Contently Incomplete

By pandering to our shrinking attention spans, modern surf films are losing their charm

With progression inevitably comes exclusion. Things are left behind, and we seldom stop to look back. We’ve moved on. Progressed. Matured, maybe. But nostalgia creeps in the wake of what was lost, and we become curiously aware of something missing.

One of these excisions is happening before our very eyes. In slow motion and accompanied by a soundtrack, the modern surf film is cutting complete waves out of the picture. Pick any of the best modern films and you’ll see the same phenomenon: Bottom turn to air. Bottom turn to air. The occasional pump into a barrel. Bottom turn to tail throw. Cue lifestyle shot. Nobody’s paddling anymore. Nobody’s taking off, dropping in, linking maneuvers, or kicking out. It’s all been left on the cutting room floor. Deemed unnecessary. We never get to see that moment when the wave stacks up and the surfer decides to go for it. The complete ride in surf films is on the verge of extinction.

There’s something to be said for the act of paddling into a wave, steering the board toward the beach, and squinting through the sunlight as you make the drop. It shows the nuances of waveriding: that ability to read the ocean in a way that only comes from the accumulation of an untold number of rides. Isn’t that as important as boosting off the closeout section? Just as critical? Just as exhilarating?

Surf films are answering that for us: It’s not. Every time Dane Reynolds appears on the screen, lays into a bottom turn and then destroys the lip, I think “Jesus Christ, that’s ridiculous.” And that’s all these films need to do in order to succeed. The vast majority of mainstream surf films have a very similar, fast, choppy editing style, comparable to snorting a line of Adderall and then shot-gunning a Redbull. They’re delivering the maximum number of maneuvers into a 30-to 40-minute film, and not much else. Who can blame them? In the age of digital piracy, people need a real reason to fork over $20 for a video. Filmmakers have to cater to a generation that looks at a phone screen 150 times a day. Our attention spans deserve a place on the endangered species list.

Am I exaggerating? Let’s look at the numbers behind Dear Suburbia, the 2012 film featuring Dane Reynolds, John Florence, and a handful of other heavy hitters. The 40-minute runtime leaves us with 191 ridden waves. Out of those 191 waves, 23 showed surfers getting to their feet—a lowly 12 percent. The act of paddling into a wave was only shown two times in the entire film, and only for a split second each time. A rider falls a total of four times in the film, so if you ever wonder why these guys seem so infallible on a surfboard, editing might have something to do with it. And the most powerful statistic of all comes from the number of complete rides shown: Zero. I’m not exaggerating.

Style can be wrung out of every aspect of any given ride. There is something to be learned or admired in the way the best surfers approach every part of their ride, much of which occurs before they even start their first turn. The way each individual approaches a peak, where they take off, how they find their feet and generate speed. Kelly Slater air-dropping into a perfect 10 at Teahupoo comes to mind. Because of these nuances, it seems fitting that a wave should be appreciated as a whole. Don’t worry, we will still get to see that air, and it will be just as impressive—or maybe more so.

But if the modern surf film doesn’t have time for complete rides anymore, I can only blame myself. It’s my fault for being so easily bored. If a surf film doesn’t grab me completely, immediately, I’m already opening a new tab on my browser. I’m too busy typing 140 characters about my day. I get up from my computer to throw my dinner in the microwave. As it slowly rotates under the heat, I wonder if anyone actually gives a damn that the complete ride is facing extinction in the name of instant gratification. I take my meal out 30 seconds early. It’s probably cooked enough by now.