When ‘One More Wave’ was almost one too many for this photographer

“One more wave” are the three most dangerous words in surfing. Freely translated into any language across the world, we all understand it to mean “I’m here for at least another hour of this…” It’s hard science, a verifiable fact when it kicks in .

Sydney’s Byron McLoughlin found himself in this familiar and haunting ‘one more wave’ area on a recent trip to Indonesia and came away with a war story and some lessons that he will carry on for a very long time – thankfully still completely intact and without losing the camera he thought he had to part with more than once throughout the story.

It was the young photographer’s first trip abroad and he identified Padang Padang for a handful of strategic and creative reasons: the beautiful natural landscape and unmistakable cliffs, the positioning of the wave with the sun and the handful of shots in backlight that it would provide.

The talent in the water and the waves was as good as he hoped, turning one particular session into an afternoon McLoughlin couldn’t bring himself to enter. He had entered the water at 2 p.m. and was still in the water at 8 p.m. As you can imagine, he said to himself “one more shot“A lot at this point.

“I knew I was pushing and I knew I should have been happy with the shots (I already had some),” he said. “I tried to get in there, but every time I went there another round of bombs would come and it kept bringing me back there.”

However, one of these bomb sets did not just attract him to the formation. He ripped the fins off his feet and left him scrambling to find a way to navigate the impact zone. The current took over and carried it away at will.

“I knew I had issues, I still had no local knowledge of this place as it was my first time here. It was getting darker and darker and I decided to scream for help.

Two South African surfers came to help him, paddling while he held on to their surfboard leashes. But without flippers on their feet to help kick and a heavy camera body, McLoughlin felt like they were towing dead weight. He was tired, it was dark and two strangers were risking their lives to make sure he wouldn’t be in danger. McLoughlin admits at this point that he thought the worst could happen and he considered dropping his camera, but the band came up with another plan instead. One surfer paddled for help while the other waited with him. Almost an hour later, they saw lights and heard whistles.

“We just waited for the tide to come in a bit, then with a quick thought the guy decided to grab my camera, give me his board to lay on and catch a wave as he let his leash go plank on his leg,” he describes. “It was basically a tandem wave.”

He adds: “I remember freaking out a lot, telling them both, we need to call the appropriate help – police, ambulance etc. But they kept reminding me where I was – Padang Padang – everything is on a cliff here. Nobody can bring a boat or a jet ski here.

They eventually returned with a battered camera, a handful of reef cuts and some valuable encores for McLoughlin.

“Your mindset in this situation and your ability to stay calm and composed as the beatings and the restraints keep coming and going…this will determine whether or not you become a statistic or just have a heartbreaking story to tell guys later,” he says. “As soon as you think you have understood everything about Mother Ocean, she will quickly humiliate you and remind you that you are entirely at her mercy.”

And the other courses? McLoughlin now says he realizes the importance of never leaving too late or being afraid to ask for help. The young photographer is no stranger to taking his camera to the heart of harsh ocean conditions. Yet a humble piece of pie can be served to any of us at any time.

“I could have called for help several times because the surfers were coming,” he says. “But my mindset is still stuck on calling for help only when you really need it, not when you feel like you’re in trouble.

And in the end, he came back with some solid, amazing footage on his camera roll.

Photo: Byron McLoughlin

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