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Australian surf champs defy monster waves, age in 3D documentary

By Zorianna Kit

MALIBU, California (Reuters) - A pair of Australian surfing legends, undaunted despite their middle age, strapped tiny 3D cameras to their boards and went in search of big waves whipped up by Pacific storms.

The result was the documentary feature "Storm Surfers 3D" starring Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke-Jones, who take viewers on gliding rides through tubular waves or a pounding wipe-out. The experience for the audience is, Clarke-Jones says, like "surfing without drowning."

As it happens, one of them almost drowned during filming.

Carroll, a two-time world surfing champion in the 1980s, and Clarke-Jones, a big wave pioneer are now 51 and 47, respectively. But rather than retiring from the sport, the long-time best friends went in the other direction, riding massive waves in the open ocean.

"Storm Surfers 3D," currently playing in select U.S. theaters and on video on demand, follows Carroll and Clarke-Jones as they travel over 17,000 km (10,500 miles) during the course of four Australian winter months in 2011, completing eight surfing missions around Australia and Hawaii.

What sets "Storm Surfers 3D" apart from other surf documentaries such as "The Endless Summer" in 1966 and "Step Into Liquid" in 2003 is its 3D footage.

Filmmakers Chris Nelius and Justin McMillan used half a dozen camera systems, had crew members shooting in the water, on boats, wave-runners and helicopters to capture the giant waves, winds and rain.

However, the 3D GoPro wearable action cameras are what make "Storm Surfers 3D" a deeply immersive surfing documentary.

'IN IT, BEAT BY BEAT'

The tiny cameras were strapped to the surfboards and waverunners, or were held in one hand while riding waves, effectively making the surfers human camera cranes.

"Instead of just showing amazing waves and daredevil feats, we wanted to make people feel like they're in it, beat by beat," Nelius told Reuters. "When Tom almost drowns, you live that moment with everyone else as it happens."

Another first for the film is capturing Carroll and Clarke-Jones surfing a wave at Turtle Dove Shoal - 75 kilometers (47 miles) off the coast of Australia. The break had never been photographed or surfed before due in part to its great distance from shore and gale force winds.

Balancing the perilous footage is a personal story chronicling the friendship between Carroll and Clarke-Jones, two self-described "adrenaline junkies."

"The ocean is really good at giving to me," Carroll said while out surfing with Clarke-Jones in Malibu during a promotional trip to California. "It becomes a slow progression of where can I take it next, where else can I go, putting myself in more risky situations."

The chance to go somewhere new is what the duo "live for," according to Nelius. And despite making fun of what Clarke-Jones called their "aging bodies," the two surfers have no plans to retire anytime soon.

"We'll be surfing long after we won't be able to walk," said Carroll. "Just wheel us into the ocean."

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Paul Simao)

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