Sport

How athlete Clint Kimmins rebuilt his life – and career – after a stint in jail. By Jack Kerr.
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Trials and tribulations: Clint Kimmins, 31, ironman triathlete

One day I’m travelling the world as a professional surfer and making great money; the next I’m in jail with some pretty rough people. I was an under-16 junior world champion, in the top five in the Australian junior circuit, and as I got a little bit older, I took it to Hawaii and started doing the big waves. It was great exposure – at one stage there I was on more magazine covers than any surfer in the world. Life couldn’t have been better. I was living my dream. Then I went to a friend’s birthday party on the Gold Coast, got beaten up by gatecrashers, and was sent to jail.

I was found guilty of excessive self-defence. The gatecrashers jumped on me, started kicking me in the head. I was in a pretty bad way. I looked around and saw a broken bottle there, and started waving it around. I did some major damage to one guy’s neck. That was deemed as self-defence, but the jury couldn’t justify a wound in the back. It was a very technical case, and they found I crossed the line from legally defending myself to unlawfully wounding somebody. At the time there was a lot of glassings in Australia, and the judge said in his summary that I was made an example of. It was a two-year sentence, suspended after six months.

Every day in jail, from when I woke up to when I went to bed, it was a game. With the sentence I was given, if I laid a finger on anybody, I would have been in there for another 18 months, so I really tried to stick to my own game plan: to be as trouble free as possible. A few things happened, but I was very tactical in there. I avoided a lot of heavy situations. If I got pushed into a corner or if a fight broke out, there was no way I was throwing a punch. There are a lot of guys in there who like to test people and prod people, so you have to keep your wits about you.

In jail, I picked up a whole new love for fitness. I hadn’t thought I had an athletic bone in my body, but training hard became my way of dealing with all the stress. I was working with weights that were bolted down, for obvious reasons; I’d be running around a 500-metre oval, doing up to 20 kilometres, and every time I reached the far part of the oval, there was a blind spot with the cameras, so I had to worry about something happening. So when I got outside and I was able to go for a run down the park, I loved it so much. I had some friends that competed in triathlon, and it went from there.

A lot of people thought I’d be naturally very good at triathlon. It was actually the opposite. A surfer’s genetic make-up is very different from that of a triathlete. Surfers are generally very stocky, powerful people, whereas triathletes are these long, slinky, very aerobic types. So when I started, I was terrible. But I was just sick of being judged – and in surfing, you are being judged all the time – and this was a first-past-the-line sport. And after what had happened to me,
I liked getting outdoors and exploring on my bike. A lot of people say it saved me, but that’s not the case at all. I’m doing it because I enjoy it.

Hawaii was my second home when I was surfing. But with a criminal conviction, and a violent one at that, I had a hard time getting access to the United States. And that’s where I got all my best results and my media exposure. So my sponsors couldn’t see the value in me not doing what I was best at. That is also a reason my career went down the tubes. But through money spent and the right people working for me, I was able to get a five-year visa back to the States. Everything had gone through, I was just waiting on the final stamp so I could go and compete in Kona – then the big government shutdown happened. Nothing was getting processed. That’s just another little chapter to the never-ending story of Clint Kimmins.

When I was actually surfing the big waves, I was never actually fit. Now that I’ve got all this fitness on my side, I think my athletic capabilities would push me to places in the big waves that I’ve never been before. But it’s easier said than done. It takes a lot of money to fly to these places. But now that I’ve got the visa, I’m using it, and the plan is to be an ironman and a big wave surfer. It’s time to take it up to the next level.

 

This week’s highlights…

• Surfing: Billabong Pipe Masters

Until December 20, Banzai Pipeline, Oahu, Hawaii

• Cricket: WBBL – Hobart Hurricanes v Adelaide Strikers

Saturday, 6pm (AEDT), Aurora Stadium, Launceston

• Basketball: WNBL – Dandenong Rangers v UC Capitals  

Saturday, 6.30pm (AEDT), Dandenong Stadium, Melbourne

• Basketball: NBL – Sydney Kings v Perth Wildcats

Sunday, 3pm (AEDT), Entertainment Centre, Sydney

• Soccer: A-League – Newcastle Jets v Melbourne City

Sunday, 5pm (AEDT), Hunter Stadium, Newcastle

• Cricket: BBL – Sydney Thunder v Sydney 6ers

Thursday, 7.40pm (AEDT), Spotless Stadium, Sydney

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 12, 2015 as "Trials and tribulations". Subscribe here.

Jack Kerr
is a journalist and documentary maker.