with the ocean, from body­surf­ing to open-ocean pad­dling and ev­ery­thing in be­tween. Watch­ing how other peo­ple ap­proach it and see­ing what they get out of it is great be­cause you feed off that en­ergy. I look around and see very healthy hu­man be­ings — mind, body and spirit. We all get so much more pos­i­tiv­ity out of our day if we have a surf in the morn­ing.

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