The sun hadn’t even set over the corporate sprawl of Huntington Beach, yet the lot behind Quiksilver HQ was already crawling with hundreds of surf fans and industry types eager to see Craig Anderson’s first signature film—or at least wash down a free meat pie with a few Stone IPAs. Security was militant, claiming the lot was at capacity and holding the hordes of surf rats and hipster chicks at bay, even though their big hair and indie band tees screamed that they belonged nowhere but inside.
The hype storm hovering over Slow Dance was undoubtedly fueled by the talent of the film’s star, Craig Anderson, who has more or less become the world’s favorite freesurfer over the last two years. But the anticipation was also in no small part due to the directorial efforts of Dane Reynolds—the man behind the most watched web clips in the world via Marine Layer Productions. Besides his web edits, Dane has been in the director’s chair for a full-length film before. His debut, Thrills, Spills and What Not, was about as unconventional as a surf movie can get. It was polarizing, with some praising it as a novel take on a predictable genre and others writing it off as childish whimsy. For Slow Dance, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I assumed it would fall into a similarly self-indulgent realm. I was wrong.
Slow Dance is a great film because it is an unexpected film. It is impressive without taking itself too seriously, and that disarming quality is one of its biggest strengths. It splices goofy family footage from Craig’s past with futuristic airs, cheeky cameos, and some of the finest barrel riding in recent memory. As the name implies, Slow Dance relies on long, slo-mo cuts, a more ambient soundtrack, and fuzzy VHS-style transitions. While most modern surf videos feel highly caffeinated, Slow Dance feels more than a little stoned, which works well when the focus is on such a unique and nuanced style of surfing. Lofty rotations through vibrant skies, buttery single-fin lines at Teahupoo, and unfathomably long Skeleton Bay drainers stand out as some of the film’s most memorable examples of this. Although Craig gets the majority of the screen time, there are solid cameos from Reynolds, Dion Agius, Chippa Wilson, Ozzie Wright, Rob Machado, Matt Hoy, and Occy as well.
In the world of freesurfing, there is no greater test than a signature film. When you aren’t vying for trophies, champagne showers, and oversized checks, your video performances are pretty much the only yardstick you have. Craig’s surfing didn’t really need any validation per se, but Slow Dance certainly reinforces his place in our culture and shows us why the spindly 24-year-old with big hair manages to keep us all captivated.