Surfer/filmmaker – Justin McMillan | Interview by Ben Horvath. Drone clip & photos by Justin McMillan.
Justin McMillan was born and bred in Kiama on the south coast of NSW. He now lives in Byron Bay with his young family, surfing on the far north coast of NSW. Justin devised Storm Surfers featuring Tom Carroll and Ross Clarke Jones as well as Dangerous Banks films that have screened in 100 countries and garnered more than 1 million video views online. Justin just returned from a Mentawai surf charter Naga Laut that he booked through The Perfect Wave with a bunch of mates.
Ben Horvath (BH) – Where are you from, what do you do for work and where do you do most of your surfing?
Justin McMillan (JM) – I’m born and bred in Kiama on the NSW south coast. I now live in Byron Bay raising my family, so I surf mostly around that area. I also work as a freelance film maker which puts me on the road a lot.
BH – Tell us a little bit about your film work, your Storm Surfers work and some of your other projects?
JM – My film work has taken me to all sorts of weird and wonderful places. The commercials pay the bills and every now and then you get to direct something pretty special in the commercial world. Storm Surfers was a passion project spawned from a conversation between Chris Nelius, Ross Clarke-Jones and myself over a few excitable beers. We all thought it would be good idea to put a camera on the two idiots (RCJ and Tom Carroll) and follow them chasing big waves in the Southern Ocean. The whole Storm Surfers experience taught me a lot about myself and gave me the skills on how to tell a story through a lens. I’m grateful for all the lessons learnt during that project.
BH – What where the exact dates you and your mates did your Mentawai surf trip?
JM – April 29 – May 10, 2015, on the Naga Laut.
BH – Where are most of your crew from and how long you guys been surfing?
JM – It’s safe to say the majority of the crew are Sydney based and everyone’s been surfing since they were kids… But like everyone else, work and kids make surfing a real luxury these days. We all thought we still ripped – until we saw the drone footage at the end of each day… haha!!
BH – How many days did you have waves?
JM – We got waves every day.
BH – Where did you guys do most of your surfing?
JM – Bank Vaults/Pussies, Lances Left and down south at Thunders (left hander)
BH – How many times have you been to the Mentawai?
JM – This was my first time. But half the boys had been there before and knew the ropes.
BH – I suspect you may have travelled quite extensively? How does the Mentawai rate?
JM – I’ve travelled a fair bit and I can’t say I’ve seen anything close to the Mentawai Island chain. The number of world-class setups in such a close proximity is amazing – not to mention how beautiful it is. We’ve all seen so many films shot there but I never felt I got a good sense of the geography from any of them. You can tell how good it is by the number of different nationalities in the line up. People travel from all over the globe to surf the Ments and for good reason… the word is out.
BH – Do you prefer a boat charter or a land camp?
JM – I’d have to say having the flexibility to motor to different breaks and chase waves based on the direction of the swell in a floating hotel is hard to beat. But if I was camped at Lances Left with a week of 6+ pumping waves, you wouldn’t hear me complain either. It’s all down to the luck of the forecast, as we know all too well…
BH – What type of boards did you take to the Mentawai?
JM – I hadn’t surfed that many fast international reef waves with any power for a long time, so I thought my boards that work at Lennox point would work in the Ments… not the case. I knew the best board is a rounded pin with lots of rocker in a few different sizes but I didn’t pack them… idiot. Luckily, there was only a few days where the waves were big enough to warrant the right equipment and the boys looked after me. I still had a ball regardless, and I do like trying different shapes and sizes in different conditions – but let’s just say I’ll be bringing the right gear next time. The waves there have so much power as they hit the reef and you need the right gear to give yourself the confidence to get stuck into it.
BH – Tell us a little about your excellent Mentawai surf drone clip – where did you shoot most of the content?
JM – We surfed and filmed every day as we chased the swell around the Island chain. We planned to be at Thunders for the spike in the swell as it fit the bill for direction and wind direction.
I enjoy filming my mates as much as I love surfing and this trip was the perfect opportunity to get better at both. Most days I’d shoot the first session and then head out. One of the boys on board, Jason Poole (who’s recently taught himself to fly), would try and shoot a few waves of me when we swapped over. But the trickiest thing about filming from a drone during swells with long, slow periods between sets is you blow a lot of battery time just hovering. The chances of having the machine in the air filming when everyone got their best waves were pretty slim… but I think we did OK.
I never packed the drones with the goal of making a cracking surf film. It was all about coming home with a few awesome memories on a hard drive… because most of us are too busy to remember what happened yesterday.
BH – Would you go back again and would you recommend it to crew?
JM – I’d definitely go back and I absolutely recommend it to any surfer of any standard. The worst day over there is still five times better than what we all surf most days here in Australia and smashing 6 Bintangs at sunset with your mates is nothing short of spectacular. I’m glad I went and I’m glad I took the drone to get a better perspective of the local environment.