Tim Bonython: The Big Road Project
Last weekend he was bobbing about in the frigid waters of Shipstern Bluff, this weekend he's premiering his new film at Screen Wave Coffs Harbour. In between, Tim Bonython has been holed up in his editing bay, frantically putting the final touches on said film.
This is the way Tim always works: Bustling, but always ready to wing it, to drop everything and fit one more appointment into the diary. The fella doesn't know downtime.
On the eve of his new national tour - his 15th with the Australian Surf Movie Festival but many more before that - Swellnet pulled Tim out of the editing bay to ask about the upcoming tour and what will be playing on the big screen.
Swellnet: It's been a couple of years since you've been on tour. You got the Tarago all tuned up and ready to go?
Tim Bonython: Ha...well it's not the Tarago anymore. I only had that big old van for the national tour but I realise that the tour doesn't happen all the time and I was over having a great big van with a lot of space so I got myself an SUV. It allows me to get where I need to go and I can throw the kneeboard in there too.
And yourself, are you ready to do another lap?
Well, a national tour is always daunting, because there's just two of us doing it. It's not like we've got big support and financial backing - we try to do it organically. It's really just me and my partner Sandrine. She runs the ship and I'm the guy with FOMO that films every swell.
I'm kind of praying that for the next two months there'll be actually nothing to film, nothing to chase, and I won't miss a thing. I know that's a bit selfish but...
It's got you this far.
Yeah. Like last weekend, right? The worst weekend of all to chase waves is Easter, and I shot down to shoot Shippies on Good Friday. No doubt you've heard about the crowds at the airports, people lining up outside the terminal to get in and book a ticket. I got down there on Good Friday, three or four hours before I was meant to fly, yet I ended up going straight through to the desk and got my ticket.
Man, it was like...I couldn't believe how good it was. In fact the whole trip to Shipstern's was an absolute dream.
Worth pulling yourself off deadline?
Yeah, but now I'm back and getting everything ready for the tour. There are so many boxes to tick to do an independent, national tour. It's much more than making a film that's going to resonate.
Let's talk about the film then. It's called 'The Big Wave Project II', a sequel to the original 'Big Wave Project', which I think was 2017 or 2018?
Okay. So what's changed in the big wave world since then?
Well, originally, I felt like I was the perfect person to create a film of big wave surfing - I'd filmed so many sessions around the world. Back when we started working on the original, all the best big wave surfers were frowning on the idea of tow surfing.
Really, there's two genres, paddle and tow, right? But it was all about paddling. The real big wave surfers were paddle experts. They knew how to paddle hard and catch the biggest waves utilising their own body power, you know? So back then tow surfing was frowned upon
But then there were a few events at Jaws which came with a lot of wind and it made it difficult to run an event in fifty foot waves with a howling north-east wind. People were getting hurt and the women were just falling out of the sky. One time, they cancelled that paddle event...actually they postponed it to the next day, but in the meantime Kai Lenny went out there and showed the world that tow surfing has a place.
Luckily for the WSL they kept the cameras rolling and the live feed going, and really, what Kai Lenny did blew people away. Kai has been the ideal person to show that tow surfing has a place.
Then of course there's Nazare and just everything that's going on there; it's very obvious that tow surfing has a place at Nazare, but during certain swells paddle surfing does too.
What I've seen change, and I see it clearly, is if you're going to be a complete big wave surfer you've got to learn to do both. If you're going to make a living out of this business - and big wave surfing is growing - you need to know how to tow behind the ski as well as paddling into biggest waves. You can't be an expert in one and not in the other.
So you've got the 'Big Wave Project II' showing. Are there any other short films on the night?
No, because it's already 120 minutes long...
Right. Lot of footage.
Yeah, the beauty of my world is I get the opportunity to place myself in two parts of the globe and cover almost everything that big wave surfing is. I set up in Nazare and because Sandrine's French it allows us to go there, so I film the tow and the paddle at Nazare or the Canary islands or Ireland - there's just so many places to document. So that's the European winter sorted and then I come back to Australia and I can document big wave surfing here. From Sydney you've got Tasmania, Western Australia, or you can easily get to Fiji or Tahiti.
So I get the best of both worlds.
If Mavericks has a good season, like it did last year, I can get footage through Powerlines Productions. I've got some great footage from there and a bit of a storyline through Jamie Mitchell and the story of Peter Mel. You know?
The one thing about big wave surfing is it takes time to be good. Peter Mel really proved how all those years of experience, all that knowledge, can come together in that moment. It was a definitive moment in big wave surfing, but I also don't think you necessarily have to be a surfer to appreciate that. Anyone who loves the ocean will go, "Wow."
I think a lot of what I film is attractive to the general public. I want it to be as exciting and cinematically amazing as it can be
We've just come through two years of COVID where we were largely locked away and couldn't do the things that we wanted to do. That's changing now and people are getting out and about. Are you seeing that refelected in ticket sales?
Yeah. I think people want to get out. I don't think they're scared to go out any longer. But what I'm doing is what I've done my whole life: showing surf movies in places wherever there's a screen and an auditorium. It's kind of old school but it's well received.
Right now, we're a couple of weeks out from the start of the tour and we're seeing a lot of shows fill up.