It takes a special kind of person to jump onto a surfboard in the middle of the ocean and get towed by jetski into thundering 70-foot waves.
Australian surf filmmaker Tim Bonython, 53, has spent over three decades documenting the thrill-seekers who do this.
Over the past four years, Bonython has spent every available moment doing what he loves – filming images of breath-taking and death defying wave riding from every point of the globe.
The dynamic surfing devotee and master documentary maker will be on the road around Australia in April and May, heading up his popular Australian Surf Movie Festival (ASMF), now in its 10th year.
The centrepiece of the show will be his latest two-hour movie The Immersion Tour, a rip-roaring look into waveriding and its diehard followers.
Even if surfing isn’t your thing, the footage of waves and surfriders, shot in some of the world’s most exotic ocean locations is worth seeing in its own right.
The Festival will come rolling into Perth 12 May with a showing of The Immersion Tour at the State Centre of WA.
The Starfish caught up with Tim Bonython for a chat about his latest ocean epic.
What can we expect to see in The Immersion Tour?
It’s one of the most action-packed movies I’ve made about surfing and the ocean. The big waves are breath-taking, but the film also covers everything about the sport – from body surfing and bodyboarding, surf skis, kneeboarding, kite surfing, wind surfing and stand-up paddle boarding.
Where was it shot?
We have stuff from places like Ireland and Portugal, Hawaii and Tasmania; so there’s real variety. It was all about documenting people’s involvement with the ocean and the craziest waves
Will film goers here in the West be seeing any of our own waves in Immersion?
Absolutely. WA has some of the best, most consistent big-wave locations on the planet. I’m often over in WA when the swells hit, and work with a lot of great people in the area. We have got spectacular footage of the south coast of WA in the Denmark area and several big wave breaks around the South West corner. I work very closely with guys like Paul Patterson and other big wave diehards over your side.
Where are the biggest waves in the film?
We shot Jaws in Hawaii on an epic day in 2010 when some of the top big wave surfers from around the world were dropping into 65 – 70 foot waves – real monsters. But we also caught a huge swell at Shipsterns in Tazzie and got some great vision here in New South Wales during last year’s heavy swells. I think 2011 was a real stand-out year for big waves in many parts of the world. It was certainly one of the best years I have had filming surf.
What was one of the standout surf sessions in the film?
I really like a session we filmed at Cloudbreak in Fiji – one of the world’s heaviest waves. I like it because it was core paddle-in surfing. The boys weren’t being towed into these enormous waves behind surf skis, they were paddling into waves under their own steam, and it looked like they were dropping off giant cliffs when they got into them. It was a return to the real values of man against the elements without being assisted by jet skis – first rate watermen doing it the old fashioned way and was spectacular to watch.
You’ve shot quite a bit of vision at Teahupo’o in Tahiti; one mean, barreling wave. What’s your most enduring memory of this amazing wave?
It would have to be during the Billabong Pro competition last year. It was one serious day in the water for the contestants. Kelly Slater went out there and even he seemed a bit rattled by it. The waves were so massive that the contest was actually called off one day because the swell was too big. Another local surfer gave it a shot, was slammed heavily off the reef and was begging them to cancel because it was too dangerous. But they carried on and it turned out to be one of the most amazing surf events ever held. The only shame was that I didn’t get the shots exclusively because of the competiton.
What is one of your own most hairy experiences shooting huge waves?
I reckon it was while filming the Teahupo’o event last year in Tahiti. Our skipper suddenly saw a huge set of waves coming towards us out the back and we had drifted a bit towards the impact zone. I slipped in the boat and fell down, so I couldn’t see what was coming at us. I just remember looking up at the guy at the wheel and it was truly a face of fear. He managed to fang the boat out of the way of the set just in time, but to see that look on the face of a very experienced waterman, and not know what was about to happen to us seemed to be more scary than anything else I can remember.
Nowadays do you shoot your scenes mainly from the water or a boat?
I still get in the water a bit, but primarily from a boat. When it comes to the big, dangerous waves I generally do it from a boat, because the water’s no place to be in such conditions.
You must spend a lot of time away from your family each year, chasing the perfect waves?
I am very conscious of time spent away from my kids. I generally track when good swells are about to hit in various places and then fly off there for a couple of days to get the best footage I can. Then I head back to Sydney petty quick smart.
What’s the next project on the Bonython slate?
I’ve been working on a new feature called “Trigger Happy” about the history and people involved in surf photography and film-making. There are some amazing characters, stories, and photographers that have worked in and sround surfing – Jeff Divine, Art Brewer, Dan Merkel and Ted Grambeau, just to name a few. I’ve interviewed many of them and think it would make a fascinating documentary with some superb imagery. They are an elite group in their own right and have documented everything in surfing for decades. It’s people who do what I do, and the job is still as exciting and rewarding as ever. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tickets can be purchased via www.ASMF.net.au
Enquiries by phone (02) 8005 7571
Festival duration is 2 hours including a 30 minute acoustic set at interval.