Torren Martyn: Tracking the Atlantic
On the release of his latest film, made with good friend Ishka Folkwell, Torren Martyn chats to Swellnet about their latest surf trip, and how they found themselves far from home when the world went batshit crazy.
Swellnet: First things first - boards. How many and what were they?
Torren Martyn: Ha! That's a good question. The biggest board I had on the trip was a 7'6". Next one down was a 7'2" channel bottom, next one down from that was a 6'6" sort of flat bottom twin fin, and then I had a 5'9" channel bottom.
All by Simon Jones?
And did you have a favourite board amongst them? A board you rode most of the time?
I found myself gravitating more towards the 6'6" as it was smack bang in the middle. A very versatile board.
Did the 7'6" get a run?
Yeah. Well, I locked that one in the roof of the van until Morocco. I had a vision of that thing on a beautiful, long, lined-up pointbreak. I had that in mind...and yeah, the day came too. It was a pretty special session.
When did you start planning this trip?
Ishka [filmmaker and friend Ishka Folkwell] and I talked about it for a while. It's funny, back in 2016 we did this little trek up in the far north of Western Australia, surfing, sitting around the fire at nights, and we started thinking, 'This is unreal. Maybe we should continue these sort of trips but use a different mode of transport in different areas'. And we did, we toured New Zealand on motorbikes after that.
Europe kind of lent itself to the van. Obviously there was quite a lot of ground to cover; we had to get from Northern Europe to West Africa.
So 'Lost Track' has become a franchise of sorts now. This is your third one.
Yeah and that was always the idea. I think we'd like to do something by foot...
Yeah, for sure, that would be epic. Or by pushbike or hitching rides somewhere, but also, the thing that's got my brain ticking right now is getting into sailing. I'd like to spend some time on the water.
Did you see the interview that we had with John Florence recently?
Yeah, I read that. It really got my attention. He's incredible.
So, this trip, you would've left in late 2019, is that correct?
Yeah, November 2019. Mid-November we touched down in the UK and we were on the road by the last week of November. Zipped up through Ireland, Scotland, and then we started boogieing south out of Scotland the week before Christmas.
I think it was the 21st of December we crossed the border into Morocco.
So you covered a lot of territory very quickly then. There was no stopping at the more obvious European waves?
Well, that was the plan. The North of France, Brittany, that area sounds beautiful, and obviously there's Hossegor and the Basque Country, Portugal...that area was very attractive to us. However, ten years ago I did a trip through Europe with a couple of mates and I hurt my knee in France. I had to come home and get an operation, so the boys dropped me at the airport on their way to Morocco.
Ever since then, the idea of Morocco has just been with me.
Yeah. So up in Scotland it was getting pretty cold and we were like, "Fuck, imagine sunshine and desert!" We were at these right point breaks and then we made the decision just to keep going that way, and basically we covered 3,000 miles in four or five days.
A lot of Morocco's better right-hand point breaks take a bit of swell to tick them over. Did you have to wait long for a big swell to hit?
No...ha, that's kind of what got us moving.
You saw a swell on the charts?
We were a day into the drive and then we saw the swell and Nazare at the time was like 50 foot and it looked pretty serious. Then the wave down there [Morocco] that we were chasing looked like it was going to be incredible - and it was.
Did you travel onwards through Mauritania?
Yeah, we were getting mixed reports. We crossed paths with Kepa Acero in Mundaka. We had to get a bit of work done to the car, get a service and some wheels changed, so we had the opportunity to speak to him and he'd travelled through there a couple of times. Our dream was to drive all the way to Senegal but he was saying there's too much civil unrest at the moment.
He'd been stuck there for weeks before and had really mixed emotions about it. He was like, "Look you might get yourself into a situation."
It's quite hard to predict. He told us, "Look, if you're going to travel through there, only drive at day and spend as little time as you can at certain places". He gave us names of places to stay to get through there and people who could escort us. We went, "Whoa, this is kind of serious".
Also, Ishka's partner Sarah was pregnant at the time. He had plans to get back to see her of course, and we didn't want to race it or get held up anywhere.
In the end we left the car in the Western Sahara and flew over to Senegal.
And what did you use to get around when you were down there?
Just a little village taxi. We had a local driver, so we'd just stack the boards on the roof and head down to the nearby points there.
Meanwhile, events were happening elsewhere. Can you recall where you were when you first heard of COVID?
That would've been in January. I'd been talking to my family and emailing people back home, but you don't really have a main source of news over there; you're disconnected from it all. Plus, the mainstream news, I never know what to make of it.
My mum and grandma they were kind of concerned, but you know, it never really seemed that serious because we were so remote. It just felt like it was happening so far away.
But then Europe got pretty hectic, and basically we realised things could start changing pretty quick.
And it did, within a matter of days they stopped the ferries between Gibraltar and Morocco, which was our one way out of there. By that stage I was with my girlfriend Aiyana and we had plans to drive the van back up to the UK, but they stopped that. And then within twelve hours we were on a plane home. Just ditched the van.
It escalated quickly.
Yeah, we were on one of the last flights out. We were looking at the flight board, watching flights get cancelled, cancelled, cancelled. People around us were pulling their hair out, running around. It was like, "Oh shit, this thing's real."
Quite a contrast to your previous month living fancy free out of a van. What were your feelings at the time?
It was so hard to comprehend the seriousness of it until we were travelling back, going through temperature checks, health checks, everyone's wearing masks, some people even wearing full hazmat suits. You're kind of like, "Whoa, this is...this is bizarre."
Then, the day that we landed back in Australia they enforced self-quarantine. That was on the 16th of March. By that stage I'd been on the road for four months, so I nestled into the caravan and had a couple of weeks just to totally decompress. I've got family nearby that dropped food off to us, but it was a bit of a shock to the system. We blinked and all this happened.
So with everything that's happened since, how do you view that trip now? The world has changed a lot since then.
It's bizarre to think about, isn't it? You know, we had a lot of time during the editing process to reflect on things, to relive the memories, which is an unreal thing to do. We were both incredibly grateful to do that trip before the world turned upside down.
For me, the film harks back to an older style of surf film, more about pure escapism, simply because your film is going to be seen by thousands of Australian surfers who can't travel. What you did is currently unattainable.
Yeah. It's hard to know what the future of travel is going to be. For us though, it was all just a matter of luck.
The film comes out in four parts. Why do that?
To be honest, it was one of the most surf-rich trips of my life. The waves were absolutely incredible so there's definitely no shortage of footage. We didn't try to milk anything, simply it would've been a shame to cut some parts out. So we thought that instead of one film we'd do four episodes.