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‘Hell of a time’: big-wave surfer Ross Clarke-Jones nearly drowns at Nazaré

first_img Support The Guardian Big wave surfer Mark Mathews, his horrific injuries and the battle to control his own fear Topics “I caught my first wave on the second peak, which I went right,” Clarke-Jones said. “Bailing off the wave, I was pulled under the water for about 30 seconds, using my Quiksilver Airlift to inflate me to the surface. I came up looking directly at the cave and rocks.”Clarke-Jones, who has been nominated for five XXL Big Wave awards this year, was pounded by waves as he was dragged into the rocks and back out again, sustaining blows to his head and body. He likened the experience to being in a washing machine. But drawing on his considerable experience of the ocean, he forced himself to stay conscious before a flashback to his youth – when he used to hide behind the rocks at Terrigal on the New South Wales central coast – pointed to a way out of the situation. “Clutching to the rocks, I stayed there for a minute to get my breath back and to orientate myself,” he said. “As I watched the set coming towards me, I waited then scrambled to the cliff to start scaling the 30-metre sheer drop up.“You know what you sign up for when you surf Nazaré; I always have a hell of a time, but this was a nice reminder that you never take it for granted. Especially on the smaller days like today where you can get complacent … it was a big mistake.”The underwater terrain at Nazaré can produce massive waves of up to 30 metres (100ft), but the one Clarke-Jones was surfing was comparatively small – a medium-sized 25-footer.But having been dragged 200 metres by a heavy current towards the rocks at the base of the cliffs, he found his life in danger, with the support jetskis having lost sight of him. “This is the first time I’ve seen someone get caught in this zone,” said Axi Muniain, one of those trying to help the surfer. “There were five of us on jetskis trying to find him and we couldn’t reach him, or even see him. “I personally think that there aren’t many surfers that could have gotten themselves out of this situation. It was RCJ’s age and wave knowledge that saved him. He used the waves and water to his advantage.” Clarke-Jones eventually managed to secure his footing on the rocks and haul himself to safety up the cliffs. “It was Ross against mother nature,” said Alexander Triebel, who was filming Clarke-Jones. “I was so relieved to see the devilish grin on his face when he crawled up over the cliff with limbs intact.”It is not the first time Clarke-Jones nearly drowned during his lengthy career. Nor is it the first time he has sustained injury – he counts numerous spinal and neck injuries, separated and fractured ribs, a snapped bicep, and torn ASLs and MCLs among his war wounds. In November 2017 British surfer Andrew Cotton broke his back after falling from his board while riding one of Nazaré’s huge waves. The waves at Nazaré in Portugal are notorious but it wasn’t a monstrous swell that nearly did for Australian big-wave surfer Ross Clarke-Jones on Sunday. The 51-year-old was lucky to escape with just concussion and a possible broken leg after being dragged underwater and then pulled by a strong rip into the danger zone – a rocky area of shallow water where it was impossible for help to reach him. The veteran knows Nazaré well, having become the only surfer to ride over Big Mama – the wave peak closest to its famous lighthouse that’s considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world – but admitted to complacency after the early-morning drama on the Atlantic coastline. Share on LinkedIn Share on Pinterest Reuse this content Surfing … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Share on Twittercenter_img Australia sport Since you’re here… Share via Email Share on Facebook Read more British surfer breaks his back riding huge wave in Portugal Share on WhatsApp news Share on Messenger Read morelast_img read more