030: Tom Carroll/The Corrective Experience

Tom, South Australia

“We fight the reality that we’re in, but we have to realise at some point that we’re fighting in the wrong way.”

I’ve used the word legend a lot during this show but to mark episode 30 and the final instalment of my Aussie omnibus I hosted a proper guest of honour  – Thomas Victor Carroll.

Tom is truly one of surfing’s era-defining figures, a two-times world champion who by his personality and surfing took the sport by the scruff of the neck and dragged it into the future. How? By dominating and redefining the way waves like Pipeline and Sunset were surfed, for one, and by general redefining what it meant to be a high performance professional surfer in the 80s and 90s.

That infamous Pipeline snap

He also spent much of his career fighting pain and asking himself the same question: how can I surf to the maximum of my ability despite the physical injuries and pain I’m suffering from?

Now in his mid 50s, Tom is quietly pioneering on another front, by managing the injuries sustained over such an incredible career so that he continue to surf at the highest possible level into his 60s and beyond.

Tom slowing things down at Teahupo’o. Photo: Ryan Heywood/Quiksilver

Such a brilliant, insightful conversation this, particularly for anybody who wants to maximise their ability to pursue the sports they love as long as they can. My highlights:

  • ‘The gift wrapped in shit’ – Tom on how injuries are an opportunity.
  • The importance of embracing the corrective experience.
  • Brilliant memories of what it meant to be a professional during his 80s heyday.
  • Tom’s views on the soul of surfing

So yep. a fitting episode to mark a new year of the podcast, and I want to say a huge thanks to Tom for taking the time to meet me during my trip to Sydney, and for sharing his wisdom accumulated from a lifetime of pushing the limits of and thinking about his own relationship with the sport he loves.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Tom on how injuries gave him a new perspective on surfing.

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Show Notes

  • Recovering from elective rotator cuff surgery alongside rehab for knee replacement.
  • The original 1977 knee injury.
  • Surfing without knee ligaments for four years – and the long term damage sustained.
  • Replacement knee surgery in June 2017.
  • Strategies to cope with the pain and discomfort that lasted decade.
  • How Tom’s classic ‘back foot’ style was derived from compensating for his weaker front leg.
  • “The gift wrapped in shit” – injuries as opportunity.
  • “We fight the reality that we’re in, but we have to realise at some point that we’re fighting in the wrong way”.
  • Using the downtime to opening your eyes to different ways of doing things.
  • Tom the Goat Boater.
  • Knee replacement recovery techniques.
  • Surf Mastery podcast.
  • Functional Neurology.
  • How the knee injury became increasingly debilitating.
  • The snowboarding slam that led to the problem.
  • Initial rehab attempts.
  • Digging into the physical details.
  • Tom’s advice to people looking to sustain their riding lives for as long as possible.
  • The importance of being aware of what you put into your body.
  • Listening to the tap on the shoulder.
  • The importance of the ‘corrective experience’.
  • Does the body rule the mind or the mind rule the body?
  • The original 1981 knee operation – and how it catalysed Tom’s professional career.
  • Tom’s Pipeline Instagram post.
  • Tom on his influences: “I was slipstreaming these guys”
  • 1985 LA Times piece on Peter Mansted and Tom.
  • How Peter’s ambition and Tom’s vision for professional surfing aligned.
  • Tom’s view on the current state of professional surfing.
  • Winning the first artificial wave contest in 1985.
  • “We’re going to see it all revealed in the pool”.
  • Tom on the soul of surfing – connecting with the individual joy.
  • The restrictiveness of purism.
  • The future of competitive surfing
  • Looking back on an extraordinary career.
  • “The future? Just keep going.”

Places Mentioned