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The Real Story Behind That Boat Captain in Viral Video Viewed 650,000 Times

The Real Story Behind That Boat Captain in Viral Video Viewed 650,000 Times

It's a video that has reverberated around the world, with close to 700k views. Now, the true story behind the driver of the boat has come to light.

Last week, here on Fstoppers, I introduced to you a video of a motorized boat with about 15 passengers on board, including world famous surf photographers and surfers, such as Ted Grambeau and Aritz Aranburu, almost getting launched vertically backwards over a huge breaking wave onto a razor sharp reef below, with the engine still running. Chaotic scenes ensued as photographers jumped for their lives, jet skis frantically circled upended passengers, and horrified onlookers screamed in shock. Commentary after the event was varied, with many people taking a potshot at the boat driver, saying he had unnecessarily risked the lives of all those on board and that his license to drive should automatically be ripped up and tossed in the trash can for being so foolhardy and careless. 

In a new twist, a veteran cameraman based out of Tahiti, Tim McKenna, who was on the boat at the time, has given his version of events. According to McKenna, the boat driver, Eric Labaste, was an absolute hero during the unique set of circumstances that presented themselves and not, as many have claimed, a reckless driver who could have killed everyone on board. McKenna said that after the first wave came through, which you can see on the video, a photographer on board caused the problem and everything that ensued.

In his own words, he says: "after that [first] wave, one of the photographers on our boat stood up without securing himself. In a flash of a second, he slipped, falling out of the boat, camera in hand. Eric looked back to see how we could pick him up. The couple of seconds spent assessing the situation of how to rescue him put the boat in a critical situation as the second wave of the set started to break even closer to the channel. Eric, instead of accelerating full throttle which would have launched the boat and thrown everyone overboard, stayed calm, stabilizing the boat ready to handle the face of the approaching 12ft wave but with an additional problem – a jet ski blocking his passage. Eric, fisherman by trade, is the most respected, experienced waterman at Teahupoo and the Fenua Aihere area. His positioning, understanding of the Teahupoo channel and the way the wave breaks is unparalleled. Most of the photos and footage that has been seen worldwide has been shot thanks to Eric’s expertise."

So, it seems that other factors were at play, making the boat driver's handling of the situation far more praiseworthy than might have been imagined or deduced from first viewing. What are your thoughts? Do you think McKenna's explanation absolves the driver of all blame? If you've seen any footage over the years of Teahupoo breaking, so much of it has come from photographers in that boat. Sometimes, things go awry, but it seems that if you were in a situation like this at Teahupoo, you'd definitely want Eric Labaste as your boat driver. I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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I won't say I don't believe his account but I don't look at the video and say, "Yeah, that makes sense." What I see is that everyone gets sprayed, including the camera man as the first wave passes. A jet ski prevents the pilot from immediately moving forward. I don't see the pilot look back at all. The photog on the back does stand but immediately braces when he sees the second giant wave. He was unsecured on the back so he's screwed no matter what position he's in. Like a surfer, he seems to decide that it's better to dive into the wave at its trough rather than being lifted up and having the wave and potentially the boat slam down on top of him. None of this is to argue that the pilot is to blame.

With all due respect.. Bullshit. None of the several people thrown overboard were wearing lifejackets or PFDs.. That is the "captains" responsibility...And I am a "Captain" of my own vessel of comparative size. I am also a professional video photographer, with extensive experience in mass photo events.. The captain should lose his license on the simple fact that each and every passenger did not have a lifejacket, particularly in those size seas.

They all old enough they knew what could happen they had a choice to get on that boat or not. Besides that how's the person in the front like a boss