Nick Carroll On: Tim's Excellent Adventures

16 May 2017 0

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer


Nick Carroll reviews Tim Bonython’s latest flick “The Big Wave Project

There’s surf movies and there’s surf movies. Some, like Dane’s Chapter 11, tell us stories, or at least act like they do. Others are High Concept — they’re all about the big idea, like Taylor Steele’s Proximity, with its clever peas-in-a-pod surf chemistry experiments. (Put Rob and Ando in the same place and see which one disappears!)

Tim Bonython’s had a few cracks at doing both of these kinds of surf movies, but his heart’s not really in it. Big ideas and narratives aren’t his style. Basically, he just wants to go zooming around the world, shooting the craziest surf he can possibly put his lens on, then hurl the shots onto a screen and pray enough people show up. His flicks are modern versions of the super old school Bud Browne things that first got Australian surfers fired up about Hawaii. They just show us what Tim saw on his adventures, and invite us to have heart attacks in the process.

The Big Wave Project is right out of this mould. Though I dunno if you can call it a “mould” when it features the kind of extreme surfing behaviour on show here. We’ve all seen bits and pieces of it in short form here and there on the Internet but my God, once you get a full screen look at, say, Francisco Porcella paddling into then losing his grip on a glassy Nazare left that must be 50 feet, you will swiftly forget the online version.

They’re all here, Jaws, gigantic Teahupoo, the bloody Right, Shippies, Mavs and company, people making waves at all of ‘em, and people eating shit in ways no Bud Browne movie ever showed. One sequence, of Pedra Branca giving James Hollmer-Cross an absolute hiding, has gnarly enough consequences that you wonder if it was worth it just to give a shitty Hollywood movie a climactic moment. (The wave he rode — and almost died under — was used in Point Break 2.) Wipeouts are part of any Bonython flick but here they take on a new and ominous dimension.

Then again, that’s showbiz. As Koby Abberton says at one point: “You tell people someone’s drowning…a couple of people might show up to save ‘em, but 100 people will turn up to watch.”

Most normal people will assume that the people doing the surfing in The Big Wave Project are all mad, but the fact is, many if not all big wave riders are highly intelligent. Mark Healey, for instance, makes a cogent case for treating Death as the impostor it is. “It’s the one thing that connects us all, the one thing we’ll all experience, so why be so terrified of it?” he says, without any spin or boast on it. Then again, Garrett McNamara offers his test for a newcomer’s desire: paddle out on a really big day, go inside the impact zone, and take your legrope off. “If you like what happens next, you’ve got a shot,” he says, and starts laughing.

Some things made me wish Tim was more of a storyteller. Brock Little appears several times, in what might have been his last ever on-camera interview, and there is so much resonance in those short appearances, so much subtle meaning in the way Brock lived and in the way he eventually died — not under some 60 foot clean-up, but at home in bed — that it could have stood some playing out beyond the brief dedication at the end.

But what do I know? Bonython knows his audience — maybe better than either the High Concepters or the Storytellers, and certainly better than me. This one’s in the great lineage of “Bells ’81”, “The Swell”, Hawaii 9-0” and a dozen other TB epics. He’s been doing this since he was a teenager and he’s not about to stop.


The Big Wave Project is part of the 2017 Australian Surf Movie Festival Tour which premieres Tuesday 16 May at the Cremorne Orpheum, Sydney. The tour is visiting most surf spots in the country, so get along and witness it all for yourself. GET TICKETS HERE.

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