Shooting Nazare from the water with Tim Bonython
Tim Bonython isn't the first person to say Nazare can only truly be appreciated with live viewing. That the scale and danger of the wave is lost in the land angle. He is, however, one of the first to try and correct this shortcoming.
This season, by hitching a ride on the back of a PWC, Tim's been documenting big Nazare from up close. His hope is to capture the gravity of these waves so viewers at home can appreciate them the same way he does.
Riding pillion among a chaotic, oversized lineup isn't without its dangers, as Tim acknowledges in this interview.
He also gives the wozzle an unsolicited yet warranted spray...
The land angle at Nazare has been exhausted and drone shots flatten the waves, how long had you been thinking about shooting from the water?
From the moment I saw what it looked like to shoot that water angle - like three years ago. It's been playing on my mind since then.
When I first saw shots of the place on the internet, like everyone else I thought it was a big fat burger, until you actually see it front on. You lose yourself in the power and that it's so close to you. You seriously don't get to appreciate the wave until you see it live. It's truly the eighth wonder of the world.
And, god, Nazare’s history is just starting! Really, it's only been on the radar since the time we watched monstrous Nazare live when Maya almost died. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
Then there’s everything else, the village, the people, the food. I haven’t met a person that didnt fall in love with this place.
You've been riding around 40-50ft waves with a $100K camera on your shoulder. How are the nerves when you're out there?
Like anything that comes with a worst case scenario, I think about it when I shouldn’t be. Like when I go to sleep...or during my sleep. Then I wake up and start to think about it and that makes it almost annoying.
Fact is, it's simply fucking scary. But once I'm out there my nerves turn into excitement so I'm actually OK once we settle in.
Chumbo, up the beach without a channel
If something unexpected were to happen, your ski stops for whatever reason or the shit really hits the fan, are you ready for it?
I doubt it...
How long can you hold your breathe underwater?
When I was young it was about how many laps underwater you can do holding your breath. But really, it's about how relaxed you should be when that time happens. Panic is the killer and they dont teach you a lot about how to deal with panic.
So what preparations did you have to make before that first shoot?
Not much, I mean really, I should be doing all those breath-hold excercises, which I have done with Nam Baldwin at Equalize. But I dont think any real training is going to prepare you for the worst case scenario. I believe the more you enjoy the experience out there the better you’ll be when the shit hits the fan.
I heard something about a "forgotten life vest", please explain?
The first time filming in the line up, I sat in a boat hoping that I would get the opportunity. I reached out to Sergio Cosme but then Will Skudin came across and offered me to jump on to give it a go. Will said that he’s done this before with other camera people and knew the situation so I jumped on his ski. I was already in my wettie and my camera in its housing but I made the silly mistake of not throwing on my life vest.
So there’s me shooting 40 foot waves with no life vest until at the end of the session Hugo Vau came up and said, "Mate, you're risking your life out here without your vest on". Which I totally agreed with, and as it was close to sunset I was happy to call it a day.
But fuck, upon returning to the marina I was frothing that I achieved something I wanted to do so bad.
Whip in shot from close range during the first session
Last Sunday came in a bit undersized. What if it was a legit 70-80ft, would you still go out and shoot from the water?
Yes. The general consensus is, the bigger the period the better, because there's space to drive around with a big period. So with a monster swell I think it's safer.
On that swell, which ended up been too west for the canyon to do its thing, we drove up the beach where the waves were clean, dead offshore, but straight and not A-framing, so when a 30 footer came there wasn’t a lot of space to race between. My driver was Kalani Lattanzi, who is one of the best watermen I’ve met. He really knows the ocean. He actually bodysurfs for a living, and he bodysurfs Nazare, so his ocean knowledge at this place is as good as it gets.
I was working with Carlos Burle and Lucas Chumbo and had Kalani designated to drive me.
Talk me through preparations.
Prepping takes a bit of communication about what I'm trying to achieve out there. And of course you need good floatation, ideally a Patagonia floatation vest, and we also go through a plan of action if something happens.
Really, all you want to hear is ‘’you'll be fine and nothing bad will happen’’. You really need to trust your driver and the ski you're on. The ski we had then was a 300 horsepowered Seadoo, which is like an aqua Formula 1 SUV. It's super stable and as powerful as they get. So that made me feel at ease.
But if we're caught inside then the deal is take me to the beach. My camera and water housing weighs twelve kilos so there’s no way we're doing U-turns into twelve foot walls of whitewater. It's incredibly intense.
Have you jagged any clips worthy of putting in your next film?
Absolutely. When Garrett was towing Lucas and he focused on First Peak which breaks right in front of the rocks, literally 40-50 metres in front of death. If Lucas came off there it would of been a good chance that he would end up on the rocks.
Chumbo's swooping bottom turn at First Peak
You've parked up at Nazare for the season. How's the feeling in town? Lot of excitement after those last two swells?
Yeah, I suppose it's early in the season and theres a lot of froth going on. I think the way the WSL like to work is to run Nazare first [on the Big Wave Tour] when their infrastructure from the Rip Curl Pro is just down the road. They launch the BWT here so they like to keep that momentum happening.
I actually dont like the WSL much. They reckon they own the ocean as they hate seeing other peoples' vision of their events. They actually want to charge me for using my footage in my own film! But fuck them, I’ve been around a lot longer than they have. The law says it's a public place so you can do want you want when it comes to shooting surfing outside of a wavepool.
I feel super bummed that I missed Peahi. That's what the WSL does. They put a barrier up, and really, I couldn’t be bothered dealing with sneaking in and trying to shoot it, but when I saw the vision I was so pissed off. So friggen historic! And I've documented some historic days there.
I had a buddy who decided to try sneak in, which he did. Got a ski and driver and scored big time.
Finally, we're working on our next tour of the Australian Surf Movie Festival scheduled for April and May. Stay tuned for the tour details.