Stab Magazine | Living With A Monkey On The Back: Laurent Pujol's Angle
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Living With A Monkey On The Back: Laurent Pujol’s Angle

From Stab issue 73: France’s Laurent Pujol and the dramatic camera angle, neither board nor helmet mounted, that is changing the way we see tube riding… Story by Derek Rielly Laurent Pujol is a 41-year-old former pro surfer who lives behind the Leclerc Supermarket in Capbreton, just south of Hossegor on France’s Atlantic Coast. Ever […]

style // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 5 minutes

From Stab issue 73: France’s Laurent Pujol and the dramatic camera angle, neither board nor helmet mounted, that is changing the way we see tube riding…

Story by Derek Rielly

Laurent Pujol is a 41-year-old former pro surfer who lives behind the Leclerc Supermarket in Capbreton, just south of Hossegor on France’s Atlantic Coast. Ever since retiring from the pro game four years ago, Pujol has been shooting photos of surfing.

He ain’t Rob Crusoe there. Who doesn’t jam a Nikon or Canon SLR into a housing and have a swing at water shots these days? Laurent is different because he was the first to come up with a way to improve on the GoPro angle. His approach was simple enough. Imagine a GoPro photo but captured with a high-end Nikon D3 riveted to the fine glass of a 16mm prime lens.

The Dorian sequence from the cover of Stab issue 73. Elegance turns into inelegance turns into a low-rent horror movie.

The Dorian sequence from the cover of Stab issue 73. Elegance turns into inelegance turns into a low-rent horror movie.

But mounting big cameras on helmets and boards, while theoretically possible, is expensive and clunky. So Laurent figured he’d try a more direct and primitive route. He’d step off into tubes behind the surfer and while they rode the tube, he’d do the same, only deeper, and holding a camera.

The shots, as we’ve shown over the last few issues, are remarkable. Intimate glimpses of a world unbeknown to most. Look at it on a big enough screen and it feels as if you’ve stepped into a gigantic frozen barrel. Look around! Touch the ceiling!

Laurent’s photos work because of his skill as a surfer. For 20 consecutive years Laurent wintered in Hawaii, funded initially from working as a waiter in a San Diego restaurant and, later, as a sponsored rider of Rusty. Laurent, whose family had moved him from France to Argentina, Costa Rica, Saint-Maarten, Florida and, finally, California, picked up surfing in Florida when he was 13. Every Friday afternoon after school he’d whip up to Sebastian Inlet, yeah, Slater’s turf, to attack windy chunks, before heading home on Sunday night. In the early nineties, he came home to France when he realised that while he wasn’t much of a shot at a pro career in California, he would be among the best surfers in France.

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… All the ingredients necessary to chase the monkey-on-the-back angle, including personal ski driver, a 10-year-old ski with 500 hours on the clock, a helmet, two lifejackets and a nikon d3 with a 16mm lens. Photo: Timo Jarvinen

“There wasn’t much professionalism in France in 1994,” says Laurent. “There was Boris (Le Texier), Fred (Robin) and Didier (Piter) and myself but it built from there quickly.”

Laurent’s best result was a second on the European tour. “I won a few EPSA contests, made the semis in a WQS once at Anglet. I was so hot and cold. When you’re doing competition it’s super fun if you’re winning, you can keep a rhythm going. But I would win a contest and in the next contest I’d lose first heat. I was actually a pretty shitty competitor.”

Laurent gave up on the Euro pro dream after his third shoulder surgery in five years. He was 38 years old. “The third one was the end. I was over it. My sponsor Analog got rid of everybody and I took that as a sign. I didn’t even go knocking on doors. I was about to hit 40 so I went, okay, I’ve gotta fucking do something else. Thanks, it’s been fun.”

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And so it leads into January this year. Laurent sees a 30-foot-plus swell is going to hit which means Belharra, a reef near Saint-Jean-de-Luz, is going to turn on. Rideable 30 footers. Who’s going to miss that? Laurent can also see that the day after the Belharra swell is going to be slightly smaller but, and this is the kicker especially down there in windy south-west France, it’s going to be offshore all day. Perfect for tow behinds.

Laurent has shot with Hawaii’s Shane Dorian before, memorably capturing a paddle takeoff of Doz at Nazare that drove an advertising campaign for Billabong as well as inflating various page ones, and so the pair begin an email exchange.

“That guy, something’s bound to go down when you shoot with that guy,” says Laurent, adding, “He’s a good person to shoot with as far as selling photos. You can get a freak shot but if a guy doesn’t have sponsors… Shane was psyched before he even got here.”

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Laurent sets up behind France’s Ben Sanchis. Photo: Timo Jarvinen

On the morning when the photos contained in this spread were taken, Laurent, his ski driver, Doz and local surfer Ben Sanchis were watching, waiting, from the plaza at La Nord, Hossegor’s central beach. It was out of control, despite the offshore early, but Laurent knew it was going to “turn into… butter. Oh, man, I was so excited, I was just trying to contain.”

Can he describe the thrill of getting tubed with Dorian? “Fuck, it’s always so much bigger when you’re surfing it. The caverns were huge that day. You’ve gotta remember it was the day after the Belharra swell. It didn’t drop that much! I kept telling Shane, the medium ones are good, I can set up behind you. But he wanted the bombs even though they were too fast and too much spray and lip bounce. But you get what you get. I wasn’t going to say no!”

Laurent says the wipeouts he endured that afternoon were something else, especially when he was being dragged underwater holding his housing. In an effort to contain the hold-downs he wore two life jackets. And after a year of working on his breath holding technique says he felt more comfortable underwater. “I didn’t hit the panic button that day,” he says. “But the second lifejacket definitely helped.”

With Hossegor in the bag, Laurent, along with Stab, is planning deeper, radder adventures, at Mexico and at Teahupoo. “Tahiti would be interesting,” he says, “But I’m not going to kill myself for nothing. I’m not going to do it for a double-page spread.”

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Ain’t this just a dream? This is what outside La Nord looked like a few hours after the Dorian shot was captured, with a dropping swell and the wind drifting lazily from behind the dunes. Ben Sanchis, Laurent’s go-to surfer in France.

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