Behind The Shot: Master and Apprentice

Stu Nettle picture
Stu Nettle (stunet)
Swellnet Dispatch

All photos by Leroy Bellet:

Did you see yesterday's Wave Of The Day photo here on Swellnet? Ol' Whip setting his rail in an almighty cathedral, water like stained glass, spray flying, sun flaring, a daydream photo. So good, in fact, that I had to ask him about it.

It's early when I call up to chat, 7am, and Whip's just getting the new day underway. Whip’s a builder from Bawley Point on the South Coast of NSW, and he’d just pulled up at his current work site.

“We’re just unloading the truck now,” says Whip. “I’m free to talk, I’ll get my apprentice to finish unloading.”

“Yeah, that reef is probably my favourite wave to surf, but it hasn’t really broken well for about two years. That morning, I sat in the channel and watched it for about an hour, the tide was a bit high and the offshore needed to kick in a bit more.”

“Russ [Bierke] and Sea Mullet [Sean Mawson] were out there and I saw Russ get a good one. I was with Jase Finlay and we just said ‘Right, let’s go!’”

“The swell was a bit more east than usual so Jase said, ‘"Fuck, we've got to try and backdoor it. I’ll get you in there.’ So he brought me in a bit more side-on. I wasn’t going down the wave so much as going across it.”

I mention to Whip that midway through the sequence a boil appears in the wave face. Did he have any recollection of that?

“Oh yeah! I was thinking ‘Too deep, too deep’ but then I just went, ‘You know what? Fuck it, I’m going’. It wasn’t a full step in the wave but it just drained so low, it went so shallow and I could see all the reef so I went into a full survival grab. I just knew that I could not fall there. No way."

“I was holding my breath for a while there. Did all the hard work, and I was driving through this big green barrel, and then as I thought I was going to come out, the wave breathed in and it felt like I was going backwards, and then 'boom' it just spit so hard. It just blew me apart!”

Whip then gives a loud and hearty laugh before continuing.

“I went over, hit the bottom, but I’d come around the corner into the bay where it’s a little bit deeper, so it was all good."

"Shame I didn’t make it. It was a good one.”

I concur, then ask Whip about Leroy’s choice of fisheye to shoot - a lens which requires close proximity - at a wave where a healthy buffer is the sensible choice.

“You can ask him yourself if you want. He’s unloading the truck.”

So Whip gets his new apprentice, famed surf photographer Leroy Bellet, onto the line to provide an explanation.

“Well it's one of those waves where it's got a really deep channel, really close to it,” says Leroy. “It makes it a little bit predictable in that you know it's not going to come any wider than that. It's a heavy wave but I have the confidence to swim in there knowing that I've got a certain position that I can be safe in...or relatively safe in.”

“Whip’s wave was a real sketchy one. I remember him coming from super deep and the wave had a bit of a double up in it. He kind of got caught up above it, but then he dropped over it and he was in such a critical spot. My heart was in my mouth because you can’t come off in there - it's such an intense position if you do.”

“When you're deep out there, there's not much you can do. You’ve just gotta hold on and it'll either blast you out or blast you off. He got blasted off.”

“It was such a good day, that one. We surfed pretty much all morning, and then headed off to a beachbreak in the afternoon.”

I had to ask him: Was it a weekday or a weekend?

“Weekday. You know, if you have a session like that in the morning it's hard to get your head into work in the afternoon, so we just took the full day off.”


stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 9:42am

And now for the full multimedia experience.

Same wave, you can see Leroy in the wave face just after the camera passes the two punters on the rocks.

Blowin's picture
Blowin's picture
Blowin Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 10:12am

Epic commitment and resulting photo.

I’d be interested in reading a story about crew who’ve regretted letting go of the tow rope after it was too late. Some heavy consequences possible anytime anyone gets into the ocean but the probabilities of hardcore regret are off the charts on waves like that. Fingers crossed these guys get through to the other side of this mad grab at thrill seeking.

Gowsa's picture
Gowsa's picture
Gowsa Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 12:10pm

Love seeing both Angles to a shot.
Gives a great perspective
That wave looks way bigger from the land Video.

wildenstein8's picture
wildenstein8's picture
wildenstein8 Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 12:30pm

Got anymore apprenticeships going Whip? I cant take a photo to save myself but I'm pretty good at taking days off.

Andrew P's picture
Andrew P's picture
Andrew P Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 1:36pm

The video does not do the images justice

Neddy's picture
Neddy's picture
Neddy Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 1:43pm

Just wow...the consequences of falling off early at this joint are as heavy as it gets. Hats off boys!

Bob Sacamano's picture
Bob Sacamano's picture
Bob Sacamano Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 2:06pm

I wonder if Whip's build contract has 'surf's pumping' as a valid reason for an extension of time.

Craig's picture
Craig's picture
Craig Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 3:29pm

Great shots, and to sit in and under those slabs on such a critical wave. Good work Leroy.

PCS PeterPan's picture
PCS PeterPan's picture
PCS PeterPan Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 5:36pm

That looks enticing in the still images , but front brings it into stark reality .

SI's picture
SI's picture
SI Thursday, 17 Jun 2021 at 7:09pm

Man, he went so close to making that. For me he may as well have, it was that close. Great ride either way and beautifully surfed. The tow rope thing has always troubled me a bit, but if done carefully and respectfully to other people in the water (not like the reckless behaviour of the Botany Bay boys who can’t get enough of their own narcissistic videos of themselves, or the pros on the goldy for that matter, then I can’t see too much harm). I often surf very quiet spots uncrowded - yet the jet skis are encroaching more and more in those spaces too thanks to internet posts. As for safety though, I’m definitely in favour for having a few jet skis in the right conditions and surf. But there is no safety argument when your running them through a crowd like the boys at Botany Bay. The recent scene of the ski going through the lineup there and onto the rocks was a disgrace. It’s a wonder someone wasn’t killed. You might as well have a car cartwheeling through the crowded lineup straight in front of the rocks. I’m amazed no one was fined or taken to court - the locals need to do better at putting some controls on it or someone will be killed. Of course, then no one will have any idea how it happened?, except for the video footage!! Yeah, you can be sure the cameras will be there to catch everything now, all the glory of what is increasingly becoming a dangerous circus. I was astonished to see the Botany Bay boys rolling their camera on a Victorian slab recently and they also like to advertise south Australian secret spots. It might have been done more discreetly, but they like to include their footage of landmarks, local pubs, roads etc, might as well include google GPS references!! These people are friends of nobody - they are just ego trippers.

dean maddison's picture
dean maddison's picture
dean maddison Thursday, 24 Jun 2021 at 4:56pm

T.B and Kipp are continuously shitting in their own nest and others. Enjoy the ride gents , things change quickly. I wont be covid stopping you surfing most breaks .Sometimes less is more.