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Slightly unconventional one this, but we were recently given this book by acclaimed photographer Ben Thouard, who is a regular contributor to our magazine (not least with that cover shot of Matahi Drollet from issue #6 which confirmed that barrel riding was indeed possible on a foil). Here's Foiling Magazine Editor Cai Waggett's thoughts on it after diving in…
Years ago, I guess some time in the early nineties, I was pretty obsessed with one particular hardback book that mysteriously appeared upon the family home bookshelf. How it got there I’m sure I’ll never know, but, growing up at home on the North Cornish coast in the UK, there were many surfer blow-ins throughout my teenage years, and I imagine someone gifted it, or unburdened themselves of it as they drifted onto their next port of call.
It was The Book of Waves, by esteemed former Surfer/Surfing Editor Drew Kampion, and was, as the title very much suggests, a compendium of beautifully captured ocean waves and swell lines from illustrious breaks around the planet, many of their names familiar to a passionate young surfer, such as I was at the time. I remember many hours lost to mind-surfing the waves found in Kampion’s book, and although I haven’t seen it for many years – it was lost somewhere amidst the dissipation of family life since – it was upon seeing Turbulences, Ben Thouard’s new book, that brought the memory of Kampion’s passion project back to mind.
However, whereas you or I might be able to relate to many of the waves in Kampion’s book, Thouard’s is – although very much still a project born of passion – a different beast, and a tribute to a watery world that only a small group of humans will ever truly know. It’s also a reflection of a photographer’s obsession and focus, and the self-induced solitude required of someone in his profession.
I’ve admired Ben Thouard’s work for some years now. The French surfer turned multi-award-winning photographer has that instinctual eye for the kind of image that most water sport adherents can only wish they were the subject of. Not afraid to find himself teetering on ledges high above a sharp and shallow reef below, or facing down the onrushing pointy nose of a surfboard, Ben’s wholehearted commitment to finding images that are not your everyday wave shots gets highlighted in this book. It should come as no surprise that one of the images from within Turbulences bagged him the prestigious title of Ocean Photographer of the Year in 2022.
The introduction to Turbulences gives us some insight into Ben’s no doubt common experience of transcending through the particularly heavy energy to be found in a line of solid Teahupo'o swell. It’s a very poetic rendering of an event that 99.9%+ of us will never be able to relate to – even those of us who duckdive regularly (and even those who do it at spots of consequence, such as Chopes) don’t get to experience the same kind contrast between peace and chaos. His words brought to mind the narration in Mickey Smith’s “Dark Side of the Lens” – it’s a job that no doubt both requires and inspires the poet inside, and I can’t think of a more practical way to describe the maelstrom that I’m sure he encounters down there on the regular.
The very first image we’re presented with in this book is a prime example of the watery superstructures Ben goes up against (or under) for his job. It sets the tone and offers a little context for what’s going on above, as Ben experiences its inverted and altogether darker side, below. For those who have ridden Teahupo'o, I imagine this to be somewhat of a “if you know, you know” image – few get to experience barrels that big and perfect, whereas Ben gets to experience them almost daily.
Thereafter follows the turbulence…
Throughout the book, Thouard's lens captures many bizarre and captivating formations… vortices in their most alien-like forms. Imperfect, yet mesmerizing, these formations are the result of an intricate dance between various natural forces – positioning, tides, surface winds, the angles of the reef below. Amidst this profusion of chaos, there is one image in particular that really stood out to me – a flawless, rope-like vortex encircling the wave's cylinder. Such symmetrical perfection amidst nature's inherent disorder serves as a reminder that within chaos lies occasional and stunning harmony.
Some of the images presented evoke a paradoxical sense of softness though, belying the turbulent collision of energy captured in each frame. This is masterful work by Thouard, who understands the difference that a fraction of a second added to the shutter speed might make to these dramatic moments of convergence.
Then there are the images of riders being mercilessly hauled by their straining leashes into the bellies of these aerated, barrelling beasts. At Teahupo'o I imagine this is an altogether far more tense experience than anything I can personally relate to… For these poor souls, the turmoil they’re about to face is likely to be prolonged, and all set to take place tormentingly close to the surface.
For Thouard, a passion became an obsession, which became his life. Ben is one of the truest watermen out there, battling gravity and physics, and probably even adjusting genetics given the amount of time he spends in the water. Through his lens, and laid out in this book, Thouard has managed to capture the fluidity, dynamism, and sheer force of the ocean, giving viewers an immersive experience of being on the underside of Teahupo'o’s towering waves. What really sets Turbulences apart from other books about waves, though, is Thouard's ability to capture the interplay of light, chaos and water, creating visually stunning compositions that evoke a sense of awe, offering up yet more testimonial to the incredible and infinite beauty that can be discovered within and upon our oceans.
To conclude, Turbulences goes some way in exploring the strange, strange world that Thouard occupies, and serves as a reminder to the rest of us that, despite a planet that is largely understood, there are still realms within our own atmosphere that remain exotic to the majority of us, and that nature’s unpredictable beauty is likely to keep us enchanted so long as there are talented individuals such as Ben Thouard out there willing to take the risks to capture it.