On the Third of July 2015 in the open ocean the only shadow cast was by a lone figure on an infinite horizon. His silhouette appeared then disappeared as the rolling swell lifted and dropped him relentlessly, effortlessly. He stood on the thinnest of crafts, a Stand Up Paddleboard. He was in an impossible place, on an impossible vessel, somewhere off the coast of Africa. It was perhaps the loneliest place on Earth. At the edge of every great historic moment there is a team of storytellers poised to document and share it with the world. The team at The Farm Film documented the 24 Hour S.U.P. Challenge that was attempted and achieved by Chris Bertish. What follows is an interview by The Farm Film’s Executive Producer Peter Sherlock.1.So what was your role in the filming of the 24Hour SUP South African Record that was achieved by Chris Bertish?
“Essentially my role was trying to motivate sponsorship so that we could film and document this achievement.”
2. What were the greatest difficulties you faced in filming the documentary?
“I think that we were shooting outside of our country and outside of our comfort zone. Although we do shoot internationally often its always easier when you are at home to ask people for favors, to get things done. When you are a thousand miles away from home it’s a little bit more difficult, especially in a country that does not have English as a first language, but I think we got all of that sorted. Of course the other difficulty was the weather and finding the right window and period to attempt the challenge.”
3. Tell us your favorite memory from the challenge?
“There are two really. The one was the end when Chris made it, of course it was really close to sunset, and it was a pretty emotional time because he had managed to do it! For the rest of us – all of the support crew – had been awake the whole night, some of us for 36 hours, and we had all put a lot of energy into it. That was a great memory. Also the visits by dolphins where they would come right up to the rubber duck to have a look at us. In fact at night, one dolphin popped up less than a foot away from me to have a look at us and see what we where doing. They would also visit Chris and check him out and surf off the bow wave of Wasabi, the Support Boat.”
4. Were you at any point worried about a particular aspect of the shoot?
“Yes, I worried about safety and about originating footage, as the sea is a dynamic environment, it is very difficult to operate in that environment, and specifically when you are looking through a lens it tends to exacerbate any movement. When you are on a little rubber duck, bobbing on an ocean using a long lens, you have the potential to make your viewer seasick. You want to be on wide lens which means that you need to be closer to the subject. This meant that you had to be really close to Chris, and there was always a concern that you would bump his board or knock him, or create a wake that could knock him off his board. Safety was a massive worry, particularly with the surge and transferring people from the rubber duck onto Wasabi. Wasabi would go from being a foot below the rubber duck to being 8 feet above it in seconds, so you had to commit to the transfer and go for it, but luckily no one was hurt and everything ran pretty smoothly.”
5. What camera did you choose to shoot with?
“The Canon 5D & 7D camera range, just because they are light and simple to handle. They also have great lenses and are easy to manage.”
6. Describe the coast and landscape of Vilanculos and what the surrounds were like?
“That is a loaded question because if you had asked me that the day before the shoot, I would have said absolutely exquisite and in truth it is beautiful there. The coast, islands and the ocean are beautiful. It’s full of life, there are lots of whales, fish and dolphins. On the day of the event, it just went the other way, as the ocean so often can, and it just became this lumpy, green, mean, S.U.P. eating monster! The only thing it had going for it was the warm water temperature. It was a real Jekyll and Hyde situation, beautiful before, beautiful afterwards, but oh my goodness, mean as a snake during!”
7. How many hours into the challenge did you really start to feel fatigued?
“We started at 16h00 in the afternoon, and the next morning from about 03h00 we started to feel fatigued. Just after sunrise you get through that fatigue and then you get your second wind. Then in the afternoon, you start just feeling more and more tired. That is the most dangerous time, because when you feel like that, you don’t necessarily make the right calls. I am happy to say that it all went fine.”
8. What were the weather and ocean conditions like in the beginning of the challenge compared to 12hours later?
“When we started it was perfect. We had a light breeze from behind, and a very small wind chop. Chris started on a very shallow sand bank, the water was probably 27 degrees in temperature, so everything was great. 12 hours in, we had 15 to 20 knots of wind and we had lumpy conditions. We had a wind driven swell, basically smacking sideways into an open ocean driven swell. It was completely opposite to when we started, it was ugly as all hell!”
9. How would you describe this experience in 3 words?
“It was Tough.”
10. Are you used to this type of adventure film making with The Farm Film?
“It’s what we thrive on, it’s what we crave, it’s what we want to do, situations that are not normal are what we specialize in. We really do have a ‘can do!’ attitude at this company and you know, whether its trekking for three days into a jungle into the middle of nowhere to shoot a commercial and having to carry everything we need in with us, to spending 18hours in a rubber duck. We can do it.”
11. What was the morale of the film crew like on the yacht as well as on the dingy during the challenge?
“The morale of the film crew and the crew on the boat was absolutely fantastic. My family helped on the boat, on Wasabi, my sons helped, my wife helped, my daughter helped. I think everyone really put their shoulder to it and made it happen. The trip back was awful, once we had got Chris on board and turned around to go back, the auto pilot on the yacht started playing up, so we had to physically steer the boat for about 14 hours to get it back to Vilanculos. A lot of people were seasick, so that was a bit tough. I was fine though. J “
12. Would you do it again?
“We did not have enough man power, but that was because of our financial constraints, but yes, I would do it again.”
13. What were the personal challenges you faced during the shooting process?
“It’s always difficult when you are responsible for everyone’s safety on set. The last thing I would ever want to be is responsible for someone getting hurt for a few frames of film. So it is trying to find that balance between risk and result, and it’s very difficult. I think that was my biggest personal challenge, because you want the result, but you certainly don’t want the risk, and you certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
14. Do you feel personally motivated from this experience?
“I think it falls well within my gambit of expertise as I’ve spent my life doing rather silly things. I’ve soloed an 18000ft mountain. I’ve surfed in places I should not have surfed. I’ve been into the desert in a broken vehicle and navigated by the stars for a week. I’ve done a bunch of stuff that is probably very irresponsible and certainly not very intelligent. So this did not motivate me in itself, the actual experience, but what was motivating was Chris’s determination. It is always motivating to see someone hit certain thresholds, whether it be pain or tolerance or intellectual. It’s nice to see them being able to punch through and resolve what ever is happening within them and to have the strength to keep going. One of my favorite sayings is from the movie The Art of Flight – ‘If you want authenticity you have to initiate it.’ For me this was just another example of exactly that, if you want first hand experience you have to get off your butt, get out there and do the hard yards and make it happen.”