This yearÔÇÖs World Surf League Margaret River Drug Aware Pro 2015 was a truly special event. Not only did I get to spend some time in the Competitors VIP Tent talking with the current best surfers in the world, but I also got to see some insane surfing in some of the best conditions this leg of the tour has seen in years. Some highlights of the event can be seen here.
I met up with Tom Carroll at the event to chat about flow and understand how it has been instrumental to his life and surfing. For those that don’t know Tom Carroll he has been voted as one of the top 10 greatest surfers of all time and been crowned World Champion twice. Even today, at the age of 53, he continues to push limits, searching the globe to ride the world’s biggest swells for his TV series ‘Storm Surfers’. In fact, when I met up with him, he had just taken a huge beating, injuring his hip, at the intimidating Boat Ramps surf break – a break not for the feint hearted, especially on a day like today with massive swell.
After speaking to Nat Young and Josh Kerr about flow, whose responses echoed the sentiment ‘flow – I’m always in flow, it’s what a I live for’, the legend himself talked about how he sees flow and how he plugs-in.
WhereÔÇÖs the mic on thisÔÇª down here. Maybe you hold it.
How did you feel when youÔÇÖre in it (Flow) and what was your top experiences like?
“Well, I had my first really clear flow movement experience when I was 13 years of age. Obviously IÔÇÖve done a lot of surfing, to that point, IÔÇÖve been already surfing since seven years of age. I was on a board that I absolutely loved, that really fitted into my body at that time. I was surfing a right-hand point-break which I hadnÔÇÖt experienced before, but it was a very comfortable place to surf, or something thatÔÇöI loved surfing a long wave where I got to do a lot of maneuvres on the wave. It was probably for the first time IÔÇÖd actually ridden a wave where I could do that many maneuvres on, so I was pretty excited. You know, just excited to be out there, loved the board, so I was in a very nice environment. And then, towards the end of the sessionÔÇª I never forget, taking a wave a little bit longer and further down the beach and getting drifted down the beach to a whole new wave.”
“There was no one surfing on it, I was by myself so I got into the flow moment, which I recognised as a moment in time where nothing could go wrong. All my timing was absolutely perfectly in harmony with the wave, perfectly in harmony with my body movements and my timing and my understanding of what was happening at that time. I couldnÔÇÖt get, I could not fall off the board even if I tried. That was a really clear moment, and I can feel it now, I can sense it in my body at this point ÔÇô IÔÇÖm 53 now so itÔÇÖs a long time ago! So yeah, youÔÇÖre looking at 40 years ago I can sort of get that real clear emotional response in my body to that.”
“It was a really lovely feeling, and I just wanted to stay out there and keep in that space, but obviously youÔÇÖve got to come in ÔÇô you know, itÔÇÖs getting dark.”
“It couldÔÇÖve lastedÔÇöI canÔÇÖt remember exactly the length of that time, but because of the nature of surfingÔÇª You know, IÔÇÖm paddling out, looking for waves, feeling whatÔÇÖs the best wave to take, feeling the drop, feeling the move on the wave, and feeling totally in sync with how the wave was moving, and the board and how I was moving on the wave. It probably lasted up toÔÇª You know, I probably came in and out of the experience through that hour or two, but it was long, elongated, suspendedÔÇª a suspended feeling of flow.”
Yeah. Describe when you were actually in it and on the wave, ~sort of~ the highest points.
“Yeah, yeah. The highest points was on the wave…
“IÔÇÖd noticed clearly that I couldnÔÇÖt fall off, that I was totally in sync. I could move wherever I wanted to, I knew with a sixth sense that I was able to push it, I was able to push my board to its limit and I could push myself to my limit at that time. There was no separation between me, the board and the wave, it was all connected and it was all kind of one thing, not separated at all; I was linked up”
“The future, drawing way off into the future for my second really clearÔÇª and in competition feeling the flow moment was at the Pipe Masters in 1991, I had two day of getting into the flow moment during competition. IÔÇÖd had a big year of competitive experience that year, I was ~fine-tuned~ emotionally, physically, and youÔÇÖd have to say spiritually at the same time. My wife was having our first child and she was full of little Jenna. SheÔÇÖs 23 now by the way and also a ballerina, so sheÔÇÖs felt the flow.”
“In that time at the Pipe Masters I had several moments where I was just doing and not being, or I guess I was being and not doing; I donÔÇÖt know how to separate that. I was in the flow in the moments where my body, the wave, the boardÔÇª nothing was in the way. Everything was in sync, everything was in clear focus and I wasnÔÇÖt thinking things through, I was just doing it and being it. There was a move that was recorded ÔÇô you know, they call it the snap ~heard~ around the world, there was that move that was done in the preliminary round, in the first day of competition, and then I ended up going on to win that event the next day. In the final I scored a 10-point ride, I got a very, very late drop where I couldnÔÇÖt think about it ÔÇô I was just doing it ÔÇô and I was able to sort myself, sort my body movement, sort everything out without having to think about it.”
“It was all second nature, it was all sixth sense, and most definitely for meÔÇª That day I was probably at the top of my game. So, yeah. That was two really clear examples of where IÔÇÖve been, but thereÔÇÖs probably beenÔÇª hundreds of moments where IÔÇÖve been felt the flow, and even to the point where I felt it the other day [laughs] here at Margaret River just practicing surfing, just for fun. Yeah.”
Obviously the critical elements of surfing, the big wave and the consequences of it hurting when it goes wrong help us to kind of push into that pocket and out of our brain and into that moment where we find flow. Is there anything else that you feel is a big help to kind of plugging into that? Is there anything that you do, maybe not consciously, or maybe preparation that leads up to it the morning of, or just before youÔÇÖre about to paddle, or when youÔÇÖre looking at the waves before you head out?
“I think connecting with the breath is probably the biggest thing for me. Connecting with my breath at the deepest level, like right down into the hip, into the hips and push my breath. Being aware of my breath and doing a number of breaths very, very consciously brings me further into my body, and thatÔÇÖs where I need to be. Quite often my scattered and very short attention span takes me out of my body, so coming back into my bodyÔÇª One particular exercise I used to do whilst competing was a chant, thatÔÇÖs where I used to say the four Ps which was power, precision, performance, perfect. Power, precision, performance, perfect ÔÇô itÔÇÖs like a chant.”
“A mantra yeah – whilst I was paddling, so each paddle IÔÇÖd say ÔÇ£powerÔÇØÔÇöas I was paddling out ÔÇ£power, precision, performance, perfectÔÇØ so my mind would remain focused on what was coming up next for me on the wave. On the wave everything sorted out because IÔÇÖve got to respond, I canÔÇÖt think, the waveÔÇÖs always sort of drawing me to the present, I canÔÇÖtÔÇª I donÔÇÖt have time because mother nature aintÔÇÖ going to wait for me. [laughs] SheÔÇÖs not going to wait, so what IÔÇÖve got to do is respond to her so that everythingÔÇÖs sorted out for me once IÔÇÖm stood up on the wave, as long as IÔÇÖm out of the way. So, getting myself out of the way by creatingÔÇöand IÔÇÖd learnt that working with a mantra helped a lot in bringing myself to the moment and keeping myself focused and not attendingÔÇöyou know, drifting off on to what the other competitorÔÇÖs doing, what the scores wereÔÇª I mean, I need to know what the scores were, but thatÔÇÖs secondary to my performance really.”
“IÔÇÖm the only one on the wave, IÔÇÖm the only one on my board, and I need to be connected to that. I donÔÇÖt sort of seek constantly and consciously to always be in the flow, I wouldnÔÇÖt say thatÔÇÖs my main aim, I wouldnÔÇÖt say thatÔÇÖsÔÇª I do look for it for competitive excellence, but notÔÇª itÔÇÖs not something that I always, always go for. I do allow myself space to beÔÇª you know, just to beÔÇª allowing my brain to move and be elastic so to speak. Because I think thatÔÇÖs absolutely crucial for flow.”
How do you think flow can help other people?
“I think it helps anyone just to be present in what theyÔÇÖre doing, and this is whatÔÇª this is pretty much another kind of meditative state that we get to where our body and mind and attention is really placed upon the most important thing, and that is right now. So, we get to attend to be a lot more present in our basic everyday task, whether itÔÇÖd be doing the washing-up [laughs], whether itÔÇÖd be opening the car door, whether itÔÇÖd beÔÇª Yeah, just being more present in our relationships, being more present in our life in general. I think ~itÔÇÖll~ help us become more able to make clearer decisions and actually help ourselves and others at the same time. It has such a multiple sort of faceted kind of plus to our lives when we get more present. This has been my experience and itÔÇÖs helped me a lot.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Tom Carroll for his time and words on flow and look forward to hearing his experiences and wisdom on flow in the future.