"I was shaking in shock," says the filmmaker Tim Bonython, pictured here at Shipsterns. "That was like nothing I've ever experienced." | Photo: Stu Gibson

Just in: Surf Filmer Nearly Killed!

Tim Bonython trapped under boat as 10-foot swell threatens to steal him to the heavens!

If you were sunning yourself on the great bluffs near Bells yesterday, you would’ve been privy to quite a show. A helicopter flying hither and yon shucking a human being and then landing on the beach to pick him up, jetskis in the water, cameramen everywhere.

The wingsuit pilot Rex Pemberton was being filmed for a documentary for Outside magazine, sponsored by Jeep, his stunt being he’d jump out of a chopper, land on a wave on a little tow-board, drop his parachute, and surf it to the beach.

It all came unstuck, however, and not in the manner in which you’d expect (Rex’s chute doesn’t open, disappears into the ocean). In a growing swell, and with all eyes on the little speck hurtling towards earth, the camera boat was caught inside by a ten-foot set. One man seriously hurt; others say they nearly drowned.

Tim Bonython, whom you know as the filmmaker who never misses a swell from Shipsterns to The Right to Teahupoo, was in the boat when it was hit. I called him this morning at his hotel room in Torquay to discuss. It didn’t matter that it was early. Tim’d been up since four am, reliving what happened, the existential horror of being in an upside down boat, completely unprepared for disaster.

What happened? Well, first, says Tim, you’ve gotta remember this ain’t Shipsterns or The Right or even Teahupoo where there’s a semblance of a channel even on monster days. Here, a couple of beaches up from Bells, a good set will take out the bay.

“And so we’re watching the jump,” says Tim, “and I felt like everyone was looking at him and not the surf. Five minutes before I’d told the captain to keep an eye on the ocean. It was a rising swell and I’d seen a few sets come through. When the first set came through, Rex was literally twenty seconds from landing on the ocean. The first wave was big, the second… we got hit. Everyone said, hold on, this is it! This is serious! Hold onto your cameras! 

“I bent down and barelegged my camera, behind the console, behind the captain’s legs. I could feel the boat going up, up, up, up, up, up, and feel us airborne. Then I looked up and I could see the front of the boat going over the top of us. Everything was falling backwards and… boom… suddenly I’m underneath the boat thinking, oh fucking god, this is not where I want to be. I was in the chassis of the boat, trying to feel my way out. I couldn’t fucking get out. And this is where I fucked, where I made an important mistake. My wetsuit was down around my waist, I had a t-shirt, shirt, Patagonia down jacket, a life vest and a wind jacket. All that stuff was pulling me up and I had to swim… down. My jacket’s filled with the water, my wetsuit is filing up. It took me around fifteen seconds to get out but it felt like eternity.

“I came up and there was another set. I heard someone say, Get away from the boat! I swim to the left and just avoided it. I saw the captain putting his hand up, blood coming out of his head, trying to grab the boat to stabilise himself. He was close to maybe going under and not being able to swim, his brain was telling him to hold onto something.

“Another wave came. I didn’t know which way to go. I called for help. I started to go into panic mode. Do I get rid of my shit on me? I was really in a mess. I tell ya, it was the most horrific 20 minutes of my life.”

Tim was eventually picked up and deposited on the beach.

“I was shaking with shock. That was like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” says Tim. “I’d never had the shit hit the fan like that.”

Want irony?

All those cameras and no one got the shot of the boat being hit, save for a drone.

“They were looking around, looking for the boat, they they realised, oh my god, it’s upside-down! There’s people and shit everywhere!”

Tim, of course, is a professional in the game. As were talking his masters came to pick him up for a re-shoot, this time using GoPro cameras.

Surf fans to WSL: “We will bury you!”

Has the World Surf League finally lost the handle? Let's think about it!

The most exiting professional surfing contest of the year is taking place just 30 mins north of my beachside home and I have not been once. Hurley is putting on an incredible show, by all accounts, the surf has been fun and the controversies! Flowing like surfer-owned microbrewed beers!

And so why haven’t I been? Oh many reasons and I won’t bore them with you now but let’s turn our attention, quickly, to the cacophony raining down upon the World Surf League’s bowed head!

All of Brazil is enraged. Fans of John John are livid. The second prettiest boy to ever don a singlet (Julian Wilson) is fuming and wow! Has the WSL ever faced so much criticism from so many corners?

Now, I hate to be hyperbolic here but could this be the end of this particular incantation of professional surfing? Could this be the moment when both surfers and fans demand wholesale change?

I will not push the judges under the bus, or not yet anyhow. I don’t believe in any sort of conspiracy as far as they are concerned and also think they are doing the very best they can with such an imperfect hand.

It is that imperfect hand that might have finally forced a fold.


Let’s think about it for just one moment. Does the League have enough structural integrity to move forward, as is? Will the surfers believe they are getting scored properly? Will the fans know that, when it is close, the right man will end up on top?

It seems like a 50/50 proposition at the moment which doesn’t seem workable.

Of course both surfers and fans are fickle and never satisfied. We are thin reeds that bend in the softest breeze. But it does feel like the last few days of surfing might necessitate a sea-change. The kind of across-the-board rage boiling over doesn’t happen in professional skateboarding or professional snowboarding. Of course both those things happen in static environments. The dynamism of surfing makes it fun but the system, in place, is not equipped to handle it.

And will this be the time where it finally all falls down? The watershed moment?

Rules: Julian, Wilko face expulsion, fines!

Come read the WSL rule book, article 171, "Damage to Surfing's Image."

What an exciting day! Everyone is so upset!

For the record, I think Gudalaskuas won the heat. Didn’t catch Julian or Wilko, no opinion there.

Hilarious to see the WSL take an internet beating. Do you think they care? Is Paul Speaker screaming into his Blackberry? “Get Google on the phone! I won’t take this kind of treatment.”

The anonymous Brazilian contingent is setting social media aflame. Reminding us all that they sure do love sports, but they don’t give two shits for good sportsmanship.

With so much kerfuffle in the air there surely can’t be more. How could a website that thrives on gossip mongering stir up even more drama?

How indeed?

We’ve got the two dubyas, Wilko and Wilson, taking to Instagram to air their grievances. You’ve read them both already.

Wilson: “The Judges might need to take some responsibility for their scores over the past two days. Might be time to put them under the microscope, like they do to us.” 


When sleepless nights, countless hours of preparation and learning hard lessons from past upsets, it’s hard not feel frustrated when not getting rewarded in key moments like this. Might be time to break down what the judges see and understand as good surfing in comparison to what the best surfers in the world see and understand as good surfing, as it could be a little different? @wsl @mattwilko8@gabrielmedina” 

Wilko: “It is hard to accept when they make decisions that decide people’s lives and don’t take care to make the decision right and are not at all held accountable.” 

Remind me, what’s the WSL’s policy on public criticism? Do they like it?

For more information, let’s take a gander at the WSL rule book. (Emphasis added for our slower readers)

Article 171:  Damage to Surfing’s Image 

Individuals bound by this Policy shall not engage in any conduct which could cause damage to the image of the sport of surfing. For purposes of this Article, damage to the image of the sport of surfing” is defined as any act, regardless of time or place, which casts the sport of surfing or WSL in a negative light. Without restricting the application of this Article, “damage to the sport of surfing” will include any comments or broadcast from social media accounts that the Surfer is responsible for. Any Surfer found in violation of this section shall be subject to the following disciplinary action:

(i) Monetary Fines and Disqualification.

The monetary fine amounts for an offense of this Article ranges from $1,000 USD to $50,000 USD per offense.

(ii) Suspension and Expulsion.

Any offender under this Article may be subject to suspension and/or expulsion from an WSL Tour upon the first offense. Where multiple offenses occur within one or more concurrent seasons which demonstrate a pattern of unacceptable conduct, the Surfer may also be subject to suspension and/or expulsion from the WSL.

How will the WSL respond? Will they use the intentionally vague nature of  “casts the… WSL in a negative light” as a proverbial newspaper with which they can swat unruly competitors on the snout?

Or will they let the surfers run wild? Unfiltered opinions and honest assessments flying about willy-nilly, nary a PR approved soundbite to be found.

Only time will tell.

Or you can just check Julian’s Insta tomorrow. See if he’s gone into damage control. Should be a pretty good indicator.

Julian Wilson comes second in his round two heat, a 25th result. | Photo: WSL

Revolt: Julian Wilson vs WSL Judges!

"It's hard not feel frustrated when not getting rewarded in key moments," says world #5.

Do you think San Clemente overflows with tears? The Hurley Pro, currently playing at Lower Trestles, near the old Nixon retreat, has been a heartbreaker for the tour’s superstars, with a handful of crucial, split-hair results.

Gabriel’s loss made him so tired and so sad he said, in an oblique way, that he might quit. 

So sad, so so so so sad! And tired!
So sad, so so so so sad! And tired!

And, Julian Wilson, who was rated fifth going into the Hurley Pro, but by virtue of his last-place here must now count at least one 25th in his final scoreline, wasn’t afraid to real talk after losing by 0.04 of a point.

Julian writes:

“When sleepless nights, countless hours of preparation and learning hard lessons from past upsets, it’s hard not feel frustrated when not getting rewarded in key moments like this. Might be time to break down what the judges see and understand as good surfing in comparison to what the best surfers in the world see and understand as good surfing, as it could be a little different?”

Of course, on Instagram you’re preaching to the choir, particularly if you’re a noted athlete. Most followers could hardly wait to jab their tongue into his anus or cup the round of his testes.

Here’s a sample.

capestrin@julian_wilson u have my deepest respect for what u r and showed back in South Africa. U deserve a world title just to have that cup on ur living room. But for most of us, u already r a true world champ. Never to be forgotten in years to come. U belong to the wall of best of the best like humans like @curfuffle @mrpottz @markocchilupo @kellyslater @mfanno the ones that deserve it more than others carried by the surf industries and fat cats with hunger for fat n easy dollars. Besides, u have a angel for a wife. 

yeahphillieI feel ya @julian_wilson seen this happen to u way to many times, i think in ur case u may just be a little to smooth and the judging may take u a little to for granted!!

yeahphillieI feel ya @julian_wilson seen this happen to u way to many times, i think in ur case u may just be a little to smooth and the judging may take u a little to for granted!!

oscarcamargonetoJulian you have my respect not only because you are easily one of the best surfers ever but because you dont hide in tough moments like today and in Jay bay last year! Great Guy!!Things will change because of people like you! @julian_wilson

A couple of surf fans weren’t so easily sold, although they were in the minority.

capestrin@julian_wilson but his style is very poor! He got the moves, but doesn’t dance like Jagger or u or @mfanno even @kellyslater has a little upsetting style but he capture ur attention and surprises u.

fabioplotWell said, @julian_wilson even if you took advantage of that, like in your first CT win in Portugal, when @gabrielmedina smashed you and they robbed him. As I think it also happened in Pipe 2014. But huge respect for your post!

itsgarbagedayTime to retire get a real job and contribute to society like the rest of us battlers
eamonsinstaUsed to love to you watch you surf, big fan. Not anymore.

And you?

Do you think there’s still plenty of meat left on the bone of how well, or poorly, waves are being scored at the Hurley Pro?

Are you, like me, enjoying every damn second of the event?

So sad, so so so so sad! And tired!

Medina: “Very sad…so tired, tired!”

Loses nail-biter. Is very upset.

Gabby lost a nail biter today. He is very upset. Took to Instagram to vent.

Hora de ir pra casa. Muito triste, eu dedico ou dediquei minha vida pra isso…to cansado, cansei!

What does that mean? I don’t speak Portuguese. Only English. And Spanish, sorta.

Yippee for Google’s translation magic!

Time to go home. Very sad, I dedicate or have dedicated my life to it … so tired, tired!

Is this the end for Gabby? Past tense reference to his competitive career!

Crazy, so crazy.

Sure, it’s probably nothing. Just letting off some steam. Upset he got handed the short end of the stick.

But it makes for such lovely clickbait. Medina hints he may quit the Tour!

Glorious internet garbage. My job’s done for the day.