The Consequence Of Chasing Slabs In Northern Europe
From prone to injury.
Covering bodyboarders isn’t something we do too often at Stab. But Ben Player is a gent we're quite fond of. He’s welcome at most lineups around the world and when we launched Stab over a decade ago, he launched the bodyboard mag Movement we shared the same office. And, we believed this was a story worth sharing.
The whole surfer v boogie thing is kinda dead and SUPs have become the axis of evil (or have they?). It seems we’re now more focussed on the environment, protecting surf spots, and doing our best to get along - plus the most notorious slabs around the world were for the most part discovered by bodyboarders.
We like bodyboarders because of their work ethic. They have to try harder to make noise. To make any digital production stand out in 2016 is trying, and the task is more difficult for gents who ride four-foot blocks of foam. Ben’s new film Far North tracks him to winter in northern Europe, where he ends up airlifted from a break in a chopper.
Stab: Tell us about your film?
Ben: Far North is a story about me trying to do something original in film and in my career. When I started planning the movie, I was 35 years old (4 years ago now) and I was bored with the repetition of following the tour [APB World Tour], and it was showing in my results. I needed to challenge myself in a new direction. So I thought, what is something that is completely on the opposite end of the spectrum that I could do? And the answer was to go to one of the most challenging surf destinations in the far north of Europe during winter and surf some crazy slabs by myself.
Not that we want to give away the crux of the film, but tell us about the injury.
Oh man, which accident? The whole trip was full of dangerous moments. The first day I was surfing I got pumped and whacked the reef on my face super hard and blacked out, luckily I came to underwater. On another occasion I got caught inside by a 15-foot top-to-bottom rogue set that snapped my leash and started washing me out to the tidal bores, luckily I was able to bodysurf a wave into a 50-metre cliff which I was just able to climb out of. Then the final straw was when I tore my spleen and had internal bleeding. This time I wasn’t so lucky and had to get the Irish Coast Guard to airlift me out to the hospital, but I guess you could say that I was lucky because there was a local paramedic at the spot. His was name Peter Conroy, and he ordered the air evacuation. If he hadn't have been there I would have tried to walk out of the location and bled to death.
If it were anyone else, we’d assume you were being dramatic. Is it bittersweet that this injury makes the movie more exciting?
[Laughs] Man, I don’t know about that. If anything, the accident made it harder because I knew the potential of the story if it was done right, and so I wanted to make it the best I could, which is why it took two years in post-production and enough investment to buy a unit in Sydney with. I am proud of the result though.
How do you approach life post injury?
In all honesty, I would say that I’m much the same. Immediately after, I got fat because I couldn’t raise my blood pressure and do any exercise for six months but that is alright because I am too skinny most of the time. I was aware of getting PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) after the accident, but I didn’t really get that. Only freak out I had was when I was heading home to Australia I cried, but I think it was more a relief because I went away on the trip thinking that something really bad was going to happen. It didn’t help when my Dad told me that he also felt something really bad was going to happen.
But, nope, I wouldn't say that the accident has affected my approach to life, I still feel the same as I did before I went away. I think you would have to be pretty naive or crazy if you surfed waves like we did and didn’t expect shit to hit the fan at some stage. Kind of goes hand-in-hand with the territory. The only difference now is that I will expect the best, but plan for the worst when I surf waves like that again.
Do you regret embarking on this adventure?
Not at all. It was incredible, and I feel lucky to have had the adventure I had. I came a bee’s dick from dying and got to feel all of the emotions that went along with it; I went through regret to begin with, then euphoria and then finally acceptance. It was the first time in my life when I didn’t care about the past or future, and I just gave up and enjoyed the moment. Was so incredible to be able to experience that. And the story and emotion are all documented in this movie. So rad!
You’ve been one of the most welcome bodyboarders anywhere in the world, along with guys like Andre Botha and Mike Stewart, what do you attribute that to?
[Laughs] I’m not sure if I would say I am welcome everywhere, but I think I am tolerated in a lot of places. I always try and be as respectful as I can be toward everyone. Yeah sure, I can be a jerk and rude sometimes, but I will always try and be as respectful as I can toward people. I think it comes down to a sign that I saw when I first visited Hawaii when I was 16. It was a hand painting sign on old plywood and nailed to a tree, and it read ‘Kokua in kind’. I am a firm believer in that mantra, if you give respect, you will be given respect. But in saying that I will probably get slapped for being in the wrong place at the wrong time this winter in Hawaii.
Is it just me or has bodyboarder/standup friction reduced recently?
Man, I never see any conflict or friction between surfers/bodyboarders anymore and I’m stoked to be able to say that. I haven’t witnessed anything like that in ages, sure there are fights and blow-ups in the surf between surfers and bodyboarders, or vice versa, but it is more because someone is being a kook, and less because of what they ride. I think back in the day there was a fair bit of that because bodyboarders felt suppressed and felt that they needed to fight for respect and acceptance by surfers, and you know what happens when you try and fight for respect? It never ends well. Nowadays, I think most people from surfing and bodyboarding accept that the sport has its place within the surfing community and now we all get along.
Why do you think bodyboarder’s biggest crime is in relation to surfers?
[Laughs] I know this answer because my mates who stand up around home tell me what they hate about bodyboarding. 1. is that we always wait until the last minute to paddle into a wave, which frustrated my mates who ride sticks because they can never be sure if I’m going or not, and sometimes as a result they waste time paddling. 2. Another thing that surfers hate, or I should say, used to hate about bodyboarders is that they felt that boogers always had a chip on our shoulder. And I guess it is kind of true to a large extent, but you have to remember that boogs have been a suppressed minority for a long time, and a lot of boogies are wary as a result.
Which stand-up guys are the best to surf with? And why?
I love surfing with anyone: stand-up, kneeboarders, mal riders, even SUP’s, as long as they’re respectful and cool. I’m always continually surprised by how humble all of the top WSL guys are and would be stoked surfing with any of them because they push you to perform better. When it’s heavy, I love surfing with Matt Bromley, Russell Bierke, Tom Lowe and Anthony Walsh. They’re all such good dudes and they’re all proper nut jobs who push me to go a bit harder.