INDEX
 

Carroll, Tom


Dynamic and durable power surfer from Sydney, Australia; world champion in 1983 and 1984, and one of the sport's premier tuberiders. Carroll was born (1961) in Sydney, the son of a newspaper editor, raised in the beachfront suburb of Newport, and began surfing at age eight, a few months after his mother died of pancreatic cancer. Hawaiian style master Gerry Lopez was an early influence on Carroll, as was hard-turning local surfer Col Smith.

Carroll was a two-time juniors division winner in the Australian National Titles (1977 and 1978) and a two-time winner of the Pro Junior (1977 and 1980). As a world pro tour rookie in 1979, he made the finals in the Pipeline Masters, and finished the year ranked #24. After a steady climb up the ratings over the next three seasons—from 17th to 10th to third— Carroll earned his first world title in 1983, winning six of 13 events, and becoming the first goofyfooter to take the championship. The following year he won just two of 24 events and was pushed to the wire by 1977 world champion Shaun Tomson, but came out on top; in 1985 he lost the title to Californian Tom Curren. 

Small and well-muscled (5' 6", 145 pounds), with huge energy-storing thighs, Carroll was a power surfer with uncommon finesse. Naturally gifted, but not to the degree of world champions Tom Curren or Mark Occhilupo, Carroll steadily and willfully improved his craft, one facet at a time. The effort sometimes showed in small, weak surf, but in waves from four to 20 feet Carroll was a marvel: planting his back foot squarely over the tail section of his board and assuming a fencer's stance, he adapted perfectly to the given surf break, drawing long and sinewy lines across the bottom-heavy rollers at Sunset, or hooking fiercely under the curl at Bells Beach, or flying arrowlike through the tube at Pipeline. "I've always thought that's where you see the true TC," older brother and top surfing journalist Nick Carroll wrote in 1994, "alone in that utterly silent moment of freefall down the face of the wave, the impossibly accurate first turn, the perfect stillness and control in the midst of chaos."

While the sport was to a large degree recast in the image of Tom Curren in the '80s and '90s, Carroll's effect was nearly as great, and he was the primary influence on surfers like Mark Occhilupo and Luke Egan. Carroll's disposition amplified his popularity. He was confident but not arrogant, emotional but not volatile, dignified but still matey. He projected a sense of gratitude—not just for a career that afforded him prestige and a handsome living, but for the good luck of having been born a surfer.

Carroll retired from the world tour at the end of the 1993 season. He'd placed second in the final standings in 1986, finished third in 1985, 1988, and 1991, and was the 1991 Triple Crown champion. He had 26 career pro tour event victories, including Pipeline Masters wins in 1987, 1990, and 1991. He detoured into politics in 1985, boycotting the South African events on the world tour as a protest against apartheid, saying he'd taken "a basic humanitarian stand" and that he wouldn't return "until black surfers are allowed on all beaches." In 1988 he became the first million-dollar surfer, signing an exclusive five-year contract with Quiksilver.

Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, along with world champions Kelly Slater, Wayne Bartholomew, Mark Richards, and older brother Nick Carroll, all took the podium at Carroll's world tour retirement dinner. Some speakers got a laugh while making reference to Carroll's career-long assortment of injuries, including a surfboard-inflicted stomach rupture, a concussion, two knee injuries requiring major surgery, and, most famously, a perforated rectum suffered after being speared by the nose of his board. The hardest blow of Carroll's life came the afternoon before the finals of the 1987 Pipeline Masters, when he learned his older sister had just been killed in a car accident. A smaller trial was met in 1989, when Carroll had an acrimonious public split with Peter Mansted, his effective but abrasive manager.

Carroll won the Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Award in 1984. He was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 1990, won the Australia's Surfing Life Peer Poll in 1991, and was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 1999. Surfer named Carroll ranked him #7 in their 2010 "Greatest Surfers of All Time" feature. Tom Carroll: The Wave Within, an autobiography cowritten with Australian surf journalist Kirk Willcox, was published in 1994; Carroll also wrote Surfing the World (1990), a book on the pro circuit, as well as roughly 40 surf magazine articles in the '90s and early '00s.

In the '00s, Carroll and longtime Quiksilver teammate and friend Ross Clarke-Jones became tow-surfer partners, and charged some of the biggest, thickest waves ever ridden in Australia. Carroll also became a first-rate SUP rider. 

TC: Tom Carroll, a tell-all autobiography written with Tom's brother Nick in 2013, raised eyebrows throughout the surf world with its admission that Tom had been a habitual drug user throughout his adult life, including a long run in the '00s where he was addicted to crystal meth.  

Carroll appeared in more than 60 surf movies and videos, including Bali High (1981), Ocean Fever (1983), Amazing Surf Stories (1986), All Down the Line (1989), Rolling Thunder (1991), Endless Summer II (1994), The Hole (1997), The Path (2000), and Storm Surfers 3D (2012)