Who The Hell Is Leroy Bellet?
A look into the photographer (literally) behind some of the most unique surf photos yet.
Mateship in Australia is no joke. Unshakeable brotherhood is deep-rooted in the Australian way of life, starting way back when the Anzacs ran side-by-side into certain death at Gallipoli during World War I. Australians are a different breed when it comes to fraternity. It’s the reason Julian’s first instinct was to go after Mick in that final in South Africa and why Leroy Bellet sacrifices his own safety in the best interest of his best mates.
Leroy Bellet is 16 years old and hails from Ulladulla, a quaint bit of coastline void of nightlife and distraction. Charming bakeries, farm-to-table eateries and good ol’ boys watching rugby in the pub are the norm here. Ulladulla is a breeding ground, however, for the hardest chargers in the country, courtesy of a seemingly endless number of slabs and setups. It’s the kind of place where the man who fixes your toilet is the kingpin at the spot you want nothing to do with. And the studio in which Leroy works with Russell Bierke and friends, a wave called Nobody Town, isn’t far from where Leroy grew up. “That wave comes to life during crazy storms that send big swells from the Antarctic,” says Leroy. “It’s a big, right-hand slab over a nearly dry rock. But it’s so pretty and serene out there. It always has the best natural contrasts.”
Unfortunately for Leroy’s bone structure (and general well-being), he befriended Russell in primary school. “I can’t pinpoint the first time I met Russell. We grew up in the same area, attended the same school and surfed the same waves. I’ve known him for a couple of years but he is two years older than me so we’ve never been real tight.”
And when did Leroy first start shooting Russ? “Just recently. We’ve both been growing in our respective fields so it’s mutually beneficial for us to work together. At the same time, I always make sure I’m never riding on Russ’ coattails. Maybe his leg-rope, but not his coattails”
Leroy and Russ are pushing each other both in the water and out, excelling academically despite their spotty attendance. “Yeah, it’s definitely tricky balancing shooting and school. I only had 47 percent attendance last term after a trip to South Australia. It definitely makes me more productive when I am at school, though. And Russ and I both make sure we keep up on our work.”
The danger-driven duo got the idea to double tow from watching French photographer Laurent Pujol. “I have a huge respect for Laurent and his work. To be the very first guy to get on the rope behind someone must’ve been really strange. It has such a dramatic impact when looking at the shots; it really makes you feel like you’re there riding the barrel. I think a lot of people that don’t surf can look at these images and have a healthy respect for them, and we all have Laurent to thank for that. When I decided to try this I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just stealing his idea. That was the inspiration for the flash: I knew I had to add a little something.”
A flash. And reef. While Laurent tows thumping sand-bottom beachbreaks around Hossegor, Leroy’s doing it over a f–ked-up shallow, rock-bottom shelf. Is he a masochist? Maybe.
“It seems like I’ve been showing up to school with a new injury every week, and my mom is genuinely worried that my teachers think I’m getting beaten up at home or something [laughs]. I’ve split my head open twice, had stitches and staples, and I’ve torn my MCL. But, most sessions, I just get a few scratches and bruises from the board, camera or reef. And now I’m wearing a helmet and padded vest to protect myself a bit better.
“I always have this little thing that I say to myself in my head: ‘Bad things to me mean good things for me.’”
Hey, whatever works.
Leroy’s commitment to the photos he’s after doesn’t allow him to exit the barrel alongside his subject. “It’s pretty rare that I make it out of a barrel. My best shots are from when I sacrifice myself really deep. If I do get spat out it’s a bonus, but it’s only happened a handful of times out of hundreds of waves I’ve tried this.”
And how many boards does he break in pursuit of these images? Zero. “I ride a 6’0” heavily glassed tow board shaped by local shaper Vern Jackson. It has survived an absolute flogging — I actually ripped two fins out on the wave that the cover is from.”
I pressed him further about that session. “I hadn’t been all that successful until that point. We were trying to push the flash shot in the dark before the sun got too high, but hadn’t really linked up. After about an hour, just as the sun had risen a fair bit, this bomb rolled in. The wave had steps in front and no water underneath, but it had a real perfect shape to it and we rolled right in. I got absolutely blasted a second after the cover shot. I landed sitting straight on the bottom, with no water to break the fall.”
Christian Fletcher once said: “If you come out of the barrel, you weren’t deep enough.” It’s safe to say that young Leroy took that statement to heart. And the bold youth agrees. “Even the surfer in front doesn’t often make it out of the barrel when we’re doing this. But that’s the thing, shoulder-hopping isn’t gonna produce anything worthwhile.”
Have a look here at Leroy’s latest edit, Double Or Nothing, which displays this youthful crew’s beautifully reckless antics.
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