Bigger Than Life

It’s 9:00 pm on Sunday night at MoSun’s sushi bar in Laguna Beach . With one hand in his pocket and the other tugging at the back of his dress-shirt, Ross Clark-Jones is slowly getting used to the florescent beam of the spot light.”Well, eh-yea, it’s na uh surf’n mavie, ya knew?”says Ross of his new documentary The Sixth {{{Element}}}, “And shit happens all the toime... I hope ya enjoy me felm.” When Ross leaves the stage and the gothic chandeliers hanging above him slowly dim, Dennis Hopper’s voice introduces us to a different type of Ross, one who looks much more comfortable stalling into a barrel at 50 ft Log Cabins. But this is just the movie’s preface, easing us into its tale with the iconographic image of a surfer being towed into a gigantic wave. What the viewing audience does not yet realize is that they are being towed into a dramatic ride about a subject bigger than the biggest wave itself: an intimate look into the life story on one of the men who rides them.

The Sixth Element is director Justin McMillan and writer Chris Nelius’ first documentary surf film and demonstrates a big budget isn’t necessary to make a story poignant. Heavily influenced by the Dog Town and Z-Boys documentary, these two Aussies team up with fellow Aussie producer, Sam Long, to create a surf film which explores the changing lifestyles, emotions and thoughts of one of Big Wave Surfing’s most famous underground hero’s. “I didn’t want to make a surfing movie,” McMillan explained several days earlier while sitting inside the chic lounge of a Laguna Beach hotel, “and I don’t think we have. I think we’ve made something that’s more of documentary on a guy’s life who just happens to be a surfer.” Included as a DVD extra, Mad Wax (1987), the first scripted surf movie, underlines the importance of the ’80s in both Surfing and Ross’s development while helping The Sixth Element to map out a part of Surfing’s lost history.”I think it’s a good time in Surfing’s present to start looking back and telling stories of the past,” said Nelius. The movie follows a chronological narrative, read by American Hollywood superstar, Dennis Hopper, and uses retro pictures and footage, mostly from the ’80s, along with comical reenactments to show the evolution of Ross Clark-Jones’s mindset from a curious grom, to a struggling pro, to a soul surfer. “Ross has got a cool life story,” said McMillan. “He’s a freak. He’s a larrikin you know? Really that Aussie spirit just having fun and doing things for the hell of it.” And you can bet that Ross is not a stranger to being coined a “freak". In fact, “crazy” seems to be the top reoccurring adjective when people describe him; but Ross has a different opinion on the matter: “I’m not mad; I have a fear of a lot of things -- like sharks scare the hell out of me. But these massive walls of water that scare people to death, I look at them like a play ground. Maybe that’s the trick to riding big waves. To think of it like that, you know? Power of the mind.” Not wanting to represent Ross as an idolized figure for hero worship because, as Nelius said, “that’s boring," Nelius and McMillan included all of Ross’s mistakes, conflicts and achievements that are fundamental to understanding who Ross is.As the audience follows Ross through a choppy sea of life experiences -- debauchery, partying, death, depression, love, ambition and his recent success -- which are set against the emerging presence of the WCT in the 1980s, a three dimensional picture of Ross starts to emerge, emphasizing the mental durability that all professional surfers must have. “Well,” Ross nostalgically sighed, “I told them a lot. There’s stuff I wanted them to put in, but they wouldn’t, and there’s stuff I didn’t want them to put in but they did. I bared my soul and I think there’s things in there that people may or may not know, but can relate to.” For spectator Noah Freeland, this sort of honesty resonated loud and clear, making Ross’s story one which speaks to the type of passion that is inherent within the soul of surfing: “He had to learn humility before he got the goods, and it was cool to see somebody grow spiritually along with their success.” As soon as the end credits roll a disco ball begins to spin, music begins to play, and go-go dancers begin to dance. Amidst the festivities of Quiksilver and RedBull sponsored entertainment, Ross is nowhere to be found. Always looking for adventure and, perhaps, not wanting to face the crowd right away that had just seen such a close part of him, Ross had snuck out of his premier to take turns driving a yellow 2004 Gellardo {{{Lamborghini}}} (a “gift rental”) up and down PCH with Kelly Slater and his other friends. “Oh we weah only able ta get hea up ta about hundred and sixty today, earliah on the freeway,” Ross {{{recalls}}}. “We couldah taken hea up ta two hundred, but we didn’t want ta endangah anyone else. It just felt like the roads in this state are too small for that cah.””You know what?” one of Ross’s buddies interrupts. “Ross is the one who doesn’t fit in. He needs more room to move.” --Daniel BrownAuthors Note: The movie will go straight to DVD and is soon to make its next debuts in France, Australia, and Brazil.