Rad, minging or both?

The jetski or PWC (personal water craft) has brought about some major changes in surfing in recent years from wave size ridden, photographic angle and rescue capabilities. But if one of surfing’s fundamental pleasures is being immersed in nature, isn’t that kinda hard with the roar of an engine and the nostril-stinging aroma of gasoline?


Dr Tony Butt, Oceanographer, big-wave paddle surfer, Surfers Against Sewage director

(Tony’s response came with the following request: ‘All I ask is not to make me out as some bitter old bearded hermit lost in time who just wants to stop people enjoying themselves.’)

‘The jetski is a great invention for allowing photographers and surfers fast and safe access to previously inaccessible waves. They are also useful for rescue purposes and, of course, for towing people in to waves that are inarguably beyond the limits of paddle-power. The problem is, the jetski and towsurfing are examples of modern inventions that can be extremely useful in the right hands in the right place at the right time but, similarly to perhaps television or the internet or mobile phones, they are also wide open to abuse by weak-minded members of society. I don’t think anyone would disagree that being in the water trying to surf with one or more jetskis buzzing around is not a particularly pleasant experience. Is it OK to pollute if you’re having fun? If the pollution is ‘local’, in other words you are directly stopping someone else from enjoying themselves (like smoking in front of someone who is eating) then you are being deliberately selfish. This is what happens when people tow-surf when other people are trying to paddle surf. If, on the other hand, you are contributing to a more ‘global’ form of pollution, then it is more difficult to quantify. For example, by surfing using normal boards and suits, and driving to the beach in our cars, we may be contributing to global warming just not quite enough to stop our own grandchildren enjoying the natural environment in fifty years’ time. Using a jetski might or might not just put us over that threshold.’


Fabrice Gelez, Pro Surfer, tow-at advocate

‘I started towing-at two years ago during a trip to Western Australia with the photographer Twiggy (RIP), Taj Burrow and Damon Nichols at Supertubes. It was right after the Taj chopper session that was in the video ‘Fair Bits’ and I saw him do three or four amazing air reverses without even getting his hair wet, and I loved it instantly. Using a jetski doesn’t bother me at all, morally or otherwise – if it did I wouldn’t bother doing it. For me tow-at is complementary to surfing, it enables you to improve your technique in the aerial moves. Honestly, when it’s summer and you’re struggling in two foot weak surf, it’s nice to be able to pull big airs. It’s true that sometimes you go out with the jetski in ripable waves just because it’s super fun, but I always respect the line ups where people are. I stay away from others in the water, which is pretty easy, just go full throttle for a minute or so and I’m miles away on another bank and not bothering anyone at all.’


Vincent Lartizien, tow-in pioneer

‘I look at tow surfing as a totally different sport than surfing. And that sport involves a jetski, like car racing involves a car. I use a jetski when I need it; it’s as simple as that. Then on a personal level, I have a set of rules, an ethical approach to tow surfing. I never tow in a perimeter where there are paddle surfers and even try to put as much distance as possible to avoid bothering them with the engine noise. Trying to bother no one. The Hossegor area is a perfect tow-in playground in winter, with challenging waves and no one on them. The misuse we have witnessed the last few years comes from non-respectful behaviour encouraged by the media and commercial pressures. People need to tow in front of cameras, La Nord for example, is easier to shoot than outside Estagnots and unfortunately, that’s where paddle surfers are as well. And when you have 10ft faces at la Nord, outside Estagnots can be double that size, so the guys out there are definitely not getting the coverage they deserve. On a similar note, the tow-at is another example of media pressure. Jetskis are used to produce highest airs and photos that are more impressive and help sell magazines and images. In the future it’s all going to be about sharing the resource, and I hope it will regulate itself with respect in mind.’



Photos: Alex Laurel