Ten years ago, almost to the day, a bunch of surfers took a whispered tip from a mate, climbed aboard an old salvage boat and headed off in search of virgin surf. No photographers, no media, no crowds – just the promise of incredible unsurfed reefs far off the beaten track.
The captain of the salvage boat, Martin Daly, then a professional diver, had confided in a friend, Paul Graham, that he had discovered every surfer’s fantasy – island after island, and reef after reef, of perfect waves going completely unridden.
Graham convinced Daly to let him put a crew of mates together to go on his boat – a crew which just happened to include world champions Tom Carroll, Martin Potter and top rated pro surfer Ross Clarke-Jones. They were joined by close friends Stuart Cadden, Michael Wyatt, Glenn Stokes, Leigh Moulds and a character they still know only as Roley.
Little could they have imagined, but that fateful voyage – 10 days filled with incredible surf, near drownings and mechanical breakdowns – sewed the seeds of the grandest surf exploration voyage of all-time, the Quiksilver Crossing.
“That was the start of it all, for sure,” says Ross Clarke-Jones, who celebrated his 35th birthday, and the 10th anniversary of that historic trip, on the latest leg of the Crossing. “I remember being in Hawaii and Tom ringing up saying, we’ve got the opportunity of a lifetime to go to places no one’s ever gone,” recalls Ross.
Skipper Martin Daly had had no contact with the modern surfing world in the previous 10 years of salvage work in remote third world locations, surfing by himself in a red boiler suit for sun protection, on a battered old single fin. And he was wary of sharing his little paradise with a bunch of pro surfers.
“I heard he was over it, a bunch of surf stars, but we all got on really well,” says Ross. Daly would become well accustomed to the company of pro surfers in the years ahead, as the most sought after surf charter skipper in the business.
The boys had a week in Bali running amok before the trip and Ross did such a job on himself he didn’t even want to get on the boat. “We went mad. I was going, I want to go home. I don’t even want to go on the trip. I was completely over it,” Ross recalls.
But get on the boat he did, and Ross would soon come to regret the week of Bali self-abuse. Two days into the trip, the crew came upon a huge lefthander, breaking top to bottom at 15 feet. Ross nearly drowned in what he still calls the longest hold down of his life.
Next, their generator broke down, all their fresh food spoiled and they were left with no air-conditioning. Still, the surf kept pumping. “We got all the spots as good as I’ve ever seen them since. I was frothing. Every spot I tried to jump off the boat first and claim it,” says Ross.
Then, the engine broke down and, ten days into a planned two week trip, totally surfed out, and slowly turning feral, the crew hit the wall. “Ten sweaty, smelly, farting, horrible men – by the 10th day if I saw a bit of land I begged them to drop me off.” They headed in four days early but with memories that would last a lifetime. “So many new spots. The exploration thing was something I’d never done before. Not being a work thing for a change, there was no pressure of photographers, just going surfing with the boys like the old days. Half of us were pro surfers and half of us were regular, hard-working citizens,” says Ross.
The next challenge was maintaining their vow of secrecy when they returned home. “It was funny because we couldn’t talk about it.” Eventually, inevitably, word got out, sparking a virtual gold rush of surf exploration.
Martin Daly custom fitted his boat, the Indies Trader, for surf charters, and went on to skipper the Quiksilver Crossing. And that first trip became the stuff of legend.
“The home video that was never meant to be shown to anyone, I’ve seen it in nightclubs all over the world,” laughs Rosss. Ten years on, with a long-awaited win in the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau under his belt, and a new lease of life in tow surfing, Ross is busy proving he’s still got plenty of frontiers yet to discover.