The Escape: How Ross Clarke-Jones Evaded The ‘Big Mama’

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Never take it for granted… If you get complacent, it’s going to be a big mistake. These were Ross Clarke-Jones’s words after his near-death experience at Nazare, Portugal.

Nazare is known for its monstrous waves, which makes it a paradise for most big wave surfers. There have been jaw-dropping clips and could-be-another-world-record videos, but horrific wipeouts are always a constant. Even the 51-year old nominee for 5 XXL Big Wave awards, Ross Clarke-Jones, hasn’t escaped them.

As the only surfer to ride the iconic ‘Big Mama’ of Nazare, Ross surely was able to use his experience to his advantage. Bystanders said others wouldn’t be able to make it out alive. After taking on a 25-foot wave, Ross was dragged underwater and jet skis weren’t able to get to him fast enough.

 

Video Credit: Alexander Triebel

“I headed out this morning around 8am with my tow partner Carlos Burle. I caught my first wave on the second peak, which I went right. Bailing off the wave, I was pulled under the water for about 30 seconds. Using my Quiksilver Airlift to inflate me to the surface, I came up looking directly at the cave and rocks. The rip was fast and strong, which dragged me straight into the danger zone – where no one can reach you on the jet skis as it’s shallow and covered in rocks. At this stage, they said they couldn’t even see me.

I took another hit, which washed me straight onto the rocks, hitting my side, which rolled over the rocks. Completely out of breath, I put myself into a safer area and hid behind a rock. Another set came in, which dragged me in and out, exactly like a washing machine. Launching back into rocks I hit my head and side. Forcing myself to stay conscious, I had an instant flashback to when I was 12, my brother and I used to hide behind the rocks at Terrigal’s tube rock.

Clutching to the rocks, I stayed there for a minute to get my breath back and to orientate myself. As I watched the set coming towards me, I waited, then scrambled to the cliff to start scaling the 30-meter sheer drop up.

You know what you sign up for when you surf Nazare, I always have a hell of a time but this was a nice reminder that you never take it for granted. Especially on the smaller days like today where you can get complacent… it was a big mistake.” – Ross Clarke-Jones

“Ross caught the wave on the second peak, going right toward the light house direction, which looks like it is going straight to the cliff. He jumped off in what is the “safest” area. After he took the wave, he got dragged for 200 meters and ended up in the most dangerous area, where all the rocks are.

This is first time I’ve seen someone get caught in this zone. There was five of us on jet skis trying to find him and we couldn’t reach him, or even see him. I personally think that there aren’t many surfers that could have gotten themselves out of this situation. It was RCJ’s age and wave knowledge that saved him. He used the waves and water to his advantage.

At the end of the day, thankfully, he wasn’t hurt badly. If you come to surf Nazare, you know the risks that you are taking. Ross always has fun in Nazare and anywhere he surfs!” – Axi Muniain, jet ski rider

“I was filming Ross catch a medium size (for Ross) wave, which was around 25 feet, he went right, when he started getting to the base (trough) of the wave, he lost speed as there were bumps, he pushed himself backwards into the wave to get off. At the time I thought he was in a safe zone and would get washed to the beach.

I started analyzing the sets to come, then I saw Ross get dragged 200 meters in a heavy rip, he was getting closer and closer to the rocks at the base of the lighthouse at Praia do Norte, where no one could help rescue him. It was now up to Ross to get himself out this situation, it was Ross against Mother Nature.

Ross used the waves to his advantage, as when he first was pulled in he was smashed around. Ross then placed himself behind one of the rocks to use as a barrier. After two more sets, Ross used his knowledge of the ocean to boost himself onto the cliff face to scale himself up to safety. I was so relieved to see the devilish grin on his face when he crawled up over the cliff with limbs intact.” – Alexander Triebel, videographer

This near-death experience left Ross with a possible broken leg and a concussion. We wish you well, Ross!

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