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Interview: Phillip Thurston

While growing up in the coastal town of Narooma, the Thurston brothers were inseparable, so when the eldest of the three grabbed a bodyboard for the first time, Philip and his other brother were quick to follow suit.

At just ten years old, Philip and his brothers would spend morning and afternoon at their local beach, eventually their friends would join, creating a little group where they encouraged each other to “go out further, take off deeper and go out in bigger and bigger surf”.

“It was a great little community to be engaged in, and it eventually taught us all to not only survive but thrive in the ocean,” Philip said. “I spent every minute I could in the water, and developed a real love for the breaking wave.”

The brothers would take turns shooting each other catching waves on a Sony handy-cam. Being the youngest of the three, Philip was often stuck with filming his older brothers for longer shooting “shifts”. At the time, he had no idea his love for riding waves would eventuate into a passion for photographing waves, thus a career travelling the world, armed with a camera, snapping intimate and epic photos of the ocean.

It was a trip to Hawaii that was pivotal for Philip. Initially trying to prove himself amongst the other Aussie’s chasing the perfect wave in the winter’s colossal swell, Philip concluded his passive personality was a hinderance.

“It was an intense environment and getting on the wrong side of the waves or the locals could put your life in serious danger. So, I bought my own still camera, a 5MP Sony Cybershot and went on to document my trip from behind the lens,” he said.

Part time employment allowed Philip to focus on photography and making short films. In 2012, he sat down with his brothers and conceived the simple logo for Thurston Photo.

While he does chase waves, striving to take the best photo, Philip is not chasing fame or status and despite his success, he remains humble.

“The greatest moments in my journey have been more so the personal experiences, when I’ve had great revelation, overcome a fear, or met certain individuals that have impacted my life in a positive way or I’ve had the opportunity to enrich another’s life.”

Philip admits the ocean can be a terrifying place, his portfolio showcases is up-close and personal encounters with some of the oceans most feared creatures, but for some, even a rough current is enough of a deterrent.

Being in intimidating situations has spawned a respect for what is below the surface. Philip didn’t dive head first from the rocks into the waves, he started in the shallows and swam deeper over time.

“ Like many things, it’s a relationship that we have to nurture and explore.

“The key is to progress at your own pace and stay consistent, operate within your comfort zone but continually develop your skills through experience so that you can push your boundaries.

“Fear is a thief, it will steal away the best experiences in your life if you let it,” he says.

Philip’s Wildlife collection reveals just how close he has gotten to some of the oceans most illusive creatures. Sharks, whales and seals, however, Philip’s favourite animal is the dolphin. He feels protected when in their presence, referring to them as “sea angels”.

Philip believes at the heart of every person is a desire that compels them to push forward, “one foot in front of the other”.

“It’s different for each person, but for me, I have always had a fascination with the ocean, you could say I desire to know more, see more, experience more of it.

“If I’m heading out on an adventure, whether it be in the ocean or in the mountains, I’m looking for something, this much I know. I often don’t even know what it is, or what it may look like until I see a glimpse of it and I resonate with it.

“It’s the getting out there in the field where I learn more about the desire in my heart, and through experience, I’ve found it’s not the waves, or the mountains, these things were merely a luring to get me out in the open where I can have an experience, an encounter, that changes my life and gives me perspective on the important things in life, the intangible and invaluable things, like faith, hope and love.”

Philip admits the life of a wildlife or ocean photographer isn’t as glamorous as one might hope it to be, and in a world with waning excitement for the unknown, and frankly, it doesn’t pay the bills. He believes the motives have to be pure, in order to succeed, with the motives alone being enough sustain aspiring wildlife photographers.

Given his profession takes him into the ocean, Philip has seen what is threatening our oceans, he cites lack of education with regards to plastic pollution and over fishing as grave threats.

“It’s a very overwhelming situation when you see it first hand in the South Pacific islands,” he says. “Western culture introduced its way of life but never provided a sustainable waste solution, plastic wrappers are thrown out like a banana peel would. It’s really turned into a bit of a nightmare.

“Overfishing has decimated the ecosystems of how life in the ocean is supposed to operate. The big Super trawlers have taken too much, starving sharks are coming in closer than normal looking for food which isn’t good for us coastal goers.”

For this reason, Philip would never eat fish without knowing how it was caught, or if he didn’t catch himself. He says it doesn’t take a lot of research to understand how we can do out part to conserve the ocean.

“The biggest issue is supply and demand, if what you’re consuming is part of the demand, then you’re part of the problem. Pretty simple.”

While doing some photography work for Underwater Safari’s, Philip met Clear Tides legends Jess and Roody.

“We became friends very quickly, mainly due to the fact they are remarkably kind and beautiful people, with a love for marine conservation and all things oceanic.”

Underwater Safaris operates out of Philip’s hometown, Narooma and offers an array of experiences; scuba diving, whale watching, snorkelling and dive training. The day Jess and Roody met Philip, they swam with seals and were lucky enough to have a number of whales swim up to the boat.

“The best way to create great relationships is of course to share great experiences with each other!” Philip said.

While he is still based on the south coast of New South Wales, Philip has travelled all around the globe, however, he continually finds himself over to the other side of Australia. There he enjoys the company of friends and the deserted coastlines. There is no place he would rather be than the West coast when the swell is pumping.

As for his brothers, he still sees them whenever he is home. Both his brothers have found success in a number of endeavours, like owning surf shops, manufacturing wetsuits, board and clothing.

“They’ve had a lot of success, but sustainable success always requires navigating the trends of the market. It’s a ever shifting puzzle. I am proud of both of them, and learnt a lot of things from them,” Philip said.

“You can spend your whole life in the system if you don’t take the risk to explore your own gifts and ventures, so that’s what we’ve all done.”

You can view Philips work on his website, Thurston Photo ( and see what he’s up to via is Instagram, @thurstonphoto.

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