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.”
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.