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