“Storm Surfers” opens with what some would consider a nightmare. Veteran Australian big-wave surfers Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones are nearly 50 miles out at sea, looking to ride a series of waves. Carroll starts out but then in a moment of imbalance he is lost below the waves, fate unknown. After a minute, he resurfaces, bruised but not beaten and prepared to try the wave.
Such brushes with drowning are commonplace throughout this new surfing documentary. The film follows Carroll, 50, and Clarke-Jones, 45, and their forecaster Ben Matson as they spend the winter (May through August, in the Southern Hemisphere, that is) looking for newer, better and bigger waves.
They travel from the coasts of southern Tasmania to South Africa to the Hawaii Pipeline surf reef, before finally riding an untouched spot at Turtle Dove Shoal, roughly 50 miles off the coast of Perth, Western Australia.
Carroll and Clarke-Jones employ what is called a tow-in style. This means that instead of paddling out from a beach they use jet skis to get out farther to waves in otherwise inhospitable areas.
Throughout the film, we also see the two friends coming to face with their limitations. Carroll in particular seems vulnerable. While Clarke-Jones maintains his boyish enthusiasm even at 45, Carroll worries how much longer he can continue, and whether his responsibilities to his family should take priority over his overwhelming love of the ocean. He often mentions that he will be soon be turning 50, and there is some sense that they are gradually becoming lost in a younger man’s game.