After viewing Far Nørth at A Blaze of Feather's London House of Vans show earlier this month, it became clear that this is a movie that captures the ferocity of cold water coastlines but also the ecstasy of heavy water and empty line ups. A combination of exquisite cinematography, chilling soundscape provided by Mickey Smith and a hero's journey to the edge of his limits, Far Nørth captures the warmest moments of comaradery in the coldest of places.
Interview with Ben Player
How do you think the comradery of cold water sports differs to the relationships and collaborations found in warmer water surf communities?
The comradery of surfing in cold climates is totally different to surfing in warmer climates. I think there’s an increase in the amount of respect that surfers give each other in colder places, partly because you’re actually pretty stoked to be able to surf with people because there is typically no one around, but also because I think surfers in colder climates can appreciate what the other person has gone through to get to that point.
It’s not easy to surf cold water waves! During my trip to the North Atlantic I visited Scotland and Ireland, and there was such a difference in surfing in the two locations. I was first in Scotland and surfed with people outside of our crew on three occasions in 5 weeks, so when I got to Ireland and was surfing with a solid crew of guys there I was so excited to be sharing the waves with people and to be able to share the stoke. And that must be how it feels if you’re a surfer that lives there because you’re probably surfing by yourself most of the time, and then when you see another person out there it isn’t about someone stealing your stoke, it’s more about sharing it.
Despite this comradery, the film is very much focused on the isolation of cold water swells and you as an individual. Why did you choose to focus on this aspect of the sport?
I agree, the film is like that, but that is just the result of being by myself in Scotland for 5 weeks surfing. It was wild being up there and not surfing with anyone. That took a long time to adjust to actually.
At first I was pretty scared as there wasn’t anyone to help set the limitations and boundaries of each session. It was all on me. Some days I would be watching these waves come in and couldn’t work out if it was ridable or too crazy, so most off the time I would talk it through in my head and would usually tells myself that surfing those waves was my purpose and I needed to stop being so scared.
So I’d got out. I had a lot of that. A lot of banter and conversations with myself in my head while I was up there. Kind of like Tom Hanks in Castaway, only that it was freezing and Wilson was my bodyboard. Haha!
Far Nørth captures both the beauty and ferocity of the natural world, with wonderful parallels between yourself and the wildlife of Ireland. Do you feel bodyboarding connects you to nature and how so?
I am so stoked that you wrote this because the juxtaposition between nature and me in the film was super purposeful. We spent so many hours editing and re-editing shots to try and best create the tension between Mother Nature and me, to give the sense the viewer was almost witnessing Mother Nature hunting me. I know it sounds pretty weird and abstract, but I was very inspired by The Revenant and how they used creepy sound design with big open shots to create a spooky sense.
Do you feel there is enough focus on protecting the oceans we play in? Do you think more could be done to raise awareness of the threats facing natural spaces?
No, I don’t think there is enough being done to protect the oceans. Especially when it comes to plastics in the ocean. Sadly, a lot of the time, information falls on deaf ears when it comes to ways to protect our oceans from plastics.
I can understand it when someone from a different way of life can’t relate to the subject. It isn’t their fault, how could they? For them, the outcome of their actions is so far removed from their lifestyle. But it really, really frustrates me when you see educated people that enjoy the oceans regularly do something that is damaging to the oceans. Whether they walk past some rubbish that has been thrown up on the beach, or throwing rubbish out their window, what ever it is. There is no excuse for that kind of behaviour.
Hopefully initiatives like Take 3 help educate not only surfers and like-minded people about how to help the oceans, but also people that are far removed from our way of life.
Stoked to hear that Movement has been relaunched. Back in 2002 the surf industry revolved around print magazines. What do you think it revolves around now?
Haha! Good question. Sadly, I would have to say the surf industry is centred around Facebook and Google. I know that sounds pretty corporate and lame, but that is the realities of what surf media is these days.
But, I am super empowered by print media success stories, you hear stories all of the time about niche publishers who capture small market segments and are doing great. We hope to do that for the bodyboarding market. Our goal is to offer more, but stay small. To be everything to a few, and nothing to a lot. But the thing that inspires me the most about magazines is the creative side of it. You have to take a bunch of squarish pages, the same squarish pages that have been around for a long time, and make them original and exciting. I love that creative challenge.
In your opinion, how important do you think films, photography and art are for bodyboarding and surfing culture?
Photography and Films are so important. To me, they capture and tell a story in it’s truest form. It is a medium that directly links the audience to the fact, and there aren’t many mediums that can do that in a pure and unadulterated way.
After spending 5 years creating it, you’ve referred to Far Nørth as the pinnacle of your career, so what’s next?
Far South! Haha, just joking. I really don’t know. Far Nørth was such a massive undertaking and I’m not sure if I want to do something like that again, but in saying that, I’’m heading back up to Ireland in October for a few weeks. So who knows.
(not an affiliate link, just a great movie!)
Are all the shots from the end of the movie (we’ll try and keep spoilers to a minimum) genuine or did you recreate any specifically for the movie?
Yes, all of the shots from the end of the movie are original and were taken as I had to be rescued. When the accident happened, everyone started panicking and I remember calling over Andrew Kaineder - my friend who was filming - and told him that what ever happens, he has to record everything that goes down. So he did, and he did it well. It was actually pretty confronting the first time I saw those images. To see what my body looked like as it was laying there close to death. It was a pretty surreal and weird experience.
And finally, what does the ocean mean to you personally?
The ocean is everything to me. Today I was talking to a friend in Australia, and he is doing a great job with marketing his wetsuit brand, and he said, ‘I could probably have stopped surfing ages ago and possibly be a high flying marketing dude’. And my reply was, 'shame you got addicted to a pure life in the ocean.’ And that is what surfing and the ocean are to us. It isn’t a hobby, it isn’t a sport. It’s everything and without it, we are nothing.