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Ross Clarke-Jones: 28 years of the Eddie



Ross Clarke-Jones has the crazy eye and it’s the kind of crazy eye you want to be around, both in and out of the water. He surfs like a hellman and tells awesome stories – what's not to like? This year is Ross’ 28th year of being invited to the Eddie Aikau – and just like we said, he’s the kind of surfer you want to have around, even the Aikaus think so.


So in 2001 you won the Eddie – what do you remember about that event?

It was one of the most perfect mornings because it was a bit stormy and overcast with a light wind and the swell was building during the day. I got four good waves and I was in the lead right off the bat. I was so calm that day, and usually I'm not calm … at all. Everyone had caught their waves within 20 minutes so I had 40 minutes by myself. I was laughing to myself going 'how good is this?'. I was letting perfect waves go. When I came into the shorebreak I felt lifted. I felt whole. I felt this weird energy.

It was pretty euphoric that one because I'd been waiting 14 years for it. I knew I could win it but I was young and had too much froth and was so frustrated when the event didn't run.

I swear to god it took me two weeks to realise I'd won because I'd been partying for two weeks. I was so out of it, but so excited as it was a dream come true.

I think when you're younger it might be about the money but now this competition is so established that if you're just invited to this event, it's a win. The Eddie is not a competition. You don't lose.


How do you handle the waiting period?

With experience. I used go mad, go incredibly insane. You can't do anything! You try and go snowboard or something because there's no surf and then sure enough the swell comes up. And it's right until the morning it might run that they can call it off so now I always like to hang in Hawaii close by. Really close by – a 10km radius within Waimea Bay. Even if you come in from the airport on the day you can't get there because there's only one road in and out and the traffic is so bad!


What's the vibe like during a heat?

The vibe's cool. That's the best thing. In my experience, the camaraderie is really strong. If you're in position, it's your wave. You're only allowed to catch four so you need to be selective. So you want the biggest ones but ... oh hang on, I'm not going to give my trade secret away. I like to get one straight off the bat. It doesn't matter. Just to settle those nerves. If you wait, you can start panicking and think you've waited too long.

A few Eddies ago, I had the first heat and my father had just died. I was feeling drained but I needed to get one wave. This massive wave came and I was too late and I thought 'I don't care, I'm just going'. I just jumped from the top and penetrated the water and came straight out the back and the board was beside me. It was weird. It was a nice start and thought 'Okay, my Dad's protecting me'. It was good, it kind of woke me up.

What do you think about the younger crew coming through?

Jeremy and John John are awesome. They're kids and have young men's immortality syndrome – nothing can hurt them. Experience comes with age and then there's bravado so there's a certain balance. I don't think anyone under 35 would win, but who knows? John John could win anything.

The Eddie goes to someone who really, really deserves it and needs it in their life. For example, Bruce Irons, I was coming first in that comp and it was between him and I. My father had just died and I was so drained, I didn't even train for three months because I was looking after my father. But I was saying to myself 'wow, I'm going to win' but I didn't feel anything.

I looked at Bruce and he was angry and crying – he was crying because of his brother. They'd had a massive fight and Bruce had a black eye and I said 'Fuck, how you going, man?'. He really needed the win as Andy had won the world title and it was all about Andy, and Bruce is as good if not better than Andy, so he really needed that win. He won it and couldn't contain his happiness after being so down.


What are your boards for the Eddie?

I don't take any boards, they're all there waiting for me. I usually have three boards on the day. I use the one I used the previous year, and two fresh ones. They're pretty much all the same shape over the last 30 years but maybe a little wider in the nose. They're all 10’ x 21" x 4" Bushmans with a scooped out deck - he's been making my boards for the last 29 years. They're such a thick board but I like it scooped like a catamaran so you can sit in it like a cockpit so you feel a little lower to the ground.


What it’s like taking off on a 20-foot wave?

The first thing you see is the stack of sets coming. Everyone tends to paddle too far out. There's probably a 20-foot sweet spot to sit in and if you're past that, you're not going to get it, but if you sit too far in, you're going to get launched. Finding that sweet spot is the trick but it does shift with the tide and current. It's a chess game.


What's the opening ceremony like?

I hate ceremonies but this is the one I love to go to. There's a Hawaiian priest, and he says the most relevant, genuine stuff. It feels right. It feels honest. He says, 'Guys, pull off your caps, get off your sunglasses, look at me. It's not about sponsors, this is celebrating a life, a person who had good morals and what Eddie Aikau stood for – he stood for saving lives, surfing big waves .... and women!’ The priest drops stuff like that and it's funny and warm. I guess it's a sermon in a way. But it's not about Jesus, it's about Eddie, and it's beautiful.

This year's Opening Ceremony will be on the 4th December.


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Tagged in The Eddie