I was once told that ‘Slabs Don’t Sell’. And it’s true. I don’t sell as many prints of these misunderstood creatures as one may think. But I’ve never been able to prioritise financial gain. The things that evoke me, and captivate me, have always, and always will, take precedence.
A “Slab” for the ill-informed, is a title that us surf photographers give to a body of water, a swell line, that moves quickly from deep water onto a very shallow and contoured rock platform, forcing this large mass of swirling water to throw itself over into a thick lipped, mutated, monster of a thing, before dissipating back into the ocean.
“It’s all in my mind, it’s all in my mind.” I repeat to myself, over and over again, doing my best to maintain what I know is most important in such a moment; composure. “One more set, one more shot, and I’ll jump back on the jetski.”
It’s an overcast, gloomy kind of day, the wind is a stiff offshore and I’m suited up in my hooded full suit, treading water at depth of about 3m, relatively warm. Warmth wasn’t a concern for me right now though, nor was the power of the water moving all around me, as I interpret the currents to stay in position. I periodically find myself looking under the surface and into that deep, clear blue, temporarily satisfying my anxiety. “There’s nothing there. Just me and the ocean.” I continually reassure myself. Now, I’m a man of faith, and I believe that God is greater than my circumstance and I truly, know that in my heart. That’s really the main reason i was in this situation, because I trust Him. Nevertheless, my peace of mind, continually wrestled with my reality.
Earlier that morning, my good friend Matt and myself had awoken well before the sun had made any decisions for the day. We launched the Jetski while the ocean was still as dark as night, and motored through the unknown blackness, of surging swells, and open ocean currents, navigating by the first light of day that was beginning to illuminate the earth. I was nervous, partly because I had come such a long, long way for such a small window of possibility for the elements to align in our favour, and also, because I was committed to sliding into the deep blue, to capture a few angles of our destination from the water.
Our location was literally a hundred miles from any form of civilisation, so remote, that a 360 degree view of where we were, could of easily been another planet. The only familiarities I had, was that I’d been here before, and now, I had returned. Something about this Slab had ushered me back, like a lost love, beckoning to rekindle a once great passion.
“What am I doing!?” My senses would demand, as my focus shifted from what could happen to what was happening; two things that weren’t so far from each other at this stage. I kept treading water, waiting patiently for a set.
“Incoming” Blakers would yell, as a dark line came into view, marching toward the reef. We were taking turns on the jetski, looking out for one another, a spotter as you will. Spotting? Spotting what?.. well.. we’ll get to that. Generally, I’d be concerned about my positioning in relation to where the wave breaks when there is an incoming set, hanging a little wide at first until I saw the first set wave, so I could have the upper hand in avoiding a clean up set by this relentless ocean power. In this case though, I found myself actually hugging up against the platform, ever so close to the impact zone, as if it provided some sort of comfort, from whatever else I believed was lurking around its perimeter.
As the wave approached, for a brief moment, my attention shifted to my camera, and with a quick wipe of the lens, I was tracking the formation of this dark line through my viewfinder on my AquaTech housing rig, finger poised on the shutter. 10, 12 frames fired off, 3-4 seconds of bending water and a gravity defying display of moving ocean, before it dissipated into a foaming pit of frothing whitewater. The wave passes over and I’m immersed, again, staring into that deep blue, reminding me, of where I am.
It’s a trending topic these days that sharks are friendly creatures, that mean no harm to humans, and the odds of one mistakenly identifying a human as a food source is literally 1 in a million. Well, those odds start to stack the opposite way when you assemble a little more of a scenario like the one I was in. Miles from help, frolicking off the tip of an open ocean ledge, that descends into water deep enough and dark enough to accomodate a creature of any size and appetite. I happily agree that sharks are not interested in us, I’ve personally swam with enough to know that first hand. However, the sharks down here, they are a different breed. And when you’re in there home, they are not all so friendly..
I’ve been asked a few times; Do you ever get scared? I think if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be human. What I’m afraid of most though, is losing out to that fear. Having a false belief overcome me, and render my mind temporarily convinced, that what is before me, is greater than what is within me. I always act within reason and considerable foresight, but I would never want to live a life that is ruled by fear, where my decisions and emotions are influenced more by the circumstance I’m in, than by what my trust is in. That, would be what I’m afraid of most. Practically speaking though, the pictures that my mind can paint, can be difficult to overcome at times, especially when I’m so susceptible to a myriad of unfavourable scenarios. So the thing that makes me the most anxious when I’m out shooting waves like this, would be an encounter with a white shark for sure.
The conversation about trusting in God and encountering a shark could go a number of different ways, both, in my experience, are very miscommunicated and poorly understood subjects to the general public, but one thing I do know for sure, is that that ones opinions on sharks and God would most likely be a lot different if the conversation took place while treading water, miles off the coast of South Western Australia. Everyone has something to say while sitting in there living room, but those dark, southern waters will squeeze out what’s really inside of anyone!
Eventually, I’ve had enough, and begin to swim back to the Jetski, keeping an eye on my surrounding environment, before climbing back up, to a slightly improved level of comfort.
What drives me to do this? What on earth has compelled me to be swimming out here, in the middle of nowhere, completely vulnerable to God knows what, taking photos of a wave.. To be honest, I’m yet to have an accurate answer to that. After all, Slabs Don’t Sell, or so I was told.. so that pretty much rules out monetary gain as my motivation. Even so, the slab may not bring me fortunes, but I can’t help but continue to pursue that which captivates me, turning what I’m passionate about into an art form that others can learn from and appreciate. Only this way will I eventually achieve something or learn something that money could never have provided. For I’ve learnt that wherever my passion leads me, is a stepping stone to something greater than what I am currently doing.
There is something about the slab, something so unique, that keeps drawing me back, again, and again, and again. Maybe it’s the way they move, the water that bends and refracts into shapes and obscure figures, each radically different from the next. Maybe each one is telling a story and I can’t get enough of their tales. Or maybe, they are proclaiming a greater truth, in a language that I can’t quite yet understand, a language that I can only observe for now.
I’ve curated a special collection of photographs from my recent trip to the remote wilderness of Western Australia, where some of the most fascinating and formidable slabs are found. I hope they move you in some way and reveal to you something beautiful about this world that you can resonate with and take away with you. And maybe you will have a new found respect for the infamous ‘Slab’.
Honestly, it’s an incredible privilege to be able to do what I do, apart from the safety concerns, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I was born with a passion for the sea, to tell it’s stories and showcase its wonders. If you already own a piece of Thurston Photo ocean art, thank you. I hope it’s revealing to you, a new part of its story every day. You not only support my passion to inspire others, but you are part of a far greater story, a story that encourages others to find purpose and pursue, whole heartedly, what they love and what they are predestined to do in this life.
I also have to stress about how important it is to have someone like minded by your side to embark on such adventures with, for progression, accountability and protection. My mate Matt Blakers, is a legend. This trip would not of been possible without him. I say that about a lot of people but I do have some awesome people in my life. A good friend is one that you can mutually progress with, one that keeps you accountable to what you know is right, and one that has your back no matter what. I think that’s important to your own personal success too, because you can’t fulfil your purpose on your own. Learning from others, surrounding yourself with people that are on your wave length and that are moving forward is key, diligent, upright and passionate people.
There was one particular moment that I often think back on. It was our last session out on the water for another year. The conditions were flawless, it was late afternoon and a gentle offshore breeze had groomed the ocean, there was some decent swell lines around but a long wait between the big sets. We arrived at the spot, absolutely bursting with anticipation, we both new all the elements were aligned so we waited, without saying much, eager to see a set. It’s so strange how you can put in so much energy into pursuing a particular photograph and sometimes nature just doesn’t show up to the party. In this case, it started to become a bit like that. There were a few, but nothing spectacular, we were almost confused, in theory, it should have been all time, but reality never mirrors theory. Nevertheless, we continued to wait patiently as the light changed. Finally, a medium to large wave rolled in, and out of the corner of my eye I saw some backwash marching towards the opposing line, as if heading into battle. The anticipation was so great that I held my breath. I zoomed out a little and had my finger on the shutter. Then before our eyes, the ocean exploded into a dazzling display of water and light. Instantly, both Matt and I burst into a hysterical laughing fit, a mixed feeling of both joy and contentment. “What just happened!!” I scream, followed by another genuine belly laugh! We both had no idea what we were looking for, but we’d somehow found it in this split second moment, and we both knew it. No words were needed. I think back on such times and the real treasure is not in the photos, but in the moments shared with friends.
This is the photo of the moment:
It’s not just with photography missions but in every aspect of your life, it’s important to have the right people around you. The photos I take are more than just frozen moments, they are investments from multiple people that believe in me, that support me, and that empower me to go out and portray this unbelievably beautiful world we live in. Each year I’m having more and more people interested in investing into my work. Personal success is built upon a community of people and is a matter of consistent effort and decisions made out of healthy conviction to fulfil your God given dreams and desires.
So when I was told that Slabs don’t Sell, I was ok with that, because I’ve come to realise that I’m not selling Slabs, in fact, I’m not ‘selling’ anything. My photographs that I offer as fine art prints on my website are simply an invitation to others to be a part of my story. Because I’ve found that you simply cannot achieve success by chasing it, you won’t catch it, you have to dedicate your life to following your passions whole-heartedly, and one day, you’ll look back on it all and realise, that success was chasing you.
Thank you for being a part of Thurston Photo,
Below are a selection of images from the new Thurston Photo 'Chasing Slabs' Collection.
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