Surf Writer, The Australian

Editor’s Note: Fred just wrapped up a pretty radical multimedia feature on drones for The Australian. Check it out. It’s fun.

For the first time in years, drones have given me an entirely new perspective on something I thought I already knew. They have turned the most mundane scenes into moments of amazing beauty.

For the first time in years, drones have given me an entirely new perspective on something I thought I already knew. They have turned the most mundane scenes into moments of amazing beauty.

Surfers are not the only people to be obsessed with the view from inside a cave. Plato was too, for slightly different reasons. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but he hypothesized that if you chained a bunch of dudes against a wall beneath the entrance to a cave, they would become transfixed by the shadowy images that were projected in front of them. Unable to reference anything else, they’d imagine that what they saw constituted all of reality.

Either the ribald jokes about Ancient Greek men and bondage are exaggerated or Plato spent too long philosophizing to realize that, even in a cave, human sensation can be heightened beyond mere two-dimensional imagery.

Not only that, but he totally underestimated the intoxicating power of the cave itself. Us surfers know this already, having spent as much time as possible chained to our boards and seeking the vivid view from inside. This ain’t no semblance of reality, Plato ol’ son, it is reality. It’s the rest of this world that dulls by comparison.

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I imagine most of us, on our deathbeds, will call our loved ones close and, through a faltering voice heavy with palliative medication, mutter the words, “Before I go, I need to tell you something really important (more gasping). That barrel I got at Lagundri Bay in 82… was soooo fucking sick.” At which point our loved ones will stare at each other, puzzled.

Or at least that’s how it would have happened if GoPros hadn’t spoiled it all. Until now, the caves inside our heads were a private matter, an unsharable memory of a special moment that began as a head dip on a foam board as a kid and grew over the years into a heaving Pipe beast with Gerry, Kelly and John John hooting from the channel.

Not any more. Now even the geekiest web surfer can know the view from inside the barrel, flying inside with Kelly or Alex Gray as their co-pilot. Where once it took decades of dedication and heavy wipeouts to earn the right to even a few moments of this special experience, GoPro now makes it available to all, a secret vision forever tainted by pop-up ads and cheap Youtube stats.

Which is my way of responding to Ted Endo’s otherwise charming story about the insidiousness of drones. Endo overlooks the GoPro phenomenon and instead lambasts that other development in surf imagery, the drone hovering like a dragonfly over the line-up.

His eloquent argument links the death of Afghani school kids to the privileged distractions of First World youth, which is fair enough. But don’t drones also bring something new and beautiful to our sport? Something that, to a trained eye, is even more beguiling?

For the first time in years, drones have given me an entirely new perspective on something I thought I already knew. They have turned the most mundane scenes into moments of amazing beauty.

I recently got someone to shoot Kai Otton climbing over the rock at Snapper and jumping into the water. From eye level, it wouldn’t be worth a second’s attention. But from above? The rock envelops Kai like an abrasive, slightly menacing presence. I can feel the jagged edges on my soles as he hops towards the jump-off point. The way the ocean embraces him evokes the thrilling feeling of paddling out infinitely more intensely than if I’d seen it horizontally.

It’s the same with the act of surfing. Look at the way a surfer draws his line to weave between the paddlers, marvel at the way the wave builds in three dimensions, ride with him as you see what he’s seeing. Even a mediocre ride looks cool from this angle. And let’s face it, mediocre rides are what motivates most of us to keep surfing.

Drones might be the latest fad. This new angle might become boring tomorrow. But for now, they are the definitive perspective. Compared to GoPros, they light up my cave.

For some of the most interesting usage of drone vs. GoPro footage to date, check out this multimedia package about Snapper Rocks at The Australian



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