Europe's biggest big-wave pursuits captured in upcoming “Vague a l’ame” project
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 31 December, 2016 - Lifelong surfer Vincent Kardasik grew up chasing surf along the French Atlantic before heading to Paris to follow his other passion, film making. As he honed his chops behind the lense and in the editing bay he started to film his friends, many of whom were rising stars in surf and skate. Now well established, Kardasik documents Europe's best big-wave sessions, shooting giant waves, and the surfers who chase them, from the back of a jet ski.
His latest project "Vague a l'ame" is launching this year. The new film from the Billabong Adventure division is built on the crazy antics and intense drama that stems from following Benjamin Sanchis, Shane Dorian and others as they pursue impossible surf from Ireland to Portugal and points in between. Vincent took time out to tell us how this latest project came about and why nearly dying is as close as we come to truly living.
Shane Dorian © Vincent Kardasik
Please give us a background about you and your film making and share with us something most people don’t know about surf film making.
I grew up on the French Atlantic Coast and I’ve been surfing since I’m 12 or something like that. I’ve always been attracted by movies, music videos and commercials, and as far as I can remember I’ve always been interested in trying to capture something with a still camera or a motion camera. I had really limited access to gear, or even knowledge, so after high-school I decided to learn audio/visual and moved to Paris and started working as an assistant director on scientific documentaries. I took the first job I found. For a 21 year old it was not really intense, but I had access to all kinds of cameras and I could spend hours in edit rooms with people doing that forever. It was also the transition between analog and digital and even if the new gear was really expensive, all the cinematographers I was working with had the feeling that pretty soon prices would drop and it would be easier to own cameras and editing stations and be able to work independently.
Anyway, back home, during week-ends or Holidays I always had a camera from work with me so I was spending my free time shooting my friends who were making a name in their surfing or skateboarding careers. After a while I’d been asked to sell some footage and I started making money out of it. Then I was sent on a trip and I had to pretend I was sick so I could skip my Parisian duties. After 6 months I gave back the camera I was borrowing. I took out a loan and bought my own. And of course I quit my job in Paris. I didn’t know then that I would then spend more than 15 years shooting surfing all over the world. The good thing is that the Paris work helped me get closer to bigger productions as a specialized operator, and since then I've worked on big budget movies and commercials, directed music videos - all this was my goal when I first moved to Paris.
What made you decide it was time to make a film like “Vague a l’ame”?
We were in Ireland with François and Benjamin after a good run of swell around Europe and nothing was working the right way… I was supposed to shoot from a ski but we forgot to book the driver, François whipped Sancho into an average, but still 20 foot wave, and the guy right after him scored what is still to me the biggest wave ever surfed at Maullaghmore. After a day like this we should have been depressed but that wasn’t the case at all. We got ready for the next day and we had an amazing session with the Sligo crew and ended up in the pub sharing Guinness. Of course the next day we almost missed our plane then François Liets pushed a wrong button in the lift and we got stuck with three businessmen for almost 35 minutes. They were so mad at us. But we couldn’t stop laughing and we could hear Benjamin snapping at us from outside because we had his board bag, and I realized that every time I do something with those guys, it was always a mix of drama and laughs. Add to that the three of us are borderline bi-polar so it always ends up in really awkward situations. We finally got out of the lift with six of my pelican cases and two massive board bags and the technician who rescued us asked me what we were doing: "Are you shooting a movie about big wave surfing?" I looked at François and I said we should do it. He replied "yes" with no hesitation and here is where our troubles started...
Benjamin Sanchis © Vincent Kardasik
What’s the film about?
After a few meetings we decided that we wouldn’t make a documentary about big wave surfing. There’s people and productions with better budgets and better skills than us to do that. We wanted to tell people what it is we do at winter time, what motivates us to leave home at the last minute to surf a cold slab or discover a new spot… I say "we" but I should instead say "they"… For me, Sancho and François, with their Adventure Division concept, represents what’s left of the true spirit of surfing. They are both able to quit everything for a couple of days or a week to live their passion to the fullest. François is obsessed with forecasts and sometimes he can’t sleep for days because he sees swell showing up on the map and he wants to predict what will happen where and when. Depending of his mood he might be looking for a huge left-hander or for a perfect barreling point. Sancho wants to surf all the best waves in the World and especially in Europe and even when he scores one he wants to go back and get it bigger and better. They are committed to their passion and I really admire that because we live in a time when people are trying to calculate the consequences of every act and word. For François and Benjamin, risktaking is everything and it’s more than just surfing a scary spot. I don’t know how those two will end up but one thing is for sure, they live without regrets because everytime they do something, they give it 100%… So yeah, I guess the film is about that… What about that for an answer? Ah ah ah!
You travel to big wave locations throughout Europe. Most of those spots seem to be close to a harbour, to launch the skis. Where is the scariest place to launch a ski in big surf?
Launching a ski is pretty easy… Falling from the ski while shooting is another story. My first time in Mullaghmore it was big, cold and snowy and I was ejected from the ski because I kept asking my friend Paul O’Kane to move at the last minute. I took one on the head with no fins and holding my water housing but for a brief moment I was like: "this is sketchy" then Paul being the legend he is grabbed me and put me back on the sled. I’m very lucky to work with two really experienced watermen and ski pilots, Paul in Ireland and Yann Benetrix in France. With those two I always feel safe and I can focus on my job...
Share with us a story about the time you almost died trying to get the shot (for this film or any other)
I never thought I’m going to die but I had those days when you come back home or to the hotel and you realize how alive you are and how good it feels… Recently Sancho, François, Miky Picon, Justin Becret, Seb Saint-Jean and Laurent Dulon surfed what I consider as the biggest waves ever surfed in Hossegor and it was really intense. We had that moment when a 20 feet set broke right behind us and Yann was pushing the ski as hard as he could and looking at the lip right behind us and the explosion of foam I had the feeling my heart just stopped… Like what the f… is happening to me. Of course we made it then Yann looked at me and laughed. He told me I was speechless and white like if I’d seen a ghost… Ah ah ah! I guess it’s called being scared!
Ireland © Vincent Kardasik
We are going to put you on the spot here… Please list the Top 3 most incredible things you’ve seen during your career as a film maker
I’ve already said too many things and when I start I can’t stop so I will only focus on the surfing part of my career… I’d say, in that order, first, Jamie Mitchell in Belharra, I’ve been shooting in Belharra since the guys went there for the first time and I’ve always been skunked so being able to capture that wave he paddled into was like a reward for all those time trying without success.
Number two would be an amazing session at Mundaka with all the local boys but also Andy Irons, Bruce, Kelly and some other guys from the Top 44 back in the day. I was shooting from the ski with my friend Alex Laurel and what we witnessed that day was beyond perfection. Andy schooled everyone then Kelly showed up and took two waves back to back and the level kept on grinding all day. The Andy/Kelly rivalry was at its peak and I had the feeling we were witness to a session that couldn’t happen anymore… You know the rest…
Third time was during the Quik Pro in New York, with my wife and partner Julie. We were the only non English speakers working in the middle of a big production and no one was taking us seriously. We were spare wheels and didn’t fit anywhere plus we had just purchased that beta camera from Red Digital Cinema which no one had back in the day in the surf industry and people thought we were crazy. After a week of headaches, on the final day we decided to move to the other side of the comp site shooting into the right with a huge telephoto while all the big scores were made on the left. More than anything we needed a break from the crew and the crowd and we set-up somewhere they couldn’t talk to us even with the radios. Nothing happened for a couple of hours then in the quarters, Kelly made that huge air-reverse and scored a Ten. We shot it from that unique angle and suddenly all the frustrations from the week and the event just disappeared. That the beauty of our sport!
Benjamin Sanchis © Billabong Adventure Division
Finally, what advice would you give to film makers just starting out.
I’m not sure I’m the best person to give advice to someone. But since working with François and Benjamin I realized I enjoy their company because in a way, I’m a bit like them. I decided to follow my own path and do what I wanted and not what people wanted me to do and even if it’s not easy every day I don’t regret any of my choices… So yeah, do what you want to do, shoot what you want to shoot and do your best to produce high-quality footage whatever your subject is and hopefully jobs and money will show up one day… If not, at least you would have tried.