Scottish big wave surfer Ben Larg launches globe-trotting film series

Filmed and edited by Antoine Couturier and Sam Howard of Northern Front, the series of short films will chart the Tiree native’s international wave-riding adventures while introducing viewers to some of the surfers he meets along the way. Interview by Roger Cox

Ben Larg surfing Nazaré PIC: @yurikodavidphotography
Ben Larg surfing Nazaré PIC: @yurikodavidphotography

When I hear that Scottish big wave surfer Ben Larg is out of the water due to a burst eardrum, I assume it’s because he’s taken a monster wipeout. This, after all, is the teen sensation who rode giant waves at Mullaghmore in Ireland aged just 14 and lived to tell the tale (in an acclaimed documentary, Ride the Wave, released in cinemas earlier this year); and who surfed super-size Nazaré in Portugal last winter aged just 16, forming a tow-in partnership with established big wave legend Nic Von Rupp. As it turns out, however, his injury, while surfing-related, has nothing to do with getting on the wrong side of Mother Ocean.

Back in Portugal for another winter season, and surfing a small-wave warm-up session at Nazaré, he got into an altercation with another surfer.

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"I actually got in a fight, or, at least, a guy picked a fight with me," he says. "He dropped in on a wave of mine, he was a bit older and he and all his mates ganged up on me. He ended up punching me just in the side of the ear and burst my eardrum. I never threw a punch at anyone – I was just walking backwards trying to calm the situation. It was a bit unlucky, but I guess sometimes surfers can be a bit aggressive."

"It was so unusual," he says, “it was the first time I’ve had any hassle in the water because I’m always super-respectful to the local guys when I’m surfing their spots."

The doctors have told him to stay out of the water for two-to-three weeks, so he’s resigned to missing out on any imminent big wave action. In the meantime, though, the 17-year-old has plenty of other projects on the go, not least working on plans for his new film series, Ben Larg: Beyond the Island, the first instalment of which has just been released on the Magic Seaweed website.

The island in the title is the Isle of Tiree in the Inner Hebrides, where Larg grew up and learned to surf, and the new series will chart his adventures further afield while introducing viewers to some of the surfers he meets along the way.

The first episode, Ride the Line, finds him on the north coast of Scotland in the company of another islander, Hawaiian Nathan Florence, brother of world champ John John, and one of the most respected big wave specialists in the business.

Larg, now Red Bull sponsored, preparing for another go-out at Nazaré.

With a large and unruly swell running, the original plan had been for Larg and Florence to meet up at a little-surfed reef-break to the west of Thurso and use Larg’s jet ski to tow each other into the thick, barrelling waves exploding over a barely-covered rock shelf. When the ski refused to start, however, it looked like the gig was off – until Florence showed up, took a quick look at the barely-surfable conditions, and decided they should try paddling into waves under their own steam.

Big wave surfers don’t just use jet skis to help them catch waves, they also use them to get safely outside the impact zone to where the waves are breaking, and to make rescues when things go wrong. Florence’s suggestion, then, was something of a gauntlet thrown down, so it was impressive that Larg decided to follow his lead. And thanks to the way the film is shot and edited by Antoine Couturier and Sam Howard of Northern Front – focusing as much on the hazardous journey off the rocks and through the breaking surf to the line-up as on the actual surfing – you don’t need to be an experienced surfer to understand the magnitude of what’s being attempted.

"When we rocked up to that wave I was pretty hesitant to surf it," says Larg. "The swell wasn’t really from the right direction and the wind was all over the place – it was huge, as well, massive – but as soon as Nathan rocked up he was like ’right, let’s go!’"

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"I’m never, ever scared when I’m surfing, like when I go to Nazaré I’m always super calm, but that day I was feeling a bit nervous. I was just like ’Ah, I’m gonna take it easy, take a slow paddle-out. I never got a proper wave, but it was great to watch Nathan surf – he’s probably the best slab surfer in the world."

Ben Larg in the Red Bull locker room at Nazaré, just two doors down from the legendary Kai Lenny.

While Larg may have had a difficult time on that particular day, the two surfers both scored good waves at the ever-reliable reef at Thurso East, and the tail-end of the film shows them cutting loose there (and at other nearby spots) with locals Finn MacDonald and Craig McLachlan.

For the next film in the series, Larg says the plan is for Couturier and Howard to visit him in Nazaré – a place where he is evidently starting to feel more at home, in spite of the recent surf-rage incident. Partly this is because he recently signed a sponsorship deal with Red Bull, who have a big presence in the town. “That was a big one for me,” he says, “a dream come true. The second day after I got to Nazaré, I knew I was going to be meeting the crew from Red Bull. We went out for dinner and the manager of Red Bull UK, Harry [Drnek], said ‘Oh, we’ve got a surprise for you’... so that was pretty cool.”