Down-to-earth on firm land

Aurélien Jacob, aka. Nono, went to Gabon alongside his friends Ronan and EwenWe had been discussing that adventure before as a follow-up to the first great trip they had organized together earlier.

Here’s a second interview, all done by e-mail, in which Aurélien shares pointers with us as to how one gets ready for such a journey, then actually experiences it, and the kind of mark it leaves on them. So let’s read and learn.

Hey, how is it going?

Super good, thanks! We’re just coming back from a festival of adventure films in La Réunion called Au bout du rêve, and that’s in company of the only available price one can win at the festival - the audience’s choice - which we ended up earning!

It all went down fine, and really contrasted with our experience in Gabon.

Congratulations for making it through such an exotic journey. I could have done with extra hours of footage of you venturing through those lands!

Thank you! That’s the greatest compliment we’ve heard since the release of our online series
of clips ;)

I’m down for a selfie of you guys, as to illustrate this quick article, something funny you know. And if you want to include anything else, just go for it.

No problem - see attached file, from the three of us!

Here are some questions, please don’t hold back from going in-depth, some of them may be silly:

- You seem to be the one who minds enduring the elements the least, how are you so optimistic? Or maybe you just watch your public image? ;)

I don’t watch my public image at all! I’m very laid back as far as that. The more banter I talk, the better I feel! Ronan has to be my most receptive audience, he’s always laughing at my jokes regardless of how stupid they are!

So he’s only encouraging me, in a way, and then I break even looser, which can be very relieving in tense or risky situation! I think it’s a strength we have in Lost in the Swell that we are so optimistic. All smiles even when stuff goes wrong!

- How come fights never seem to occur within the crew during such a journey? Do you guys get along so well you never get on each other’s nerves?

Honestly, it happens, we can be quite frank and mean to each other at times. It doesn’t happen a lot, seeing as in situations where you have to worry about survival first, you just help each other out.

We are tight-knit, but sometimes exhaustion, and scarcity of sleep, food and water can occasionally prove to wear us off.

- Physically and mentally, how does one get ready for such a trip then once you make it to your destination, what is it like facing the actual situation?

The Paradis Perdu / Lost Paradise in Gabon requested that we remained focused, for a whole year at that.

Abusing our computers and phones for a year, then physical preparation by traversing the region of Aquitaine from the North down to the South back in fall 2015, in order to figure out whether we could still ride bikes, and we ended up doing just that, exhausting ourselves lugging around 60 kilograms worth of gear with us.

Then a few months later in summer 2016, we went to Libreville, and after a few complications as far as paperwork we managed to figure out a way to get dropped off in the South of the country, and begin our adventure.

Then followed three months of biking across the country, discovering three brand new waves, an adorable local population and how what was originally supposed to be a surf trip could eventually turn into a full-on safari.
« Gabon is regarded as the Switzerland of Africa,
it’s the tenth richer government in the world »

- How does one handle daily life in Africa, the hunger, the diseases, the danger?

​Daily life was fine, but mostly consisted in primary survival! Constantly looking around for food and water, hence why we insisted on camping next to lagoons so we could always filter some water. We had to resort to a lot of fishing and many bonfires in order to keep away all the cute local animals such as elephants, hippopotamuses, crocodiles…

We’ve had some great long nights not being able to sleep one bit despite our professional camping equipment. Some scares whilst surfing and biking, especially when those elephants charged at us. The hippopotamuses in the lagoon made for a fine surprise too.

A real trip on which you can’t calculate everything and you have to improvise all the time, and that’s what adventure should be like!

How was it like experiencing the local population and lifestyle? Did you see a lot of poverty? How does one handle the cultural and economic differences?

It’s hard to accept that you just can’t help out anybody you meet there, on the spot. Whenever we’d go shopping, we tried to help out with everything we could, when we could. The local government is really wealthy yet doesn’t do anything for its people. Gabon is regarded as the Switzerland of Africa, in a way, and is the tenth richer government in the world.
« It would drive us crazy, really crazy, to see waves just go by by themselves
without being able to go and surf them. »
 - How were you perceived there?

As white people! The first and only to scout the shores by bike looking for surf spots! On a more serious note, the people were all very welcoming. The Gabonese are like us in French Brittany, they enjoy drinking so then obviously it becomes a whole lot easier to get to learn about one another, especially seeing as they speak perfect French.

- In general, do you find yourself questioning your position, or is the moment so intense that one doesn’t even get that luxury?
​As we like to say, we’re trained athletes. That wasn’t a race - actually, quite the opposite of one. In such an environment, you constantly need to naturally keep yourself in check, managing yourself physically and mentally. If anyone in the crew was feeling tired at one point, we’d take a break and a decision as to whether stay on location and camp for the day, for instance.

Let’s not forget that after a full day of biking, one still needs to set up the camp, prepare the bonfire, stock on wood for the night, go fish, cook, filter some water and surf!

- How does one even find enough energy after all this to go surf?
We’re so into it, nothing will stop us! It would drive us crazy - really crazy - to see waves just go by by themselves, without being able to go and surf them.

Of course, mathematically, we were probably around sharks the whole time as well; but the water is so dark you couldn’t spot them!

- Was surfing a pleasure or a constraint? It’s not like you’re in Gabon everyday...

Surfing is a way of life. We made sure to adapt so that it was always our priority, as much as possible. To be honest, it was hard to devote any time to surfing while in Gabon, and the waves we did find only really worked in times of strong swell. We had a cell phone we used to stay in touch with our friends back in France who would give us information about the weather forecast.

The idea was to be on location early, with food, water and physical condition decent enough to go surf well, brave the ocean and its strong current, as well as scout the beaches, forests and savannas to even just get to the spot.

We also avoided surfing too early in the mornings or too late in the evenings, which was when the most things were going on underwater, we did witness a few frenetic hunting sessions then, from the surface, a context in which getting into the water had to be the last thing on your mind!
« Honestly, 850 kilometers whilst lugging around 60 kilograms worth
of gear hurts, and wears you out. »

  ⁃ It has to be very risky and hazardous to surf in such conditions, did you have any guidelines or instructions you had set for one another? Ronan highlights the danger of riding in the back of a truck for 800 kilometers, which can easily be understood as unreasonable. Does that make for a reoccurring thought when you’re actually living such moments?

Be it in the water or on land, we always watch out for one another. Throughout all these years and different expeditions, we’ve made up our own language of signs. Ewen and I go in the water as Ronan stays on the shore, to film. We often check on Ronan as he’s just facing us, looking into his lens, his back turned on the forest and everything it might hide.

We regularly check whether or not it’s time to switch from video to photo, depending on the light, so we can also adapt our surfing style. Ronan wears a whistle around his neck just to be able to warn us in the situation where he might see something odd in the water, coming for us.

- What would you say was the worst moment of the trip?
There is no worst moment, and although I could mention a few bad moments, I know they will into good ones with time. Honestly, 850 kilometers whilst lugging around 60 kilograms worth of gear hurts, and wears you out.

But we never even once though of giving up, we’ve always found workarounds to the unexpected situations we could run into, sometimes altering our route a little, even if that meant going for a riskier one, we would go for it!

 - And the best one?

This whole incredible human adventure we got to share. Overcoming one’s own personal limitations, both physical and mental. Meeting the local people.

Finding yourself in complete solitude lost in the forest, all senses tingling in the fear that we might run into wild animals such as elephants in a bad mood. And all the nervous, tired laughing.

And of course, the rewarding feeling of discovering and surfing the last most dangerous virgin spots on the planet, then getting to name them.

And then, finally, once the movie is done, fully edited and broadcasted in full houses of cinemas and hearing all the great feedback from the viewers, that is very gratifying, really.