Wave pioneer Ross Clarke-Jones stars in Discovery Channel's Storm Surfers: New Zealand. In the one-hour show, he works with fellow Australians meteorologist Ben Matson and veteran surfer Tom Carroll to track down the biggest waves in the world. After a successful first instalment in Tasmania, Clarke-Jones' quest to conquer un-surfed regions leads him to New Zealand. The show takes viewers face-to-face with the harsh conditions of Fiordland, on South Island.
Clarke-Jones has 'pretty much never said no to a wave' - sometimes, he admits, to his own downfall. For him, the best surf was the last one. Sunday Young Post talked to him about his experiences of tackling massive waves.
Sunday Young Post: What makes Fiordland so extreme for a surfer?
Ross: Apart from the temperature being so cold, just the inaccessibility of the place. We had to ride our skis upstream through pristine, beautiful, untouched backdrop, which makes some of the colours just incredible.
If something happens to us out there, we're in a lot of trouble. If we lost skis or anything, we'd never get back. It's a long way from the hospital and medical treatment, too. It was a little dangerous.
SYP: In New Zealand, you experienced an Antarctic storm. What was that like?
R: We'd never surfed a hailstorm before. That was pretty interesting. It was like being in gunfire, like being in a hail of bullets. It was the blackest sky I've ever seen. The water went an emerald green just because of the sunlight, and then the black clouds were coming. It was like a monster coming towards us. It hit with such fury that we're lucky the helicopters could stay and film it.
SYP: Did you run into any accidents?
R: Yes, there was one major accident, actually. It took place in Tasmania. The lip of the wave cracked on my neck - a massive wave, the whole force of the wave on my neck - it pretty much rearranged my head. I had neck surgery the following day, but we didn't put that in the film. I had a pretty rough time for a while after that surf.
SYP: What's a typical day for you on the show?
R: We probably get two, three days' notice with Ben Matson as a forecaster. We let him do all the researching, the maps and meteorology. Then we pretty much drop everything, wherever we are, the whole crew, and go to the location, set up for an early start in the morning, and hopefully attack the waves early.
Things happen - I mean constantly stuff's going wrong with equipment or people or something. That's what makes it so interesting, I guess.
SYP: Are there plans for a new instalment elsewhere?
R: We're scouting many locations, but I think Northern California is set for next winter - bigger sharks, bigger waves. There's talk of a three-day film.
SYP: What is it about surfing that you love?
R: I just think the freedom you get, away from the rest of the world with bills and troubles with wives, girlfriends, children or whatever. You can seem to sort out those issues when you're in the ocean; it's like a cleansing activity, if you like. I mean, you always feel good after a surf, no matter what. I think it's one of the best things about it.
SYP: How did you get into surfing?
R: I was 11 years old, 33 years ago now. My family moved to the Central Coast of New South Wales [in Australia], so I just adapted to the environment. Surfing was the thing to do, so that's what I did and never looked back.
SYP: Having been surfing for so long, do you still have challenges you want to tackle?
R: Yes. My goal is to still find new spots to surf. It's not just knowing that we surfed it first, but it's just the fact that there are spots still un-surfed and really untouched by humans. It's nice to find such places in this day and age.
Storm Surfers: New Zealand premiers tonight at 10pm on Discovery Channel.