At one point I remember turning around when I heard a bit of shuffling from behind and noticed a close friend wiping away tears. He was listening in on the conversation with Tom Carroll, and while I don’t remember the exact story Carroll was sharing with me in that moment, I vividly remember the reaction it elicited from this mutual friend. The topic of discussion was the Australian surfer’s history of drug addiction and how the whole experience, from that always talked about “rock bottom” to genuine sobriety, shaped the man that’s now sitting just a few feet away from me in the backyard of a North Shore house. The whole crying thing felt like déjà vu because I was introduced to the two-time world champion only a few days earlier and watched another grown man greet him with the same emotional response. He’d wanted to shake Carroll’s hand and thank him for TC, the autobiography that revealed just how deep his battle with drug abuse had run. The man’s gratitude came along with a quick note that Carroll’s story helped him come to terms with his own demons in a struggle for sobriety. He teared up a little bit, gave a quick hug to TC, and that was that.
What compelled me to ask Carroll for this interview wasn’t simply knowing he has a story about addiction or that he’s a former world champion. There was a definite warmth and humility in how he greeted that man earlier in the week. His compassion toward him was intriguing. It didn’t seem to come by giving profound advice or words or wisdom. It’s just a “thing” Tom Carroll walks into a room with. Perhaps he’d been to hell and back through a few years of daily meth use, and the nearly ten years of sobriety since had left him with this disarming and endearing honesty. Maybe there’s no need for a tough guy exterior when you’ve lived your worst moments. Who knows exactly? But however you want to explain these qualities, the sincerity is captivating. I was fixated on this after that first meeting and so two days later I asked Carroll if he’d share more of his story. So here we are in that backyard, digging into the highs and lows. He talks about running into an old dealer, looking in his rearview mirror, and quickly making the conscious choice to erase his phone number. He talks about the loneliness that came with addiction and the loneliness that came with recovery. He talks about his fear of losing sobriety. He talks about “the shark in the human,” a metaphor for man keeping his scariest traits in check. He talks about writing that book alongside his brother, Nick, and he talks about how surfing fit into it all – both during addiction and in recovery.