Stab Magazine | Tom Carroll takes a ski over the falls
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Tom Carroll takes a ski over the falls

All photos by Jamie Scott Last week, Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones were surfing Cow Bombie in Western Australia, filming for their theatrical feature film, Storm Surfers, to be released next year in 3D. During the session, Tom whipped Ross into a particularly bumpy wave, resulting in 75kg Tommy taking his 600kg Yamaha FLR over the falls. […]

news // Feb 22, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

All photos by Jamie Scott

Last week, Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones were surfing Cow Bombie in Western Australia, filming for their theatrical feature film, Storm Surfers, to be released next year in 3D. During the session, Tom whipped Ross into a particularly bumpy wave, resulting in 75kg Tommy taking his 600kg Yamaha FLR over the falls. Amazingly, and luckily, both men were unscathed, but how the heck did it happen? Stab called Tom to get the low-down.

Stab: Please Tom, provide us with a rough outline… 
Tom: It’s pretty hard to tell on that wave, but there was a really strong onshore flow and had been for a few days before. And a pretty strong swell. You wanna be careful when you’re out in that sort of wind and keep a really good eye on what’s going on. Especially when your partner’s just let go of the rope and you’re coming over the wave’s peak, sideways. Which I’ve done a million times before. But I just got clipped, right on the crest. At that point, it tilted me back into the wave and I didn’t have much say in where a 600kg machine was going. But it’s one of those things, I had to let go of the throttle and go with it. And around about then, I had heaps of time to look at the thing.

Did the ski get trashed? The ski held it together. Contrary to what a lot of the tabloid journalists said, like, “Oh, it was completely smashed, blah blah.” It was amazing that it stayed together. We just lost the camera rig and the sled was ripped outta the back, which left a hole. We’re just getting that repaired and it’ll be fine.

Was that a 3D rig? Does that mean you lost all the footage from that session? Yeah, it was 3D. We lost all the footage from that rig, but we always have a few rigs going at once. So we got footage of the whole thing.

And Ross was fine? Yeah. But, it’s really scary having a mate underneath you like that, looking down at him, thinking, it’s all gonna unload on him. You can see in the shot where I’m at the top of the wave, I’m kinda tilting the ski away from him. That was my biggest fear, coming down on him. I felt like I was pretty close to him and I was aiming straight at him at that point. I had no control, I had to just go with it. There was a really slow, deathly moment at the top. There was quite a bit of time to think. When adrenaline pumps through you, everything tends to slow right down. So you’ve got a moment there when you’re super-aware of everything. It’s a freaky feeling.

While you were super-aware, was Ross blissfully unaware? He didn’t know anything’d happened until he saw me trying to get on the other ski. I was climbing on the other ski and Ross was looking ’round in bewilderment, and I looked at him and… I was in shock. I jumped on the original ski and tried to start it. At that point it’d auto cut-off, so it didn’t start straight away. I looked in the front of the ski and it was just full of water. I thought the ski was stuffed at that point, but it started up on the boat ramp afterwards.

Was there a moment where you thought you could burn outta there? I just decided to go down with it, ’cause I wasn’t quite sure where Ross was. I don’t know what made me go down with it, but I just stuck with it all the way through.

Commitment! Yeah, commitment! (Laughs). It just felt like the right thing to do. It worked out though, it coulda been a lot uglier. We had two canisters of compressed air either side of the ski. Two scuba-diving tanks. ‘Cause with 3D, everything you shoot’s gotta be crystal clear, so we’ve got these things called compressed air masks, that brush each camera lens clean. One sits each side and, during that wipeout, they both came flying out. That was really scary.

If y’had to put a rough estimate to it, how much green worth of gear was toasted? The whole rig was about 10 or 12 gees worth of equipment.

Small price to pay for getting outta there unscathed. Oh yeah, we’re both so thankful. The whole rig was made out of carbon fibre and there was one big spike of it hanging off the jetski. If anyone was impaled by that, it would’ve been horrible.

It seems like it happened pretty easily, is it odd that we don’t see this more often? Not many people would go out towing in those sort of conditions. They were extraordinary conditions really, no one in their right mind would be out there. We do some stuff that’s a little bit different. We’re not so much about surfing perfect waves. We kinda go out in really challenging conditions and that session was certainly no exception. We don’t want to go to the normal old spots…  even though Cow Bombie is.

So it happened solely ’cause of the chop and wind? Oh, no, it was my fault too. My judgement. I was the driver, so I’m fully at fault, putting the jetski there. I was taking it a little bit easy, going too slow over the wave, probably not punching it over the top as hard as I normally would. I was very distracted, doing several different things at once. I was towing Ross in. I was taking care of the air across the camera lenses. I was taking care of the commentary in the form of a device on my PFD (personal flotation device). I had a helmet on that had communications going. I wouldn’t normally have all those things during a regular tow-in. I just wasn’t giving those conditions enough attention, and that’s what happens. So, now I know what it feels like to go over the falls on a jetski. I can say I’ve experienced it and, I’ll tell you, it’s fricken crazy.

Storm Surfers‘ll be released in 3D, in cinemas next year, through Madman Entertainment.

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