Behind The Shot: Master and Apprentice
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.”