Last night at Newport Beach, California’s quaint, retro Lido Theater, in front of a not-quite capacity crowd of T-shirt wearing surf fans and industry middle management, Jamie O’Brien re-established himself as a major force in modern surfing. His new signature film, Who is J.O.B. (no one’s yet sure if that’s a question or a statement), which has been promoted for over a year now, is a 62-minute epic featuring surfing’s blond enigma being catapulted out of huge barrels. I have to admit, as I sat in heavy Thursday afternoon traffic on my way to the premiere, the prospect of watching an hour-long auto-homage seemed tedious at best, but I walked out a convert.
Several months ago, rumors circulated that the JOB film project had spiraled out of control due to some internal tumult in Jamie’s camp. That was when Charlie “Chas” Smith—a gonzo surf journalist you may remember from the article he wrote about an interaction with Mick Fanning hours after he won his second world title last year for Australia’s Stab Magazine—was named director and given the responsibility of getting the film over the goal line. If those rumors were true, Charlie, along with editor Dayten Likness and music editor Pete Nussbaum, seriously saved the thing.
Though it’s essentially surf porn, it’s surf porn with a twist. The organizing principal of the film is a series of simple “Chas-ian” statements about Jamie, answering the question posed in the title. Chapters include, “Jamie Is A Dick,” “Jamie Was Deaf,” “Jamie Was A Retard,” and “Jamie Surfs Pipeline.” Taken on their own, these statements demean the subject, but when you add in interviews, archival photos and footage of the star as an awkward kid, an incredibly amping soundtrack, and three years of amazing surfing almost exclusively in waves of consequence (from Teahupoo to massive Cloudbreak and, of course, his beloved Pipeline), the result is a rare look at the talent, background, and mindset of one of the best and most misunderstood surfers of the post-Momentum generation.
Because Red Bull fronted the cash, their logos and cans are strewn throughout Who is JOB—seemingly, this is the new paradigm for surf film. But if product placement makes possible the film a thousand of us enjoyed last night, then I guess I can accept it, and the heartfelt standing ovation the film got seemed to indicate that others agreed.
In recent years, Jamie O’Brien has become an enigma. He is among the very few to have Pipeline truly wired, but out of the water, he’s struggled with sponsors and management, and the paltry amount of imagery flowing from his camp has made it seem like maybe his window of opportunity to really make a mark on modern surfing had passed. But Who is J.O.B. testifies that he’s been here the whole time. In many ways it was like watching someone who’s been training for a marathon their whole lives finally cross the finish line.