Tim Bonython, from one of the more recent generations of the family, is making a mark in his own way. A prolific filmmaker and photographer, Tim travels the globe documenting some of the world's biggest waves – and the people who surf them.
Now, after landing his first professional filmmaking job in Adelaide thirty-five years ago, he's returning to town with his Australian Surf Movie Festival.
“Living at Tennyson Beach from day one as a baby, the ocean was the ultimate playground for me. What more of a backyard could a kid want? I moved to Sydney at 12 years of age because my dad opened an art gallery in Paddington. I really needed to be back at the beach because that was my favourite place,” Bonython says.
He filled his days surfing and taking photos and films, eventually returning to Adelaide to live. Bonython would spend a few days a week working in clubs in town before driving out to Yorke Peninsula to camp, surf and film.
“I had the best young man's lifestyle. It was only when I started shooting Yorke back in the day that it allowed me to get some really interesting footage and show it around. Really, my life as a filmmaker started in Adelaide.”
The secret to my films is that the ocean is the star.
Top of Taps surf shop, an old Adelaide surfing institution run by Peter Victorson (nickname: Punk), sponsored Bonython to film the Bells Beach surf competition in 1981.
Surf history was made during that competition. It was the biggest Bells of all time with twenty-foot waves.
The winner, Simon Anderson, also introduced the world to three-finned surfboards, compared to the single fins that most riders were using.
Tim Bonython captured it all on his Super 8 movie camera.
“I filmed it, came back, processed my film, edited it down and within two weeks had it on the big screen down at the Victoria Hotel. We had a line going down the road for half a mile trying to get in. I thought this is it, this is my life,” Bonython says.
“Here I am literally thirty five years later, still doing what I've always done, still loving it, still got the dream, passionately alive and well.”
Bonython tries to capture the same heady atmosphere of those early film-showings with the Australian Surf Movie Festival. In its twelfth year now, he tours the festival around the country, showing off some of the best national and international surf stories around.
“Twenty years ago we didn’t think Australia had waves that are as exciting as they are when you look at them now. The only place you could document really big waves was Hawaii – they literally break off the beach.”
Bonython says he comes back to South Australia when the conditions are right. The big waves he has found here are typically more remote – harder to reach, and often closely guarded secrets by local surfers.
“Big waves were never really in my mind for South Australia. But since I've been away, living in Sydney, I worked out there are some amazing waves here. I get amongst it and film the better ones. The locals can be pretty protective but we have a good relationship.”
Most of the biggest waves in the state can only be reached by jetski or boat. Bonython says the best ones to document can be life threatening.
“You need really high-end big wave surfers who know what to do when it's that extreme. You're more exposed to Great Whites too,” Bonython says.
Despite big leaps in technology that allows him to shoot in high resolution and at high speeds, the experience hasn't changed too much. It's still about going out and making good movies – though he's been spared 'a lifetime of looking through shitty viewfinders' as cameras have gotten better.
“The secret to my films is that the ocean is the star. If you can make the ocean look amazing, then the surfers just enhance that moment. The ocean looks so dramatic and spectacular, if someone can surf it and make it look easy, then obviously I've got the right formula and the right chemistry to get what I need.”
The festival has toured Australia and lands in Adelaide at the Mercury Cinema on Saturday 13 December.
“People say, 'geez, you make great films.' Well, thank you. I suppose if I was an architect for forty years I would probably make some good houses by now too.
“Dad always said just do what you love and everything will come with it. I have a lifetime of experience, a lifetime of great memories, a lifetime of footage that's involved incredibly in the forty years I've been filming. It's been a good ride.”Jump to next article