From WCT wannabe to prison greens to triathlons to big waving!
In November, the Gold Coast surfer turned noted triathlete, Clint Kimmins, who is thirty-five, was filmed parachuting from the lip of a twelve-foot wave at Mavericks in northern California. It’s contender for the WSL’s wipeout of the year award, although one imagines there’ll be some poor soul who’ll detonate himself in an even more ghastly fashion before the winter season is out.
What is interesting about Kimmins is his career trajectory. He was headed towards a likely swing on the WCT when a fight at a pal’s 21st went bad and Kimmins, who was acting in self-defence, swung wildly with a glass, it hit its mark and he ended up in prison.
Back when it happened, I’d just started a magazine, called Stab, and I commissioned Fred Pawle to visit Kimmins, whose company I had always enjoyed, in prison, see him again once he got out and then write about the experience.
Like most stories Fred writes, it’s a fascinating piece of reportage.
And, with his permission, it’s reprinted below.
It’s visiting time at the maximum-security Borallon prison, near Ipswich. A queue of about 30 people are waiting for the gate on the perimeter fence to be buzzed open. At the front are a mother and teenage daughter, their matching faces expressing a mixture of familiarity, resignation and excitement about the two-hour visit ahead. I’m standing behind them with Carly Wadsworth, whose boyfriend Clint “Clipper” Kimmins, 22, is nearing the end of a six-month stretch for stabbing a bloke in the back with a broken bottle at a party in Tugun in 2004. Carly’s been doing the 90-minute drive from Kingscliff twice a week for five months. “Not long to go now,” I tell her. She smiles discreetly. Beside me the teenage girl blinks to hold back tears, and looks away.
In her formal double-breasted cream top, designer jeans, Chanel sunnies and neat, medium-length blonde hair, Carly, a Virgin Blue hostie. looks way out of place here. So too, I eventually realise, does Clint. The gate is finally buzzed open, and we surge through it, down a driveway flanked by big, glistening tubes of razor wire stacked three high, into the reception area, where we sign in and empty our pockets into lockers. We go through six heavy steel-and-glass doors in groups of two or three, between which we are scanned, turn out our pockets and are checked for residues of drugs on our clothes. Finally, after about 20 minutes, we enter the contact-visit area, which after all that, is kind of disappointing — it looks like a school tuckshop area, with metal stools attached to metal tables, and a couple of vending machines. The wire fences either side allow a cool breeze to blow through. On the brick wall at the back are a couple of gaudy murals, one of them depicting a wave breaking in a bright South Pacific paradise. Clint, waiting at a table with a few polystyrene cups of cold water, sees Carly, leaps up and rushes to hug her.
“You look nice today,” he says sheepishly.
Clint hasn’t had his hair cut since he got here, and it’s grown into a dorky mop. The rest is prison issue: dark brown T-shirt, matching short-shorts and, something he’s cool with, a pair of Dunlop Volleys. With the end in sight, he smiles a lot.
Clint’s been working out six hours a day, and he’s buff. We sit, and he points to. the punching bag hanging about 100 metres away in a cage across the yard, where he and a mate do crunches, sit-ups and squats with a medicine ball. There’s a water tap next to the bag, which he squats under when he wants to reacquaint himself, however remotely, with being shacked.
He’s agreed to meet me again on the Gold Coast after he’s released, when he’ll give me the full story about his dramatically altered life. For now, though, I just want to get a glimpse of his living conditions, if not his state of mind.
“Every day is torture,” he says, but won’t go into the details just yet.
His body language gives away more than he realises: his shoulders are hunched, his elbows are tucked into his lap, and his hands are folded neatly on his knees; it’s not that he looks uncomfortable in his current surroundings, he’s alien to them.
He’s been affected by it, but in a good way. He’s learned to be positive. Even Carly agrees that he’s a new, better man now. “Someone in here told me that there is no other place in the world where you can put your life on pause, and it’s true. When they lock us up at night (in single cells, from 7.20pm till 8.30am) you’re completely untouchable — no one can ring you, no one can talk to you…” He’s been sitting in his cell reading the 1997 self-help bestseller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (from the prison library), some passages three or four times over.
He’s had plenty of time to think about the five seconds of madness that caused his incarceration. He acted initially in self-defence, but then, a jury decided, he went too far. He knows how differently it might have ended: had he not fought back, he says, he could have been seriously hurt himself. Or, give or take a few centimeters in the arc of his swing, he could have been up for manslaughter or murder. He still can’t say whether he did the right or wrong thing.
“I spent three weeks (at the trial) listening to a person who’s never met me describe me as a complete thug,” he says. “It was the weirdest experience ever. You’re not supposed to show any emotion or interrupt when you’re in the dock. There were times when I just had to drop my head (in disbelief). I reckon there’s no such thing as a justice system.”
A month later I’m back on the Gold Coast. It’s early evening, and Clint and Carly are going to meet me on their way home from dinner at a friend’s house. While I wait for them outside the Coolangatta Hotel, I call Dru Baggaley, the bloke who Clint stabbed, to see if I can arrange an interview for the next day. Dru was, according to one newspaper report, “shattered” when Clint was sent down. I’m hoping he’ll want to elaborate on how shattered he was.
“Who’s calling?” says the man who answers, in a hostile tone.
“My name’s Fred Pawle,” I say.
“Who the hell are you, Fred?”
“I’m a journalist from a surfing magazine.”
“He (Dru) is not making any comments,” he says, and hangs up.
It wouldn’t be until the following afternoon that I learn why he was so abrupt. Dru’s brother Nathan, a high-profile surf-lifesaver and Olympic rower who won silver in Athens, had just been charged with possession and supply of more than 700 eccies in Mermaid Waters, and was all over the TV news that night. I leave a message a few days later explaining that I want to talk about Clint, not Nathan, and hope for a call back.
When Clint turns up, he seems almost as nervous as he was back in the slammer.
“Slightly different circumstances,” he says with a big grin, shaking my hand. He’s had his mop trimmed into a routine short cut, and bronzed the skin, although his nose is flaking from its sudden exposure to the sun.
I tail Carly’s new, black Holden Commodore to Salt, in Kingscliff, an instant middle-class suburb of big homes done in a uniform colour scheme of white and latte. It oozes the sort of optimism that only money can buy. If you had to go to jail, this is the kind of place you’d want to go to upon release. And if you wound up at Salt, the place you’d really want to be is Peppers, the resort in the middle of it all.
Carly and Clint are in a serviced, open-plan two-bedroom apartment with cool low-rise furniture, glass prints of waves on the wall and all the right stainless-steel appliances and fittings. Carly has organised a week here while they wait for their new crib at Main Beach to be vacated. She won’t tell me how much it cost, although I later learn that the official rate is $590 a night.
Clint has a taste for the fine things in life (he swings 690MB Titleist clubs when he’s on the fairway, and rides a Suzuki GSXR600), but for now it’s the little things that turn him on… like the smell of air freshener in the lift lobby in the basement carpark.
“Everywhere you go, smells remind you where you are,” he says. “That (the air freshener) reminds me I’m here, enjoying all this.” And the smell that reminded him most that he was in prison? White Ox rallies.
Even the softness of the old Rip Curl T-shirt he’s wearing is noteworthy. What happened to the Dunlop Volleys, I ask.
“They gave them to me, but I threw them away,” he says.
He made one close friendship inside, but even that’s unlikely to remain. Clint is not interested in anything that reminds him of Borallon. Out on the balcony, he tells me about his first dawn. For six months, he didn’t see one sunrise. Sunsets? He saw a few, when the angle was right for his cell window. On his first night of freedom, he got up at 3am, watched a few surf DVDs on his laptop, then hit the beachside walkway for a 7km run under the stars, full moon and rising sun. “I wanted to beat the day at itself,” he says. “I knew the sun would come up at 5am or something like that, but I wanted to do something before then. I’d been in there for so long doing nothing. It might sound weird, but I just wanted to start achieving again, just wanted to get out there. It was just a beautiful, free feeling. It sounds corny but it was just me and nature, and that’s everything I enjoy. Then I came back, had cereal, went surfing, had a nice long surf at D-bah before 7am. It was just the perfect start to the day.”
And the first night with Carly? “We had a nice dinner, saw some friends, really enjoyed being in each other’s company. We wouldn’t let go of each other, we were just cuddling like the classic love birds. Then we were in the bedroom for a while. That was all right. It felt like when you’re really nervous, when you really like a girl, and she really likes you. It’s like the first time having sex again, or first time with each other. It was great.”
But he’s not, as you might expect from a young charger, in some sort of existential rush to make up for lost time. Instead, he seems happy to ease back into normal life. He and I have one light beer each and watch the last few overs of the final England-New Zealand one-dayer while Carly reads Cosmo, before crashing out.
A weird thing happened a couple of days after he was released. A light plane crashed in the water 600m south of Peppers, killing the pilot. Within minutes of it happening, a mate from Channel Nine rang him and told him to rush down to get some of the rescue operation on video. Which he did. He finds the irony amusing: six months ago he was being portrayed as a villain on the Nine news, now they’re paying him $100 for his services as a cameraman.
Clint says he got a rough trot from journalists during the trial, which got regular coverage for the whole three weeks.
“Some days I’d come out of court and think, ‘That went well.’ Then the next day I’d pick up the paper, and if there’d been one or two bad things said, that’s what would be in there, and none of the good stuff,” he says.
He shows me the scrapbook of clippings Carly kept, which is sprinkled with some of her own thoughts, like “We all know you don’t deserve this, darling. I love you.” Given the treatment he got, he is unreasonably magnanimous towards the press. “They were just doing their job,” he says every time he recalls an instance of apparent distortion. Neither does he bear any ill will towards Dru.
“From what I’ve heard he’s a pretty cool guy,” he says.
So this is what happened. Clint and his friends were at Troy Hipwood’s 21st at the Tugun Surf Club in April 2004. So too were Dru and his friends, footy players/surf-lifesavers from Byron Bay. A blue started, then continued outside. Amid it all, Clint hit Dru twice with a broken bottle – first in the neck, then the back. Soon after, the two tried to arrange a meeting to talk over the incident, and hopefully resolve it. Dru, the victim of the attack, insisted it should be in Byron Bay. Clint, fearing an ambush, suggested his lawyer’s office on the Gold Coast instead. The meeting never occurred, and two years later charges were laid. At the trial, the versions of events presented by the prosecution and defence differ fundamentally, as you’d expect. Kelly Slater and TB gave character witness via phone for Clint. At the end of the trial, Clint gave himself an even chance of being found not guilty. After four hours of deliberation, the jury half agreed with him: the first blow with the bottle was in self-defence, the second was unlawful wounding. The prosecution asked for three years, but Clint’s top-gun lawyer, hired by Carly’s dad, got him 18 months, suspended after six.
When Dru calls me back, he says he bears no grudge. “I never wanted him to go to jail,” he says. “I’ve been in trouble before, and I hate the court system.”
Was Clint going to be ambushed in Byron? “I said, ‘All I can give you is my word that no one’s going to touch you. It’s a pretty serious thing (that you’ve done), and you’re just gonna have to take the risk. I promise you right now it’ll be you and me. I don’t ever break my promises. I just want to sit down and talk with you.’
“Dane Hurst, a good friend of his said he was a good bloke too. I’m sure that being drunk, young and full of testosterone, these things can happen. Glass rips through skin easily. It’s just a big brain explosion and he’s just done it. I sort of thought at the end of the day it’s bad but maybe it’s not that bad. I’d heard he was a good bloke, (and I should) give him a chance. But he didn’t come down (to Byron), and that’s what turned it into the next step.”
Clint’s not bitter about the verdict. “I’ve accepted it, I’m moving on. Everyone makes mistakes, and I guess in the eyes of the court that was a mistake. It’s something I never thought would happen, or would ever want to do to somebody. It happened, and I’ve gotta move on.”
The fall was huge. “I was on a monthly retainer with Rip Curl, getting great money, for my age. They dropped me after my appeal didn’t go through. They did the right thing. They hung on till the appeal. No one in their right mind is gonna pay some young guy to be sitting in a jail cell. They could have (put the contract on hold), but I can see why they didn’t. I don’t hold any grudges.
“I went from the best possible lifestyle, surfing every day, travelling, driving a nice car, buying nice things, doing everything I want and being really happy to the next day in a jail cell, thinking, ‘Wow. am I ever going to surf professionally again? Am I gonna get pumped by some big bloke tonight? What’s the go here?'”
His first week was spent sharing a cell with a junkie doing cold turkey. The junkie, who was on remand, hatched a cunning plan to cobble sympathy during his imminent return to court: turn up with two black eyes, and explain that he was being picked on inside.
Clint, seemingly unaware of the irony, recalls declining to help the dude out. “He was fair dinkum. he wanted me to give him a big wack,” Clint says. “Obviously I didn’t want to punch him in the head. I don’t like hurting anyone, and I didn’t know how he’d react to it. He might wake up the next morning and think, ‘He actually did it’. and that might cause something. So I just said, ‘Nah, I couldn’t do it to you. and it would come across in court that you can’t stay out of trouble. It won’t help you at all.’ It was pretty crazy.”
After a week with the junkie he was moved to units with single cells. His next test was in the first-timers unit, where he got a taste of prison morals.
“There was a lot of petty thieving going on. You had to guard everything. I didn’t like that unit one bit. If I’d stayed in there, it would have got pretty heavy because I’m really strong on manners and etiquette, and having respect for other people. These people don’t have respect for themselves, so as if they’re going to give anyone else respect.”
Each prisoner gets 600ml of milk a day, the carton marked with its owner’s personal number. Clint’s kept disappearing. He identified the culprit, marched into his cell, and took the milk back.
“What are you doing?” Clint recalls the dude saying.
“That’s my fucken milk,” Clint replied.
“Oh sorry, I’m on these really heavy meds. I didn’t know it was yours. I got confused.”
“It’s simple, if there’s not your number on it, you don’t touch it. simple as that.”
A few other prisoners started to gather round to see what was going on. “He started piping up and throwing the chest out,” Clint recalls. “I just closed the door of the cell so if it was gonna happen it was gonna be me and him, no one else. I kinda just tried to smart my way out of it. I wasn’t scared of getting bashed one bit because I’m pretty confident about being able to hold my own, but if I hurt this guy that would trigger the remaining part of my sentence. I was sentenced to 18 months, suspended after six. If I break this guy’s nose or throw a wild haymaker and this guy hits the deck, who knows what happens in fights these days, I could have been in trouble.
“He was really big but he was pretty fat and would have been pretty slow, but if he’d got on to me he probably would have knocked me out. It finished when I just lectured him and he kind of snapped out of it. I just made him feel like an idiot, pretty much. You can give people too much credit in there, of having too much brains. You imagine they know what’s right and wrong, but they don’t.”
It (sodomy) does happen in there, but you’d have to want it to happen or be really stupid for it to happen to you. It does happen, but it’s kept real dark because the majority of people don’t wanna know about it because it’s disgusting. But there are guys who are doing a lot of time, they’re doing a few things and it’s kind of kept behind closed doors. It’s not so much rape, it’s pretty mutual.”
Upon arriving at Borallon, Clint was given a copy of the prisoner induction book, which explained how inmates could avoid trouble inside, and what to do if it happened anyway. “It says if you get raped, don’t have a shower because they’ve gotta do tests on you and stuff. You’re like.’Holy shit! This is real, this is heavy.’
“But you’ve got your own shower in the cell. It (sodomy) does happen in there, but you’d have to want it to happen or be really stupid for it to happen to you. It does happen, but it’s kept real dark because the majority of people don’t wanna know about it because it’s disgusting. But there are guys who are doing a lot of time, they’re doing a few things and it’s kind of kept behind closed doors. It’s not so much rape, it’s pretty mutual.”
Throughout the day and a half we spend together, Clint is constantly upbeat. It’s difficult to say if this is his new frame of mind or just a swing of the pendulum after his heavy stint. Time will tell. For now, though, he’s adamant that young thugs should learn from his experience.
“If (my highly publicised conviction) makes a couple of young guys pull their heads in and stop going round trying to bash people, I’m glad. There are just so many young people going around fighting, thinking it’s the coolest thing in the world, and they just don’t realise you can wreck someone’s life, a lot of people’s lives – their family, their loved ones – just through throwing a wild haymaker over nothing.
“It’s just the most pathetic thing ever. Whatever happened to going out, getting a root and going home early, or having a good night with your mates?
“It was really hard me being labelled as one of those people. That really hurt me that people who don’t know me very well would think that that’s the person I am. It’s so far from who I am it’s ridiculous.”
We surf D-bah early the next morning, then the shorey in front of Peppers. The second surf is ordinary, but he’s frothing because it’s just the two of us out. Plus, there are ramps for air reverses. A pod of dolphins swims past, and he recalls telling inmates who had rarely even seen the ocean that he’s not only seen dolphins but surfed alongside them. He says it as if he’s grateful for having been reminded of his own luck, despite everything else. Clint’s riding hand-me-down boards, and struggling a bit, although there are flashes of flair whenever he gets a bit of speed up. Also, he knows he’s got some work to do on his style.
“It’s really stiff… It’s pretty crook. I want to get a bit more flow in my surfing,” he says.
The plan is to do the Australian leg of the WQS on borrowed boards and the proceeds of the sale of his GSXR600. Sponsors? He’s holding out a faint hope. “I’m getting a vibe from the industry (that) no one might want a bar of me. I might be too risky or (in) the too-hard basket – you know, the kid who’s been to jail. Or they might see how positive I’ve come out of it and might take a liking to it, see a decent story in it or a way to promote someone.
“(But) I’m not going to be a dream chaser my whole life, I don’t want to wake up at 30 and realise I’m not gonna make it, not have a career or an apprenticeship or have a house. I wanna be wealthy early. I wanna start a young family with Carly.”
He makes no secret of knowing that this story will be a significant factor. To his credit, he never wanted to talk about the fight or his time inside, but concedes that that is what readers want to know about. The future is his own worry. If he hasn’t qualified in two years, he’ll take a job working five or six days a week for Carly’s dad, a builder, to whom he owes 100K for the lawyers.
“It’s given me motivation,” he says. “There are all these new challenges that have popped up in front of me, and I’m like greedy for them. I’ve promised Carly that the day I’m out of debt I’ll drop an E.”
Drop an E? Oh, right. Drop a knee.
On my way back to the airport, I drive behind a car with a sticker that says, Free Clipper. It’s true, I think to myself, he is now. And he’s done it with a cool head. A lot of people helped him survive the ordeal – strangers wrote to him, mates visited him, and a bunch of pros (including Kelly, Andy and TB) donated boards to an auction that raised $35,000 for him. He’s grateful to them all. Now, the next chapter is his.