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Portugal

A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

I woke up in the middle of the night to the musical stylings of inebriated tourists, screaming the lyrics of classic hit songs at the top of their lungs. The following morning was the same but different; 6 of 1, dozen of the other. We were constantly yelled at by aggressive bodyboarders for even looking at a wave in their lineup. Apparently in Portugal, whoever yells the loudest gets the wave.
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We swallowed our pride, surfed what was available and always anticipated tomorrow. This unfortunate continuance became an unbreakable pattern of our own perception. But where did we go wrong? The swell had arrived, our AirB&B owner played tour guide and we even found a Swedish local intel who advised where to surf with the various tides and wind. The wind. That damn wind! The idea that howling wind from the North was the new offshore is nothing more than a wolf wrapped in sheep’s clothing.

Moments of perfection is all you need to trick an Instagram audience. As far as everyone back home was concerned, we were absolutely scoring. Groundhog day had started to form within our crews routine: Up at 5am, to check every nearby break at first light and take advantage of our saving grace - light NE wind. Nothing says desperation like the salvation of cross-shore wind. Somewhere between our brief morning surfs and afternoon espresso, this wind would unfavourably switch and build, right on cue. Causing us to spend the rest of our precious daylight in a cramped van driving up and down the coast praying to find a nook or cranny for protection. Then finally settling for a Super Bock and a sunset, which is always a 5-Star rating.

For the media men of this particular endeavour, our productivity was compared to digging a hole in a brick wall with a tea spoon; You’ll get through eventually, just have to keep chipping away. We were running on the fumes of empty wine bottles and optimism at this point, to keep team moral high. The forecast continued to promise us our day of glory, but in reality we were continuously haunted by the undesirable Northern gusts. One day? One session? One hour?! That’s all we needed to be able to leave with some sense of accomplishment.

Noah’s surf film ‘Transition’ is what brought us all together and that theme of transitioning is what progressed our spirits and adjusted our attitude toward this search of unrealistic perfection. Somewhere between Michael’s early departure and Shannon late arrival is where we all transitioned to becoming content with our current situation. The weight on our shoulders was lifting, about what this was or what it could be. It’s never comforting to view photos and watch videos of previously pumping conditions, wondering “Why not here? Why not now?” It’s unbelievable how social media has unintentionally achieved perceiving that everywhere is always better than where you are. Comparison is the thief of joy.

With our stint in Europe coming to an end, we discovered all the cliche sayings were true: That good things do come to those who wait, persistence does pay off and nice guys do finish last. That last one’s ironic, I know. But on our final day of the trip, we were graciously blessed with a sweet breeze from the East. What we had been waiting for this whole time was ours to embrace. Not only that, but we discovered a completely empty beach break to enjoy all to ourselves. Not even a bodyboarder in sight. This time the only people shouting at us were each other, into set waves.

North Shore 2017

Sync with the Sea
by Marcus Paladino

My peripheral vision must have gotten the best of me as I stealthily watched the other lensmen repositioning themselves for an incoming attack on the horizon. These are guys like Laserwolf, Eric Tomlinson and Hawaii’s own Zak Noyle. To a world within the world, they’re considered gods among mere mortals. Documenting others execute the art of cheating death, all while laughing in the face of the grim reaper themselves, they perfectly time their dives in preparation for an approaching set wave that unexpectedly swung wide into the channel. Though I had already successfully avoided several rogue waves that session, I suppose fatigue was a factor for my indecisiveness and my poorly executed attempt was slightly delayed. I felt the roaring pound of the sea explode above me and gently caress the back of my legs as I swam underneath it, my body arched upward and I began to start surfacing, but felt the repercussions of my failure from the raw power of the Pacific Ocean in full force. It grabbed me by scruff of my neck and ripped me backwards, a definite horse collar penalty. The force simultaneously snatched the camera out of my predominant grip and I began to uncontrollably toss and turn while being dragged underwater. I was repeating to myself the wise words Zak had told me prior to swimming out together, "do NOT panic. The ocean will always let you go... Eventually."

Taking a set on the head was nothing new. I was fairly used to swimming in maxed out beaches back home and powerful slabs along the coast, but never in my life had I ever felt such intense energy like this. The North Shore has been known to make an example out of even the most experienced watermen. Time continued to pass and I wondered exactly when the ocean was planning on letting me go. I couldn’t tell which way was up. When I opened my eyes, all I saw was black. This was concerning, then I hit the bottom of the ocean floor. Thankfully the recent string of North swells had piled up plenty of sand to soften the impact. I was running out of breath, but was relieved to at least feel something limit my descent. I firmly planted my feet and pushed upwards, only to be rejected and sent right back to where I’d started. I regrouped and attempted my projection to the surface once more, but was denied again. Beat by beat my heart was pounding harder. The air was starting to escape my nostrils, bubble by bubble. I frantically pushed my fins away from the sand and started kicking as hard as could, only to continuously graze the toe-edge of my flippers repeatedly, as if completely anchored. I fought to swim vertically and was about to reach my lung capacity. Then, all of a sudden, a very real, unanticipated thought occurred. I’ll never forget the feeling of genuine curiosity and calmness it provoked. Without fear, panic, sadness, or anger, I subconsciously thought the most honest question anyone can ask themselves, "is the how I'm going to die?"

One week earlier, in the middle of the night, I was in the back of a cab at the Honolulu airport trying to recall all of Mike Brophy’s half asleep instructions on how to find the RVCA house. Through the poor service of my Canadian cell phone cutting in and out I remember hearing "just let yourself in." As if a loyal friend or family member, I was granted permission to make myself at home in a place I’d never been, surrounded by people I’d even never met. A few hours later I woke up on the couch to the sound of waves detonating on the beach, I stumbled over to the sliding glass door and pressed my face against it and let my eyes adjust. The world famous Off The Wall came into focus straight out front, steps away from the backyard. I was situated dead centre of the Seven Mile Miracle, all while simply standing in the living room in my underwear. “You get in late?” I had been startled to find a fellow underwear dwelling early riser, investigating me while I had been admiring his everyday view.

"Back in the 60's I use to draw a circle in the sand around photographers and say 'You see see this line? Do not cross it. I'll bring you food, I'll bring you beer, just keep shooting." Herbie Fletcher explained as we drank our morning coffee together. He would ask trivia-like questions, putting my surf history knowledge to the test. As a Canadian, I don’t think he actually anticipated a correct answer from me, nor did I ever end up giving him one. But he would enthusiastically explain to me about the culture his generation created for us and the impact his family had on our sport. I use to think that I knew enough about the history of surfing, the North Shore and the Fletcher family. That is, until I sat down with the man himself and had him explain it to me as thoroughly as he did. RVCA is more than a brand, it’s a family. Uniquely sponsoring all walks of life; Surfers (shortboard, longboard and everything in-between), skateboarders, body surfers, photographers, musicians, graffiti artists, MMA & Jiu-Jitsu fighters, gourmet chefs, the Hawaiian Water Patrol and iconic legends like Herbie. Their presence in Oahu is undeniable, as they spend more than six weeks every winter bringing all of these completely separate advocates together to bond and get to know each other. Masters of their own universe, misfits in another. Outcasts who would never find each other running in the same social circles, living under one roof in one of the most beautiful places in the world. A delicate balance of opposites.

The television got completely harassed with profanity and applause, as we watched our fellow advocate Ricardo Christie battle for his professional competitive life at Sunset Beach. Exhaling with him on every maneuver, as if we were surfing with him at that very moment. We were opinionated with critique for the judges and other competitors wave quality in comparison, but Ric fell short in the final minutes and just like that, his QS year came to a close. Coming short of re-qualifying for the CT, after falling off ‘The Dream Tour’ last season. He joined us on the porch when he returned from the contest site, and we all gathered to acknowledge his presence. He was greeted with gestures of embrace but no words were said, none were needed. "The best things in life are when you commit" he explained as we celebrated that night. Whether it’s paddling into a steep wave, telling someone you love them, or following your dreams. Commitment is the first step in achieving anything worth pursuing, sometimes you have to take a chance on yourself. It’s what got him on tour, and it’s what got me to Hawaii. Dedicated to capturing high-performance surfing and pushing myself to show my value and gain experience. Taking the risk of swimming out at one of the most dangerous waves, because I was invited to join one of the best surf photographers in the world. People don’t get these kind of opportunities every day, and I wasn’t going to leave with any regrets. I was committed. Though, it may have been my lack of commitment as to why I ended up uncomfortably underwater in the first place...

The answer to that grave question was no. I was released from my underwater prison and finally given room to breathe. When I looked back and saw a second wave approaching, I knew my swim that night was done. As a right of passage, I took my well-deserved beating and was quickly washed up on shore. Giving the lifeguards on duty the thumbs up as I walked out of the water, I decided to take a minute to myself, and so sat on the sand watching the sunset burn up the sky. In that moment, I realized exactly how lucky I really was. To be healthy, loved, accomplished and most of all, truly happy. To be there, in the paradise I thought only existed in the movies and magazines. Being mentored by an icon like Zak, one of most genuine and down to earth human beings I’ve ever met. Supported by this incredible company and invited to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who I’m proud to now call friends. I laughed to myself and couldn’t stop smiling. When we walked back to the house, I was awaited by my newly acquired family on the porch with cold beers probing a question of their own... "How about that set Marcus took on the head?!"

Transition Story

By Marcus Paladino

 

Through the summer’s harsh afternoon glare, I barely saw this quick flash of a surfboard, followed by a waft of spray that rained down in the sun. The year was 2011, and I knew absolutely nothing about surfing. I had just moved to Tofino and one of my first days was spent combing around Cox Bay looking for something, or someone, to photograph. I decided to climb onto the rocky peninsula adjacent to the waves in hopes of getting a better view of this mysterious surfer. A young surfer caught my eye, clad in a bright red wetsuit and long blonde hair, his surfboard littered with stickers. I watched closely with my camera as he launched into the air off chest high ramps against the onshore breeze, grabbing his rail for control and throwing his tail with style into the rotation. Over and over again. I didn’t understand the monument of what I was shooting at that moment, but this was the first time that I ever truly witnessed high-performance surfing live. On his final maneuver, he stuck the landing in a comfortable recovery position and causally transitioned onto his belly to end his session. When I began the descent from my perch, I noticed that he wasn’t leaving the beach, he was instead walking toward me. This is how I met Noah Cohen.

Six years later, I’m still watching him through my viewfinder. Only this time he’s getting spat out of an overhead barrel while I’m screaming at the top of my lungs from the channel. We’re a mere three hours from civilization, situated at what SURFER Magazine’s archives claimed as one of ‘The 100 Best Waves’.  My throat aches, hoarse from the constant yelling and I can hardly feel my hands as I high-fived him on his way back to the lineup. The crowd is made up of only a handful of close friends, all of whom banded together on this particular voyage. The only person who isn’t braving the chilly waters of the Pacific is cinematographer Nate Laverty, who organized this entire endeavour and is diligently documenting from land. “Transition” is the name of Nate’s current project, which finally tells the untold story of professional surfer Noah Cohen.

Noah has been under the international radar, hidden beneath the wings of first generation Canadian professionals like Bruhwiler brothers and Peter Devries, but his unique upbringing from small town grom to free-surfer to competitor to potential Olympian is finally being told. Nate comes from a successful background in the snowboard and film industry for nearly a decade, and has recently been working closely with Canada’s Olympic Snowboard Team. This sparked the idea to showcase the progress of Canada’s qualification dreams to become represented in the first ever surfing category of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

Noah’s been asleep since takeoff, I know this because his snoring is keeping me awake. Since I’m someone who doesn’t sleep well in a fully locked and upright position, I am truly envious of his ability. “I’ve never worked with an athlete that would voluntarily take the couch, just so his filmer could get a good night’s sleep,”  Nate explains during one of our many layovers en route, emphasizing how refreshing it is to shoot such a generous, selfless, and hard working subject, which apparently is rare in the relationship between filmer and athlete.  After coming off of a very successful result at this years ISA World Surfing Games in Biarritz, a crew of us assembled to meet in Lisbon to complete the European leg of “Transition.” With the late arrival of our water videographer, Nate’s observation is proven and Noah voluntarily gives up his own room without question. Once again, Noah and I are situated in the same sleeping arrangement, with tiny wooden bunk beds. And again, without hesitation he instinctively climbs into the top bunk. This small observation could have been coincidence, but let’s face it, a half-asleep adult on the top bunk is an injury waiting to happen. I truly believe that he’s genuinely grateful to be in the position he’s in and wants to give back to those who choose to work with him in anyway he can. So, although some people say never go into business with friends, working with Noah is exactly how it should be: start out as co-workers but eventually shift into friendship.

The setting sun hangs, bouncing along the horizon throughout my blurred line of sight. Noah joins me from below the deck and hands me a cold cider, informing that the ginger infused in the beverage is helpful for seasickness. I’m embarrassed but grateful, and he sits down as we silently stare off at the burning skyline anticipating where we’ll be this time tomorrow. We’re currently on a 75-foot warship from the seventies dubbed the ‘SS Pretty Girl’ , in search of cobblestone a-frame perfection along the coast of Vancouver Island. This is just one of many filming locales that Nate has included in his vision. California, Nova Scotia, Peru, along with France, Portugal, and of course British Columbia. As the filming of volume one begins to wrap up, this particular trip has become more of a celebration than a day at the office. Surrounded by close childhood friends, Noah and his companions revel in the conditions under the crisp autumn sun, and being lucky enough to call it “work” has never made his surfing look so comfortable and at ease. Because that’s when he’s truly at his best. Not thinking about the photos, clips or heat scores. Just surfing, as it should be. Relaxed but precise, as he hits the lip of a set wave and gracefully transitions back down the face straight into another bottom turn, I once again find myself staring into the sun while shooting him from shore. It all reminded me of the kid with the long hair who thought he was surfing for himself, and still is.

 

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Published in 3Sesenta Magazine - Issue #195 (Spain)

Canadian Nationals 2018

This past weekend Wickaninnish beach played host to the 2018 Canadian National Championships and I'm honoured to have been asked by the Canadian Surfing Association to document the event. Out of the 8000+ photos I shot, 600+ were selected for the CSA but here I present you with a mere 40+ images. This gallery isn't actually a very good interpretation of the entire contest, these are simply a few of my favourites for you to view and enjoy.