Ross Clarke-Jones thought of Terrigal in his youth as he almost drowned

Safety: Ross Clarke-Jones shows relief at surviving a near-death experience.
Safety: Ross Clarke-Jones shows relief at surviving a near-death experience.

This is the face of a man who has just escaped death. 

It’s big-wave surfer Ross Clarke-Jones moments after he scrambled to safety up a 30-metre high cliff, after almost drowning in big surf at Nazaré in Portugal. 

We can see the sense of relief and euphoria in his expression. 

Before the incident, Topics had lined up an interview with Ross to talk about his big-wave surfing and his days of surfing on the Central Coast and in Newcastle.

The person handling his media emailed us on Tuesday night: “So sorry for being slow in coming back to you. 

“I wasn’t able to connect with Ross – and then he almost drowned yesterday. He’s fine but pretty battered around so needs a little more recovery time. He’s aiming to get your answers back before the end of this week.

“I hope that’s OK?”

Ahh yeah. Take all the time you need. 

The footage of the near-drowning is incredible.

A big wave smashes Ross against rocks. Then he gets swept back into the ocean and pulled underwater as another couple of waves batter him some more.

It was the kind of situation that would be sure to kill normal people. But Ross is far from normal.

The 51-year-old described the spot where he got caught as a “death zone”.

Big-wave surfer Ross Clarke-Jones hides behind a rock in the "death zone".

Big-wave surfer Ross Clarke-Jones hides behind a rock in the "death zone".

During the ordeal, he had a flashback to his youth at Terrigal.

“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,” he said.

“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 onto rocks again, he got his breath back and tried to orientate himself.

“As I watched the set coming towards me, I waited, then scrambled to the cliff,” he said.

“You know what you sign up for when you surf Nazaré. 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.”

The frightening experience left him with a concussion and a possible broken leg.

The waves at Nazaré can rise to 35 metres. Clarke-Jones was surfing an 8-metre wave when he got into trouble.

In January, he broke his personal big-wave record by surfing a 35-metre monster at the break they call “Big Mama” at Nazaré. 

“When I hit 50, a lot of people said that I’d start to worry about my mortality and that the fear would finally get to me. I love proving them all wrong and pushing myself to up the ante and go bigger each time.”

Clarke-Jones grew up in Terrigal, but now divides his time between homes in Victoria’s Torquay, Nazaré and Hawaii.

If he isn’t chasing the world’s biggest swells, he heads to Germany where he stores his Porsche 911 GT2.

The German autobahns might not be quite the same as a 35-metre wave, but they do get the adrenaline pumping. 

The Glebe

Topics wrote last week about Murdering Gully, which is in bush between Glenrock Lagoon and Merewether.

We were quoting an article by Mr B Johns from 1948, which referred to an area in Newcastle known as Glebe.

We thought he must have meant Glebe Road.

Mount Hutton’s John Ure said there was an area known as “the Glebe” back in the day. It was in the vicinity of Glebe Road, Beaumont Street and Macquarie Street in Merewether.

“We knew it as the Glebe when I grew up.”

Named after a Racehorse

Meanwhile, Jillian Jago said she knew the identity of Mr B Johns, cited as the author of the article about Murdering Gully.

“His name was Balmoral Johns. He was my grandfather,” Jillian, of Gillieston Heights, said.

Jillian said her grandfather was named after a racehorse that won a race on the day he was born.

“He worked for the Newcastle Herald for 50 years. He joined the Herald when he was 14 years old. He was a compositor. He set the type for the papers.”