17 Nov 2015

Tom Carroll - Looking death in the face

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 17 November 2015

He dominated world surfing for more than a decade. Now, at 53, Tom Carroll likes nothing more than looking death in the face and riding the biggest waves in the world.

Tom Carroll

Tom Carroll surfs waves that move at more than 100km/h Photo: supplied

We're talking waves that involve half a million kilograms of water moving at over 100km/h. The lip alone can weigh as much as 300 cars.

In an interview with Nine to Noon, the Australian described what it felt like to ride a giant wave.

"When you get hit, you know about it that's for sure. And you feel like you're nothing... there's very little control, once you get hit by a wave of that size you just get flung and torn and ripped," he said.

Carroll frequently has to be towed on to the giant waves by a jetski as it's impossible to get up the speed required by paddling. He works closely with fellow surfer Ross Clarke-Jones, and they take turns towing one another into the waves -  it involves a huge amount of trust, said Carroll.

Mental preparation is also key, he said: "You've got to be 150 percent committed in that moment when you let go of the rope on a big wave.. it's got to be full body commitment"

Tom Carroll

 A decade after retiring, Tom Carroll became addicted to crystal meth Photo: supplied

Carroll spent 14 years on the pro surfing world tour, racking up 26 wins. In the late 1980s, he became the first surfer to get a $1 million sponsorship contract. 

During his professional surfing years, he dabbled in recreational drugs but about a decade after he retired, in 1993, he became addicted to crystal meth. It torpedoed his marriage and nearly ended his life.  

The addiction crept up on him, he said. 

"It can happen really really gradually and things can slip into our lives underneath the radar because we're having a good time or we're maybe not wanting to see something ... we get uncomfortable about our surroundings, our relationships, the way our life's going and we can't see a way out, we're not communicating.

"And when you find something that relieves that, and connects with your chemical make-up, well, in my pathology in particular, it was something that connected with that adrenaline and I was off and running."

Carroll has been clean for nearly a decade, and recently visited New Zealand for the organisation Surf Aid, which works to improve the lives and health of those who live near remote surf zones in countries like Indonesia.

Hooked on big waves, he plans to keep surfing them for as long as his body will allow.

 "My whole body's really alive, I feel completely and utterly absorbed in the moment, everything's engaged, full adrenalin is pumping through my body. I feel just fantastic. I know I'm an adrenalin junkie, I've always had that in me, since I was a kid. That's a real familiar feeling to me, and I like to get back to it"

Listen to Tom Carroll talk to Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon: