There’s a quote by Tom Bilyeu that goes something like - work so hard and get so good at something that people will write you off as naturally talented.
These were the words going through my mind as I put together this interview with Trent Slatter.
Trent is honest, raw and refreshingly self aware about his reasons for photography and chasing big swells.
Trent is from South Australia but is known for his work shooting some of Australia’s heaviest slab waves off the coast of WA.
These waves aren’t just in his backyard and require effort, determination and a willingness to accept that, despite the best of forecasting, there’s still a chance that the fickleness of these waves may mean not getting a desired result at the other end.
It’s easy to sit at home scrolling through an Instagram feed and say things like “i’d love to do that” or “if only i lived near there i could go shoot that”.
But could you? and would you really? When everything that is required to actually do it is put in front of you, is it really something you would go through with?
Before i started these interviews, these kind of - behind the images, what goes into it - stories and information is exactly what i hoped to discover.
It’s one thing to “like” a photo, but it’s a whole new thing to gain a huge respect for the real person actually taking the image.
I have massive respect for Trent Slatter and his images will forever be enhanced when i see them.
I think a lot of people who read this will already know his work. But, if you don’t, head immediately to @trentslatterphoto and follow his page.
Then come straight back and read this great interview.
Adelaide, South Australia
What first made you pick up a camera?
I got into surfing late (early twenties) so most of my friends were often a lot better than myself, There were times when I didn’t have the ability to paddle out but wanted to still enjoy the trips and locations. A mate once wrote me off for using such a shit camera and said, if that was my joy WTF was I doing. It was like a light bulb moment. Constructive criticism is helpful.
Do you have any goals for photography career wise or is it just an amazing talent you have that brings you joy?
It’s not a talent but more so an evolution of a lot of time spent chasing waves. It feels right to end up at the pinnacle waves of WA. It’s like what all those years of chasing had trained us for.
How often are you shooting? Are you looking for specific conditions when you know the waves you chase will be on or is there an element of going anyway to see what happens?
I shoot between 2-10 times a year depending on weather conditions. I have a great fear of missing out so sometimes I go when it’s not ticking all the boxes just to kill those negative thoughts.
You’ve spent many years bodyboarding. Is it still a tough decision between riding or shooting or are you gravitating more towards photography?
Bodyboarding has caused me a lot of back issues the last few years and I haven’t been as keen to surf [as I’ve been] somewhat scarred. I don’t use a water housing so I run on a simple theory. If I could paddle out to shoot then I should be surfing. It helps keep a relatively defined line. A GoPro can kill any little fix needed.
You are known for shooting some of Australia heaviest waves, notably The Right and Cyclops. Can you take me through the experience of what it’s like from a promising forecast to anticipation on the morning of, to getting out there and actually seeing it firing? In addition, for most people that will never know, what is the feeling of being next to that much ocean power?
Watching and learning what swells do and how they behave is of great importance to me. As you get older the time is off minimal so strike missions are the norm. I wish I could hang on certain coast lines for weeks on end but it simply doesn’t put food on the table or pay for the damages created by these swells.
When I first started chasing the bigger swells I simply didn’t care whether I lived or died. Its a hectic thing to admit but as humans we can achieve great things when in this state of mind. I wasn’t gonna give it easy to my maker and somehow I showed myself what is humanly possible for Trent.
I can’t remember a session where at some stage I haven’t thrown up before hand. It makes me sick. I’ve had some bad times in the ocean that I choose to forget. Adrenaline is a beautiful thing but you have to read the warning signs and know when to walk away to fight another day.
The power is incredible, yet you can get immune to the reality of the situation. I work in partnership with my ski driver Ben Hodge so I don’t often look ahead and deal with that vision. It’s his job to keep us safe. I have a few spots that I shoot on land that can create a bigger buzz than shooting from a ski.
I imagine you have a memory card full of great images when you come in from an epic session. What are the elements needed in an image for you to pick it from the bunch and publish it?
I’m not sure I have taken a photo I like. Its sucks in a way and it does my head in. I much prefer looking at my mates gopro frames than my images, even though they may be of a lesser quality or not as close. In saying that I once got a good pic of Dean Morrison that I felt was the reward of years of training. I can’t cope with the industry itself and don’t submit photos unless it’s to help a mate get some coverage. I don’t need validation and honestly it takes away the joy of the session. I wouldn’t say no to a cover of a magazine but I also understand the reason behind why this hasn’t happened yet.
Do you have any bucket list waves (anywhere in the world) you would love to shoot?
I have more desire to chase some lesser known spots in the great Australian bight than the big name tropical setups you would expect. Big cold wet overcast slabs is what I’m used too and what I seek. But I like the idea of sitting next to Tim McKenna at a code red swell.
What is your motivation for doing what you do?
I have an obsessive compulsive disorder where I become hyper focused on a topic. After a few less than desirable outcomes from swell chases to the right I got stubborn and kicked my heals in deeper. I found myself doing anything to get to the position I am in now and without those initial failures I’m not sure I would be talking to you now. If it was easy I’m not sure it would be for me.
Any other parting advice for aspiring surf and wave photographers?
Throwing caution to the wind and going for broke can be an exhilarating feeling and can really show oneself how as humans what we can achieve. My life is different to yours and vice versa so comparing yourself to someone else is the worst thing I’ve ever done, and no longer will. You don’t need a double tap on IG to measure an image. That shit will destroy your soul. And be kind to others.
Dive into Trent’s world further here
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