Leroy Bellet – Young, Free, Alright!
The Rad and Creative Youth of Australian Surfing
Presented by Arnette
Gallery and captions by Leroy Bellet
The latest issue of Surfing World Magazine is a little bit of a Young, Free, Alright! special. Why? Well, for one, the cover. It was shot by Young, Free, Alright! featured photographer Zac Heath, and guess what? It's his very first photo to get printed in a surf mag. Then featured in SW's regular Next feature was Mikey McArthur a young man we first met on the last YFA Weekender, he also had a butload of double page spreads from around his home on the South Coast. Alongside his photos (and Troy Simpson's) in SW were the frames of the young photographer we're meeting today, Leroy Bellet. The Surfing World team didn't know it at the time, but Leroy is just 15 years old. His photography is good. Scarily good. Way better than you'd expect from someone who until this year couldn't see an MA movie. So, it was pretty obvious then on who we should call up for our latest Young, Free, Alright! presented by Arnette. Meet Leroy Bellet.
Interview by Mike Jennings
CW: Hey Leroy, set the scene for me. Where are you answering these questions from, what’s going on around you?
LB: Hey Mike, I’m in my lounge room, just got back from a fresh arvo swim and I’m still in wet undies. Mum has a pretty good smelling dinner on the way and I’m just waiting for a mate to get picked up.
How long have you been shooting for? What got you started?
A year and a half now since I got my first DSLR. I had a GoPro for a little while before that which is how I got into it, just filming from my helmet cam. I surf and bodyboard, I just love being in the water, but I’m not particularly drawn to one or the other. When I started swimming with a GoPro and no board it felt really comfortable and natural, I began to like that feeling of holding position and nearly getting sucked over, it’s just as exhilarating as riding the wave in my opinion.
You’re still a young pup huh? How old are you actually? Where are you going to school?
Yeah, I turned 15 earlier this year, it sounds pretty young but I’m fairly tall for my age. I’m going to school at Ulladulla High School, it’s like a 30 min bus trip from here.
Are you enjoying it? Do you get to apply your photography skills in any way to school life?
Yeah school is good, I don’t struggle with it and have a bunch of good mates, so I guess I enjoy it. I’ve missed a fair bit this year from snowboarding and shooting but it’s a good balance.
Interesting little thing about my school, we have a lot of talent coming out into the surf industry and my principal has recognised that, so next year we will be the first school in Australia to have a “Surf Studies” elective subject. I don’t know a lot about it, but as far as I know it’s about establishing careers in the surf industry.
I do photography as an elective and I ace all my assignments, I’m not drawn to many other aspects of photography but I manage to work it into some other subjects.
Tell us about the South Coast. Where are you from specifically?
I’m from Bawley Point (but you didn’t hear that from me). I love the whole small, coastal town vibe and the hype when we get BIG Winter swells, you can get really good waves around here with nobody out. I don’t hate much about the place. Summer is pretty average, no waves, bluebottles, lots of rich, snobby tourists, but it’s a good time to smash out some work. I haven’t shot many waves that aren’t local, and I’m still learning, but it’s been really good for me to have such a variety of waves to shoot.
What’s the best thing about shooting on the South Coast?
I guess you never really have to travel far to get incredible waves. We have such a variety of breaks and a bunch of talented local guys willing to surf them. I guess that real money shot though is those wipeouts, where you’re just captivated, watching someone getting blasted by a 10ft wave in inches of water with rock below.
You shoot a lot of heavy water. How did you get so comfortable swimming amongst it? Do you still get scared?
I get super scared, there are a few moments where I really think, “wow, if I don’t get under this thing…” or “if I go over in the lip…”. I suppose surfing and growing up spending a lot of time in the water with my brothers helps. I’ve been trying to train a bit too. I was training pretty hard at the start of this Autumn, doing like 8kms of sand running every morning, general fitness gives me a lot more confidence.
What’s been your worst heavy water experience?
I think my worst is yet to come, I’ve had some long hold downs and beatings on the reef but I don’t have that token memory of a moment where I was just about gone. I got caught inside a few months ago by what I’d say was a good 10 footer, it was right at the end of the session while I was waiting for the ski to come back and pick me up. I got under it, but my heart was racing for a moment.
What camera you slinging to capture images today?
I’m now using a Nikon D300s in an Aquatech water housing, it’s a good, sturdy rig and is always reliable.
What is your favourite thing about taking photos of the ocean?
Favourite thing is being there, I love the experience and being able to share the stoke, sitting in a big barrel with a surfer flying past, it’s a nice escape.
When is your favourite time to shoot?
Morning, like 6:45 to be specific, backlight in a translucent green, with a light, fresh offshore. It’s nice to get a swell with a sunny sky and glassy water and there aren’t many better ways to spend a morning.
Who is your favourite person to shoot?
I’m going to say Scott “Whip” Dennis, and Russell Bierke. Whip likes to get deep and stand up straight, he has a really clean style to shoot. Russell likes to get really really deep, he likes the crazy ones and isn’t scared of expressing himself through some epic facials.
Who inspires you in the world of photography?
Inspirations would have to be Russell Ord, Ray Collins, Peter ‘Joli’ Wilson, Luke Shadbolt, the list goes on forever… Outside of surfing I don’t have too many influences.
If you could spend one day shooting a famous wave in perfect conditions, with any surfer in the world, where and who? What time of day, and what’s the surf like?
Hmmm, I’d say cyclops, the place looks so photogenic. There’d be no big scene in the channel and just a handful of guys charging. Perfect blue sky and glassy on the surface, it’s 12ft+ and I’m trying to get close with a fisheye, I think, I’d have to see it first. As for who's surfing, it doesn’t bother me, as long as they’re charging. I love Australia and travelling to Chopes or Pipe to get the same shot as 20 other guys doesn’t interest me.
What’s on for school this week?
I have a geography assignment due Thursday, did a science test on the elements today, reading a bit of Shakespeare and trying to finish a P.E. assignment early so I can go to the snow again this weekend. All standard high school stuff, keeping busy, I’m in the S.R.C. too and make vegemite toast in the morning for kids that don’t get breakfast.
Tag #youngfreealright and join the rad and creative youth of Australian surfing
A little over a year ago Coastalwatch and Arnette launched Young, Free, Alright! a series showcasing the inspired young community rising in Australian surfing – introducing talented new faces doing rad stuff every fortnight. Now, we want you to join us and be Young, Free, Alright! Just hashtag the fruit of your work on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter with #youngfreealright and we’ll be all over you like a bad op-shop jacket at a Year 12 Formal. Our favourite photo or video each fortnight wins a pack of goodness from Arnette.
On top of that you could find yourself getting props as the next Young, Free, Alright! feature profile like Leroy here.
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