Vague à l’âme – Waves of the Soul

Billabong’s Adventure Division set out to discover the story behind big wave surfers and capture the best possible waves on camera.

In a film which took three years to shoot, Vague à l’âme – Waves of the Soul – features Monster Energy athletes, Benjamin Sanchis and Shane Dorian tracking down the biggest swells in Europe, all shot in 4K.

 Words: The Versed
 Media: Billabong
 

The beginnings

One of the film’s stars and surf legend, Shane Dorian, began his focus surfing big waves in 2003. After spending 11 years touring the World Championship as a professional surfer, Dorian turned to big waves at the age of 30 after reaching as high as fourth on the ASP World Tour in 2000.

It all began for Dorian on a beach in his home country, Hawaii. His parents, of which his father was a stunt-double to Elvis Presley, ran a restaurant on the beach. Shane’s young age meant he couldn’t wait on the tables, so he spent most of his time in the ocean, becoming at ease with the sea from the very beginning. However, it wasn’t until a change of scenery and a group of friends that sparked Dorian’s interest in big wave surfing. 

“I lived somewhere where the waves never got big, and then when I was in high school, I moved to another island – on the north shore of Oahu – and the waves are really big there, especially during winter. I moved in with friends who surfed these big waves all the time, so it kind of happened by peer pressure, but then I realised, I really enjoyed it”.

 

Learning from others

Shane’s openness to being pushed by others has remained with him throughout his career. When we questioned him on the best piece of advice he would give to someone considering big waves, his answer exposed the importance of community:

“The best piece of advice would be to just maintain perspective of why you’re doing it. There’s a lot of awards, sponsorship and accolades, but the guys who get really good at it, are just the ones who really love it. So as long as you keep perspective and don’t waver from that, that’s the best shot you’ll get at becoming really good.”

Shane’s own perspective and feet on the ground approach has won him awards including everything from Ride of the Year to Best Overall Performance at the WSL Big Wave Awards, as well as good friend Kelly Slater referring to him “[surfing] like a cat on acid”… we’re assuming that’s a compliment.

Passing on the baton

At eight years Shane’s junior, Benjamin ‘Sancho’ Shanchis, who also stars in the film, still looks set to turn plenty of heads in the big surf world having previously won the Billabong XXL Biggest Wave Award for a 60-foot beast at Belharra.

Sancho made a real name for himself after attempting to surf a 108-foot wave (33 metres) at Nazare, Portugal in 2014; the current record stands at 24.4 metres, surfed by Brazilian, Rodrigo Koxa, last November.

However, Sancho fell three-quarters of the way through the wave which then took him three hours to get back to the harbour. Still, the Frenchman’s quest to surf a 100-foot wave remains very much alive.

Respect

The pair’s crashes in the swell and respect they have in the ocean are traits which they cited as crucial if you wanted to succeed as a big wave surfer: 

“The most important characteristic is to realise there is no faking it. If you just think it’s trendy, and want to do that ‘big surf thing’, you can’t fake it; if there’s a massive wave coming, you can’t just make it up as you go along.’

‘Once you hit a big wave, there’s no: ‘oh this is the wrong wave’, you’re in straight away, and that split decision can change your life. It can put you in a wheelchair, kill you, or be the best wave of your life. It’s intense and it’s scary.”

 

Sacrifice

Despite the intensity and fear of surfing waves which can reach 100-foot, the pair suggested the hardest part of filming the documentary was the constant need to ‘be ready’. They had to be prepared to go out and film whatever the circumstances which would have required a huge amount of patience and commitment.

“The most challenging part was waiting for mother nature to produce. I’ll be in France and my kids have got something on, but if the swell comes, then everything else gets pushed to one side; whether it’s your wife’s birthday or Christmas, you need to go out there and get the waves.’

‘If it’s Christmas day and the waves are going to be the best, then Christmas is off. The swell’s don’t always happen. So the hardest part was just staying ready, because if it’s going to be another ten years for the best possible wave, then you don’t want to wait another ten years.”

Such patience also comes with the sacrifice of missed time with friends and family. But, mother nature won’t wait for anyone.

Watch the trailer to Vague à l’âme – Waves of the Soul here: