Pro surfer and triathlete Clint Kimmins has had a colourful journey in pro sports; from a dance floor scuffle that turned into jail time, to his quest for Kona. Trizone caught up with Clint to chat about this wild ride.
“I was in class one day at school when my Dad called and said ‘you need to come home now, we need to get you a passport and get you over to Hawaii.’” If you’re thinking Kimmins had been summoned to Kona, you’re way off. Triathlete wasn’t even on Kimmins’ radar when he was 13, but surfing well and truly was. “I rode my bike home at lightning speed and Dad took me to the passport office. I’d been hooked up with Rip Curl, and left school to do a season on the North Shore of Hawaii; surfing’s proving ground,” Kimmins told Trizone.
At just 13 year old, Clint Kimmins was establishing himself as one of the world’ best surfers in his age group, and it was paying off. “I did miss a lot of school. One day when I was back though, a teacher asked me why I hadn’t left school, as I was getting paid more than she was! I’d never entertained the idea of leaving school early, but I figured it was a good opportunity.”
After long chats with his family, Clint decided he’d leave school and pursue his pro surfing career. “I travelled the world surfing. I was earning good money, and had a really good career in surfing,” says Kimmins casually, almost forgetting how many young Aussie guys and girls try to scrape their way onto the pro surfing world tour, but don’t make it.
One night changes everything
After years on the pro tour, gracing more magazine covers than any other surfer at the time, Kimmins was at a friend’s 21st birthday when a group of thugs gatecrashed the party. “A fight broke out on the dance floor and I ended up fighting with this one guy. I beat him in the scuffle and he wandered off and left the party. I thought nothing of it,” said Kimmins.
The scuffle was only the beginning, and as Clint left the party, the downtrodden gatecrasher (who later turned out to be a dealer involved in one of Australia’s biggest drug busts) was waiting with his cronies. “Another fight broke out, and I ended up on the ground with his friends kicking me in the head. I opened my eyes and saw a beer bottle, so I grabbed it and started waving it around. I got the guy on his neck and shoulder; the fight lasted around 30 seconds at most.”
Kimmins remembers the incident perfectly, as he’d scheduled a jet ski surfing photoshoot the day after the party. “I hadn’t been drinking much that night, so I remember it all. The next day, I heard the guy was let out of hospital, and I was getting death threats from his buddies. I went out in the surf on the jetski, but I couldn’t get off the jetski. I was sick to my stomach.”
After the death threats simmered down to silence, Kimmins was continuing with his career and moving on, when two years later he was charged with unlawful wounding. “Nothing happened for two years, then I was charged,” remember Kimmins.
With exorbitant court fees, Kimmins called on his surfing friends for help. “We had a big charity night to raise money, and all the surfing stars got behind it. To have the support of the sports fraternity in Australia meant everything,” but the support wasn’t enough.
“I was found not guilty of unlawful wounding,” said Kimmins, “but there was a mark on the guy’s back and after the three week trial, the court said that wasn’t self defence. I was charged with excessive self defence; two years in maximum security jail as it was a violent crime. Luckily it was suspended after six months.”
“When the verdict was read out, it was like in the movies; it was hands behind my back and I got cuffed and walked off.”
It was knowing people thought of me as ‘that person’ that broke me
In 2002, Kimmins had a good surfing career, and a solid profile. Around the same time, glassing incidences in fights were rife, and even the judge commented that while many people may have stepped over this incident, Kimmins had fallen though the crack; potentially making an example of the high-profile athlete. Instead of getting wrapped up in the drama and mind games of jail though, Kimmins kept a low profile and stayed out of every incident.
“Without sounding too dramatic, jail really rips out your soul and bends your mind,” says Kimmins. “It’s full of tactics. If it wasn’t your life on the line, it could be fun. I knew there was nothing I could do but just knuckle down and be strong.”
Jail turns Kimmins to triathlon
“I trained my way out of every negative thought,” remembers Clint. “I’d run around the oval in jail, sometimes for hours on end.”
Discovering the mental requirements of endurance training, rather than the strength and power needed for surfing, the passion for endurance sport was born, and it continued after Clint’s release.
Freedom leads to multi sport
Finally after six months, Kimmins was released from jail, and retreated to enjoy freedom in private with his girlfriend at the time. “I just wanted to lie down and not be scared anymore.” Remembering his new love for running, his first morning of freedom was a vital stepping stone toward his Ironman career. “I woke up at 3am. I went for a 10km run, then was in the water when it was still dark to go surfing. I just knew I didn’t want to miss any more seconds of my life.”
Kimmins later found out, the day of his release was the day his accuser was arrested for drug charges and sentenced to 12 years jail. “Everything has it’s way of coming around I guess,” Kimmins told Trizone.
Despite his new flare for making the most of every moment, and training hard, Kimmins’ surfing career wasn’t progressing. “I didn’t make many heats after I was release,” said Kimmins. “I thought it was weird I was doing everything right; I was training hard and eating right, but I wasn’t getting the results. I had some friends who did surf Ironman, and some of them were triathletes. They suggested I try it.”
Like most triathletes, Kimmins found long biking sessions the perfect way to clear his head. “I’d finished my surfing tour and hadn’t got the results I wanted, so cycling was really good for my head. I loved being able to ride as far as my legs could take me.” said Kimmins.
Relishing the training, Kimmins started to compete in short course racing, then Olympic distance, then 70.3. “I started becoming friends with Luke McKenzie over the internet, and I looked at his racing history and thought I’d never do an Ironman. But now I am!”
Surfing and Triathlon in one weekend: Oceanside 70.3
Just two days before the huge Californian Oceanside 70.3 in 2017, Kimmins surfed at the giant XL break, Mavericks. While his Oceanside results may not have been his best, Kimmins was thrilled. “On paper I had a bad day but to be perfectly honest I’m stoked to get it done…The positives far outweigh the negatives or the numbers from today’s race. Another reminder of why I love this sport. No excuses, no where to hide.. it is what it is.”
Clint Kimmins – A person, not just an athlete
“I love seeing photos on social media, of the top guys drinking a beer. You know they’ve had a 35 hour training week, but it just shows they’re real people,” says Kimmins. This passion for maintaining his personality, as well as his race profile, may be due to Kimmins’ colourful journey to his current career, and his experience in jail where being true to himself got him through.
It’s this personality that motivates him to push himself in both pro surfing and triathlon. “For me, sport is about how much I cant hurt myself and how hard I can go. For me now, it’s about getting healthy. Surfing is going well, and now I’m getting back to my training for triathlon.”
Being a self-trained athlete may be tough for some, but after being through countless extreme mental challenges, Kimmins finds it works for him. “There’s a lot of structure to my training from what I’ve learned from others, but I’m pretty much just going out and doing it my way, and seeing if I can pull that off.”
This brazen attitude has worked so far, and despite all but ignoring the data and numbers (including power and HR) Kimmins has his sights on Kona. “If I could go to Kona as a pro, that would be amazing and exceed my expectations ten fold. Hawaii has a special place in my heart from going there as a surfer for so many years,” says Kimmins.
If you think most pro triathletes train hard, they’ve got nothing on Kimmins, who maintains his pro status in both surfing and triathlon. Motivated by his past, and pushing towards the future, Kimmins will be focusing on a 70.3 race or late season Ironman, while continuing surfing professionally.
More from Interview
Exercise Physiologist and pro triathlete Matt Hanson wowed crowds with his impressive victory at the North American Ironman Championships last …