For decades now, the surf movie format has been
achingly simple, and for good reason: When it
comes to surfing’s transcendental experiences,
images do better than words.
Surf movies succeed where surf writers fail.
It’s that easy. We could commission the entire
magazine staff to spin you 25,000 finely honed
words about the act of riding a wave, but those
words (which, truth be told, may or may not end up
being finely honed) can’t hold a candle to a sixsecond
video clip of Bruce Irons in the Mentawais.
Similarly, hours upon hours of soggy post-surf talk
yield little in the way of concrete description of
surfing, serving instead only to bolster the egos
of the beer-addled.
You have to feel it to know it, but if you can’t
feel it, seeing it is the second best thing, which is
why the paradigm for the surf movie has had little
reason for transformation in the past six decades.
Waves, music, cut, print.
Because a recent trend toward celebrity-driven
surf movies—where a single corporately underwritten
surfer produces and stars in his own film—
seems to be sweeping the surfscape.
There’s no denying the power that celebrity has
played in recent surf history. If the curmudgeon in
you wants to say that surf celebrity is brought on by
the relatively modern phenomenon of high-dollar
endorsement deals, think back to the old days.
Think about guys like Greg Noll and Phil Edwards,
Gerry Lopez and Buttons Kaluhiokalani. Hell, think
about Duke Kahanamoku. All surfers who had little
in the way of lucrative endorsements, all some of
our sport’s most iconic celebrities.
Our culture has always held out a special place
of reverence for its celebrities. That celebrity certainly
has been leveraged in surf movies, but not
nearly to the extent that we’re seeing with the
recent rash of surf star films.
Kelly Slater had his own movie back in 1991—
Kelly Slater in Black and White. Then there was
Searching for Tom Curren and Drifting: The Rob
Machado Chronicles. But whereas those films
represented a slow trickle of bios reserved for the
ber-elite, the most recent deluge of surf
biographies on the market is enough to represent
a cultural shift.
Taj Burrow has three surf movies to his name—
Montaj, Sabotaj and Fair Bits. Joel Parkinson’s
movie, Free as a Dog—A True Dog’s Tale, comes
out this spring. Kelly Slater’s feature-length film may or may not be
coming out in the next year, but to tide us over until such time,
the folks at Quiksilver have given us Letting Go, a documentary
film about Slater. It’s a wonder that they had time to work on it
though, as the scuttlebutt up at Quiksilver HQ is that Dane
Reynolds’ summertime release, First Chapter, will be the best
thing that any of us have ever seen. Not to be outdone, Reynolds’
contemporary Jamie O’Brien is making another movie about
himself to follow up on the movie he made about himself back in
2004. That one was called Freak Show, the new one is called
SuperFreak. Mick Fanning is Mick Fanning, and yes, he’s just
entering post-production on his own surf film. And although Chris
Ward already has had two films made in his honor—the creatively
titled Psycho Ward and Where’s Wardo?—he’s got another
release coming within the year.
You can be sure that there will be more than those coming
down the pike (did somebody say Andy Irons?), but there’s only
one man that everybody’s chasing in this pursuit—Andy’s little
brother Bruce. Say what you want about Kelly Slater, Tom Curren,
Rob Machado and Taj Burrow—all of whom had movies out
before Bruce did, but Bruce’s movie changed everything. Why?
Because it was called The Bruce Movie, that’s why.
Unashamed, straightforward and brash, the movie’s title did
as much to sum up the film as it did the film’s protagonist. A
30-minute documentary of Bruce’s 2004 year, The Bruce Movie
featured clips of Bruce telling a faceless interviewer that his
questions were stupid, then displayed footage of Bruce doing
what he does second-best, driving through impossibly long
barrels. Thanks in large part to Bruce Irons’ enigmatic nature, the
movie was highly anticipated and even better received. Trading on
his persona, the film’s creators wanted us to believe that we were
going to learn something about Bruce by watching this film.
Whether we did or not is a point to be debated, but The Bruce
Movie sold out theaters, earned critical acclaim and won “Video of
the Year” at the 2005 Surfer Poll and Video Awards.
There are some very smart marketing executives plying their
trade in the surf industry, and it didn’t take them long to see that
the model for The Bruce Movie worked. If a company could
produce and distribute a video drenched in their corporate logos
that also served to make their number one investment even more
famous—well, it doesn’t take a Wharton grad.