Through the ’90s and early 2000s, Taylor Steele released a new hit surf film nearly every year. From 1992’s Momentum all the way through to 2007’s Stranger Than Fiction, Taylor’s movies were the gold standard in surfing, each film ushering in new moves and new names. During that time period, it would be hard to argue the end section in Taylor’s films wasn’t equally important to winning a world title. No joke. Surfers spent their entire years working on Taylor’s films. And now, after a bit of hiatus from the high-action surf movie, Taylor is back.
For this project, titled Proximity, Taylor paired four sets of surfers together, sent them to a wave that perfectly suits their styles, and then captured the results, both in and out of the water. John Florence and Kelly Slater in the South Pacific. Dave Rastovich and Steph Gilmore in Central Baja. Shane Dorian and Albee Layer in Northern Europe. Craig Anderson and Rob Machado in Chile. As we approach the release, we called Taylor to hear a little more about the movie from Teton Gravity Research that you should definitely be looking forward to.
This is your 25th surf film, but it’s your first since Missing back in 2013. What was the inspiration to make another surf film?
I’ve treated surf films differently the last 10 years, I’ve waited for an idea I was inspired by rather than trying to do one every year. Making surf films for a living isn’t my business anymore, so it’s really more of a way to get creative and have a lot of fun with it. I feel like surf films are something I go back to for some balance — to reset myself as a filmmaker. They’re something I’ll always gravitate towards.
For this movie, you paired iconic surfers together for trips. How did you choose those pairings? What connections were you looking for?
I paired surfers who I’m really inspired by, and guys who I was really curious how they would do on a trip together. I wanted to see if they would inspire each other to surf harder, or to approach things differently than they normally would, because they’re with someone similar to them but from a different generation. And the whole idea was to pick surfers who are still relevant, but from different time periods.
John John and Kelly. I think you might be the only person who could pull that one off.
That trip was super interesting because I’ve never gone on a trip with John before. And I knew they have a lot of similarities in the way that they surf, but I didn’t realize how intelligent and on it John is with everything he does. He knew more about the cameras than our camera crew. He know more about the drones. He knew more about…everything. We had the guys playing chess and it turns out John reads chess books [Laughs]. Like, he doesn’t take any of his hobbies or interests lightly. It really reminded me of how Kelly approaches his life, as well. In that sense, Kelly and John are really similar.
In terms of performance, how did they push each other in the water?
With each crew, we really thought about what waves would compliment both of them, and not have one overshadow the other one. And we also wanted to put them in environments that felt fresh to the viewer. So with those guys, we went to this secret spot in the South Pacific, this long barreling right, and they both surfed absolutely how you’d expect, which was amazing. Their performance was the easy part of the whole equation. The tough part was getting them on the plane, and having the swell actually show up, which, fortunately, it did.
Was there a particular pairing where you felt like you were really seeing something special happening in terms of how they were pushing each other?
Yeah. We went to this slabby, heavy wave on dry rocks in Northern Europe with Albee [Layer] and Shane [Dorian]. My whole life, Shane has been this freak, crazy guy. He’s always been the man. So, we took them to this intense slab, and the first day Albee was absolutely going off. He dominated the session to a point where I was going, ‘Wow, maybe Shane’s not the guy anymore.” And then, I don’t know if Shane just approached it differently or maybe he was inspired by Albee, but the next day Shane completely flipped it and dominated. Like, Albee was tripping out. So it was really fun to see that dynamic happen. And that was the theory – that that would happen, ideally, with each crew. It was more enjoyable than I even imagined. Both the surfing everyone was doing, but also listening to the guys talk, as a fly on the wall.
The internet has changed the way we consume video content, do you think there will always a place for the full-length surf film?
It’s a fun challenge, to approach what surf movies’ roles are right now. You really have to think about what purpose they serve. Surf films should be completely different from a webisode. They should give the viewer different feelings and emotions. For me, with how temporary surf films are nowadays, it made rethink about how to make this one different. So we’re doing a photo gallery, virtual-reality art exhibit, which has different tiers to to it. First, it’s released as an art gallery, then it comes out as a regular theatrical, then it hits iTunes, and all of that.
When is the release date?
It’s all going to be happening in May. The exact dates will be out soon.