Tim Bonython talks about The Big Wave Project - video

Stu Nettle
Swellnet Dispatch

“I’ve been filming non-stop for five years,” says Tim Bonython as we sat down to discuss his latest film. “I’ve been chasing every swell I can.”

The title of the film in question is The Big Wave Project. And while five years may seem excessive for a surf movie, the reality is longer still. At the risk of sounding awfully grandiose, The Big Wave Project film is a lifetime in the making.

Tim’s film career began in 1981 when he was hired to shoot the Coke Surfabout. On his way back to Adelaide he called into Bells, when Simon unveiled the Thruster at buttery 15 foot Bells.

He took the footage home, edited it, created a film and then sold the tickets. “The queue to get inside was a half a mile long,” recalls Tim.

And he hasn’t stopped since. Tim is still chasing swells, traversing the surfing frontiers, and jetsetting into distant isles at two days notice. Then, once it’s all in the can, he spruiks the show like a Ringling Brothers showman, bringing the surfing circus to your local RSL.

Lately, rather than just doing laps of the country Tim’s decided to follow his curiosity. Eight years ago he made Immersion, the theme of which was: What is surfing?

“That film was the result of where my head was at the time,” admits Tim. “So I asked people what surfing meant to them.”

More recently it’s the big stuff again. Scary waves. “I don’t even get out of bed unless it’s ten foot,” laughs Tim. “Or even bigger! If it’s not fucking huge I don’t bother filming.”

It’s a philosophy shaped by experience. “When you’re showing surf movies in pubs, clubs, and cinemas all they want to see is crazy stuff.” Yet, as with Immersion, this “crazy stuff” is bound by a narrative.

“The only place the surfing tribe still exists,” explains Tim, “is in big wave surfing. Every time I chase a big swell I see it. A brotherhood.”

There’s a bit more to the big wave brotherhood than high fives and back slaps, according to Tim. There’s even a contradiction at play. “These guys compete against each to immortalise themselves - like Nathan Fletcher did at Teahupoo - but they also back each other up far more than any other surfers do. Their lives depend upon each other’s support.”

Tim hones in on that wave by Nathan Fletcher. “Think about that wave. It was a split second decision to take it. He made the drop, stood there, got imploded, but he rode one of the heaviest waves in history. How long did it all last?”

Tim beats me to the mental calcs. "Three to four seconds, that’s all. And now he’s immortalised. From one split second to forever.”

Tim started filming for The Big Wave Project with only a vague storyline in mind. He’d leave that up to the gods...and then Aaron Gold almost died in front of his camera. Gold was on a high from riding the largest wave ever at Peahi, he then went within a heartbeat of dying while surrounded by the best big wave surfers on the planet.

The consequences of big wave surfing were never more profound.

From that point the story wrote itself. Tim interviewed Aaron Gold at length, plus the surfers who saved him, and attempts to make sense of their motivations. Some of the surfers can only offer platitudes though their sincerity can’t be mistaken. Conversely, guys like Greg Long and Mark Healey, and even Aaron Gold himself, get to the heart of the matter.

It may seem insane to some viewers - hell, both Greg Long and Aaron Gold have seen the other side yet they still chase big waves - but words can only explain so much. It makes more sense when you watch them driving across those tremendous blue walls...preferably while projected onto a big screen at your local RSL.

The national tour for The Big Wave Project begins in May.


goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Thursday, 9 Feb 2017 at 5:16pm

Fuck this looks good!

Cant wait to see it.

Btw, i heard a podcast from Mark Healy the other day talking about big wave surfing, spearfishing, diving with great whites among other things...
I could listen to that guy all day, he's very articulate and measured in what he says and the whole time you're just thinking how much of a mad man he is.
He really does just go out and do things most other people only dream of doing

stanfrance's picture
stanfrance's picture
stanfrance commented Thursday, 9 Feb 2017 at 10:05pm

Hey Goofy, what's the podcast? Sounds like something I would to listen to.

Stan France

goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot's picture
goofyfoot commented Friday, 10 Feb 2017 at 5:54am

I think it was called The Truth Barrel

tonybarber's picture
tonybarber's picture
tonybarber commented Thursday, 9 Feb 2017 at 8:19pm

Great stuf ... thanks Tim. Some great stories with some of these blokes. I hope they get told. It is special.

Davedunn's picture
Davedunn's picture
Davedunn commented Friday, 10 Feb 2017 at 2:46pm

Love your Work Tim, Looks Great

udo's picture
udo's picture
udo commented Tuesday, 1 Aug 2017 at 3:57pm

Kaptain Kirky's got a wave up on his insta .....Smuckers calling it the biggest wave ever surfed in Aust..
im with Jeff on this its fucking huge but would like to see some other angles
What do you think Timmy Frother ?

lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy's picture
lostdoggy commented Tuesday, 1 Aug 2017 at 3:57pm

Mental. Reckon I've seen bigger footage of Cow Bommie though.
Footage is inconclusive. Need a front on view to determine how big that one was.

carpetman's picture
carpetman's picture
carpetman commented Tuesday, 1 Aug 2017 at 6:23pm

Who cares if it isn't the biggest? The thing is fucken mental! How crazy is the bottom dropping out of it?! Like you LD would love to see some other angles.

batfink's picture
batfink's picture
batfink commented Wednesday, 2 Aug 2017 at 1:46pm

Missed this when it came around my local cinemas. Hey Tim, when is the DVD gonna be available?