Tom Carroll is a twice named world champion surfer who has spent 14 years of his professional life on the surfboard and accumulated 26 victories over that time. He’s known as the sports first millionaire and has also made a recovery from career ending injuries along the way. In this episode, Tom shares how difficult challenges motivated him to be the best he could.
“It’s very, very, very fulfilling, to kind of use my knowledge and … just to be of guidance.”
Charlie Ellis 0:00
Hello, and welcome to The Mentor Evolution Podcast. I’m Charlie Ellis, your host, and I’m here to uncover the stories behind Australia’s great industry minds. So you the listener can know their story.
So welcome to the next episode of The Mentor Evolution Podcast. I’m here with twice named world champion surfer, Tom Carroll. And I don’t think he needs much of an introduction. But he’s spent 14 years of his professional life on the surfboard, he accumulated 26 victories over that time. He’s known as the sports first millionaire. And he’s also come back from career ending injuries along the way. How are you going today, Tom?
Tom Carroll 1:03
Doing pretty good. Yeah. And by the way, I’m still on the surfboard today. So not competing as such but the ocean? Yeah, she’s got me.
Charlie Ellis 1:16
Good. Good. That’s what we like to hear though. So there’s no more injuries or anything like that.
Tom Carroll 1:21
Well, you never know. No,
Charlie Ellis 1:23
Fingers crossed. So it’s fantastic to have you on today, Tom. It’s a real privilege. And I’ve been, you know, researching over the past few days and the life and stories you must have travelling the world and competing at such a high athletic level. It’s going to be a fantastic chat. I just wanted to start with a few mundane, very simple questions just to get the ball rolling. Tom, what is your favourite word?
Tom Carroll 1:51
Wow. If there is a word I think Love is one of my favourite words. Yeah. Nice. Love tends to cover a lot of bases. For me. Yeah.
Charlie Ellis 2:01
Nice. And what is your least favourite word?
Tom Carroll 2:07
Hard one, I would say stupid. Bad word. Like, I will not say that. But it’s just a sort of something or kind of when someone’s called the someone calls someone stupid. It’s really, in our language. It’s really, it’s like he’s stupid. Like such a down because it’s a demeaning. And it’s also got this is flattens someone’s energy down, you know, and that doesn’t last too long, hopefully. But that’s, uh, you know, stupid like, Oh, that was stupid. But sometimes it’s very descriptive and, and actually sort of nails it, you know, with something. Yeah. As humans, we tend to be kind of that way and fine. But that’s kind of like something I would like to kind of steer away from cooling so
Charlie Ellis 3:03
Nice. Okay. And what sound or noise Do you love?
Tom Carroll 3:07
Well, if just the first thing that came to mind is the butcher bird. So I don’t know either. You know, butcher birds know. Which of birdsong. You got to listen to a butcher bird song. That’s that sound is just delightful. We get the butcher birds around my house here.
Charlie Ellis 3:26
And what sound or noise Do you hate?
Tom Carroll 3:30
The sound of a car crash?
Charlie Ellis 3:33
Nice. Good answer..
Tom Carroll 3:35
Yeah. Like that crunching of metal like, oh, even if I hear it from a distance, or I’m in the car when it happens. It just all just Yeah. Yeah, here we go.
Charlie Ellis 3:48
Yeah. Sort of tense up. And what profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Tom Carroll 3:57
Good question. becoming someone who can help rehabilitate people. And in the sense of bringing people around, it can be from injury. It can be from both mental and physical setbacks. Someone who can bring people and actually guide them back into a more balanced state. And they think that offers them a way away to sort of see themselves in a new light.
Charlie Ellis 4:31
That’s a brilliant answer. And overdoing my research over the past few days, I noticed you twice champion of New South Wales, when you were at school when you’re lying. That was younger ages. Twice. Twice winner of the pro juniors as well. Yes. Yeah. How How was that starting out? What was life like when you were winning those comps in your school and what’s the what was life like?
Tom Carroll 4:58
It was late 1970s. And in the 1970s everyone’s got this sort of, like dreamy ‘Oh, it’s so kind of 70s’ thing, you know, it’s all flower powery. It was it, it was hectic, like it was pretty harsh and very raw world. Surfing was definitely not accepted as a sport. It was not something that, you know, anyway, he’ll even think about as being a path of career path. But I, I was gaining a lot of recognition in that area. And at the same time, luckily, there was just this, there’s a whole bunch of people doing the similar thing like, oh, let’s make this a professional sport. So I didn’t know that. But I just loved it so much. And it was giving me so much. And I, I was just lucky enough to have some talent. And I was tapping into that talent and the viewpoint from my school teachers and the school at the time, was that you are nothing if you’re a surfer, so and so I win these school boys championships and I win the Australian Amateur Championship, and I win this young, they did the first professional Junior event at North Narrabeen I won that at 15. So I go to school. And at the assembly on the Monday morning, they’d be like, all this whoha about the local netball team and or softball team who, you know, paraded in front of the school and then nothing, for surfing at all, nothing. So, even though you won the school boys, and dadada it was called school boys, and that’s going this is really weird and got under my skin. And I thought, well, if I get a chance, and I don’t know, I didn’t even know this was happening. But underneath me was this fire to be a part of the change in order to change, you know, to change people’s minds around what surfing can be as a recreation not only a recreation, but a sport that accepted because we weren’t accepted. And we’re actually looked upon as as kind of like dropouts, you know, kind of discarded and some people really, you know, I took it on and and as a cult kind of This Is Us, and that’s them. That wasn’t really me. And we felt really special about it. There’s something very special about surfing, but I didn’t want to get it mixed with that stuff. Even though there was an intensity that I was taking to it that sort of went along with that in a way.
Charlie Ellis 7:49
That’s fantastic. It’s an Olympic sport. So yeah, there it is.
Tom Carroll 7:55
Yeah, and I, and that was like way back. And it was just the very seed of the sport, just starting. And I really wanted to want to become a professional surfer. And I started going toward the sniffing the idea of becoming a world champion. I didn’t I absolutely, I didn’t go I’m going to be a world champion one day, I wasn’t one of those. You know, it was more of a, I could start smelling success as I in increments as I went, Okay. And and that’s how it happened. Yeah.
Charlie Ellis 8:30
Wow. So it was quite an organic transition. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So there was, you talked about that kind of, you had a bit of a fire on the belly when you’re at school, and the fact that it was sort of a maybe bit intrinsic, maybe you didn’t realise what was happening, but you sort of were very motivated to really nail on a surfing career. Yeah. Was there a moment where you realise that or was that in itself quite organic as well?
Tom Carroll 8:58
Well, it was slow, me, for a 15, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 year old 18, in that teenage period where I was accepted. And I went through the ups and downs of competition, winning, losing, losing, winning, winning, getting recognition, going to the place, I always wanted to go to my first trip overseas when I was 16 to Hawaii, to prove myself prove to myself that I could surf, the big waves of Hawaii in 1978. And just those journeys, of going through all that was really incremental for me. And there was moments where I was just off with the pixies just being a surfer guy. And then there was this times where I was really ah, this could actually be something I could take this seriously and this could be something and so I kepg returning to that. Yeah. And there was something very serious about how I was doing it. And I was very intense about it. And I wanted to be really good at it. So I just wanted to keep improving naturally. So that as a course has just been that way, things started to move for me in a direction, sort of things start to sort of, you start to pull things along the way, as long as you’re putting the effort effort in. And I was able to see opportunity and dive in with everything I had in those opportunities. You know what, when I think about it, it was, there was a lot of incredible moments where it just everything fell into place, and happens, to be honest, something’s in you know, and I was lucky,
Charlie Ellis 10:49
You know, you, you work hard, and those things fall into place for a reason. And as you go in through that, that transition, and you know, the ups and downs of competition, was the one really valuable life lesson you learn from someone.
Tom Carroll 11:06
I think the biggest one was from my father, when I was quite young, it wasn’t really during those competition years. But it was this very strong message because I was pretty much running around the house, outside up trees down, and I was pretty active kid and my dad constantly told me, he goes Tom, stop, slow and steady, wins the race. I used to go, I used to shake my head. I mean, yeah, what do you talk about? What do you saying? Slow and steady wins, right? But that bubbled up in those times when, when you’re not doing so good. And the bubble came, the bubbling up of that message came at just the right times when I needed to slow and be steady, and then come back to being kind of methodical in my approach, rather than just jumping out of my skin at stuff. So that was a very strong message from my father, which stayed all the way through.
Charlie Ellis 12:13
Even when you’re on the waves today, or Yeah. And maybe it was a time when you were at school and you were talking about how you’re you were getting recognised in the surfing world. But there wasn’t much action going on at school or maybe it was later on in your career. Or how if there ever been a time where you didn’t feel like you belonged? Or you’re maybe a bit of an outsider, and how did you handle that feeling?
Tom Carroll 12:40
Yeah, I felt like I was very out of place there to be honest, I was this freckley kid. In fact, they call us howlies in Hawaii, white people with particularly ones with freckles, and and where I was, I was called the howley and I was set off to the side. And I felt that I was a little guy. And it was quite violent in the ocean, between, you know, the local people, local surfers, and people come from overseas, it got pretty crazy there in the late 70s and early 80s. I went there every year of my life for the winter. I think the last last winter was the first one I’ve missed in many, many, many years. And, and I that started way back then. But that and then there was a lot of, it was like a second home to me really. But back then it was quite violent, about who, who was in the water who got position who, who’s the the person who’s dominating the lineup, who it was, and it was dog eat dog, and it was tough. And I was just this little guy, I had to work out how to navigate that kind of I saw some violence just over a wave, man, I just, I just and because of that why wave so valuable, that particular wave in the set in the spot on the you know, in the reef on the wall, and it’s the perfect wave and dadada all become all of q sudden becomes a somebody to fight over. And that’s how it was physically. And these guys are big guys. They’re crazy. Someone was was hard to navigate as a young kid and, and at times frightening. I had no skills as a fighter like just this young kid. Sydney is just actually not even a fighter in any way, shape or form. And so I had to use my skills as a person as a kid when I was young to garner support, and, and that’s how I kind of made my inroads, and I actually had to prove myself in the waves just so I could get a wave so I had to go for it. I had to prove myself You couldn’t just sit off the side and expect to get a wave if you had to get in there and get your position get completely annihilated sometimes. But we made it, I needed to take those risks show that I was ready to take that risk, and then they’ll some respect given. And then then the respect came and I felt that that’s when I could start moving into that kind of that kind of more power that has some longevity.
Charlie Ellis 15:29
During that time, you’re sort of throwing yourself into the deep end, quite literally. What’s your favourite failure that you’ve ever had?
Unknown Speaker 15:38
Oh, favourite failure? Wow, it’s tricky one. I think I’m so good.
Charlie Ellis 15:49
It doesn’t even have to be about surfing.
Unknown Speaker 15:51
Yeah, I um. Oh, wow. I mean, I’ve had so many failures, I’ve had big ones. And, and, and that’s, that’s a part of life, I think. I think I, in as far as kind of surfing competition or surfing the act of surfing for me, which was, you know, my chosen career path. At the time, the failure would be to really be able to see my way through really, really tight tights, high pressure situations. There was times when I failed to do that. And, and that’s, that was a letdown in me personally. And for some reason, not taking in notice of interference rules and regulations, and interfering those in as far as that’s concerned. I was pretty gung ho. And I was a little bit rebellious in that area. And it’s just the way I was, but I paid the price.
Charlie Ellis 16:57
Did you suffer quite a big career injury, didn’t you? And
Tom Carroll 17:02
I’ve got a couple of beauties. Yeah, got one up the bum. That was a real big one. And yeah, that was an epic failure. That was in Japan on a little island that is an 8 hour ferry ride from Tokyo, and a place called Niijima Island. And I got a board up the butt. I wouldn’t, oh, wouldn’t. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. It was the most brutal injury. And I had to fly had a succession of flights to get out of the island to get home. And my Japanese sponsor gave me this blow up, donut thing to sit on. And I couldn’t sit on that I needed four seats to lie down in the plane home. And it was just an ordeal. Yeah. And I was lucky how it came about. Because it could have been a lot worse. But to hurt yourself in that area in the butt in a surfboard, they’re no good. No, good.
Charlie Ellis 18:03
Gosh, in contrast to that, what’s one of your most fun professional memories?
Tom Carroll 18:09
Well, I think becoming a world champion, twice was really, really, you know, the work we put into achieving goal and service, and then trying to do it again, and making sure we do it again. And that was something that I needed to do that was really fulfilling at the time that wains but it’s still, you know, gives us a posture about who we are and how we are, that was great and another, you know, like it all the way to, you know, being honoured in, in surfing Hall of Fame. I’ve had many awards, like they’re being honoured, and then even to one of the most fulfilling things now is actually coaching kids surfing. So that’s a beautiful thing to see. It’s very, very, very fulfilling, to kind of use my knowledge and allow not to be forced on anyone, but just to be of guidance to them. Those who really, really want to get in there and have a go. So it’s lovely. To feel that blossoming within myself.
Charlie Ellis 19:14
Definitely. Well, it kind of draws on that idea you’re talking about, if you weren’t surfing, what would you be doing instead? And that idea of helping people grow as, as a person professionally and mentally. That’d be a great thing to do. And when you were surfing or know what you’re doing now, how do you continue to stay on top of things? Maybe it was when you were going through the ups and downs of World Championships. So you know, you’d won the first world champ. How did you continue to maintain it? Because that starts harder than winning in the first place.
Tom Carroll 19:53
Well, yeah. Well to to constantly come back to The basics, don’t get lost in the fantasy of what could be this and could be that come back to the act of what we’re doing, and refine it and refine it and refine it, it’s very creative process. So we were originally recreating a new year, like, we can’t ever sort of, we’re always changing, everything’s changing, constantly changing. So as soon as I tried to control notice, as soon as I tried to control it, in any way, shape, or form, it would slip out of my hands. So I literally, it was always drawn back to the simple act of getting the business done. You know, like, literally get back to the basic, come back to the basics, get these things in order, and then move forward. And then I’d sort of fall over a little bit, you know, a couple of, you know, and that’s how it was. Just keep on coming back and recreate it. And where are you at, you know, asking yourself the question where you’re at with this, you know, but then moving forward, don’t, get caught in the answers. Don’t get caught in the questions, keep moving forward. But come back, come back, come back, and then go forward and reapply those basics. That’s it. And application of the basics.
Charlie Ellis 21:24
Slow and steady wins the race, like your dad said,
Tom Carroll 21:27
Charlie Ellis 21:29
And I’m gonna ask my final question. Now, Tom, it’s a bit more philosophical, just about you, in general, if you could teach everyone in the world, one concept, what concept would have the biggest positive impact on humanity,
Tom Carroll 21:45
It would be to put a practice in place that allows us to come back to who we truly are deeply inside. And that is, I teach the meditation. So when I was able to have that practice given to me, it will offer that practices open to it, and put it into my life on a regular basis. Thanks, things started to move forward for me. Whereas prior to it, I was moving backward. And so again, going back to basics, we actually sit in, in, in silence, and go inside, and go beyond thought. Now, I’m not saying you’re not gonna stop thinking, you’re never gonna stop thinking before, why can conscious we’re thinking is learning to become the watcher of that the observer, noticing that the beyond the observer, there is us are being once once we have touched down in there on a regular basis, then we can perform action, then the actions rooted in being so wherever we’re going to go, we then you don’t want to even you don’t want to hurt another human being. Because you know what it’s like to be a human being. So you’re there to create space. And that’s what we want to do in our lives today, particularly today, with these things taking up all our space. And all the information. Yeah, leave a motion. We cannot, as an individual, think that we can absorb all this information. And then dig our heels in, stamp our feet and say that we know because ever changing. So get into that little bit. Maybe meditation. Yeah.
Charlie Ellis 23:48
Well, a fantastic answer. And thank you very much for that. Tom. That was a brilliant chat. It was great to hear about all your stories and what you’re doing now. Yeah, it was really fantastic. Tom brilliant having you on the podcast.