On December 11th, HBO will premiere a new documentary titled "Momentum Generation," which is about, you guessed it, the crew of early-'90s surf stars who became the subjects of filmmaker Taylor Steele's punk-infused, genre-disrupting surf films.
Now, you might think you've seen all there is to know about Kelly Slater, Ross Williams, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Kalani Robb, Taylor Knox and Pat O’Connell after watching “Loose Change” roughly 982 times throughout your lifetime (or is that just me?). But the new doc takes a deeper dive into the New School group of surfers and their complex relationships–unwrapping stories about their rise to fame and the complex, competitive relationships many of them developed.
Last week, the producers of the film held a small premiere at La Paloma in Encinitas, California—the same place Steele premiered “Momentum 2” back in the early '90s (according to Steele, the first “Momentum” never had a premiere)–and it became clear that surfers everywhere (well, those with access to HBO) should tune in on December 11th to watch the film. In the meantime, here are seven things you’ll likely learn from the film (and seven scenes you’ll want to watch in their entirety):
1) Robert Redford can, in fact, produce a really good surf movie.
Believe it or not salty reader, Robert Redford produced the documentary in question and it was absolutely fantastic. Surf-related stories touched by the hands of Hollywood usually turn into mockable garbage (Chasing Mavericks, anyone?). But the “Momentum Generation” directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist did a great job of asking the right questions–so that non-surfers are able to learn who the hell these guys are, while us crusty surfers remain surprised at pieces of information we never knew about our heroes.
2)Todd Chesser was one of the main reasons that group became as good as they were.
When the Momentum crew were rising to prominence and hanging out on the North Shore, it was Todd Chesser who pushed them to challenge themselves in bigger, heavier surf. Every winter season Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Taylor Knox et. al would come live with Benji Weatherly and his mom on the North Shore (the footage they have of young Slater and Machado inside Weatherly’s house is hilarious) and it was Chesser who motivated them to give pumping Pipe a go. Chesser was a little older than the rest of the crew at the time and had an adrenaline-fueled interest in big waves that made the New School realize they needed to step up their games.
3) Although Kelly was King of the Surf World, the Momentum boys never let him act like it.
There’s a scene about halfway through the doc that shows Slater putting on a pink helmet. After he won his first world title, the rest of the Momentum crew wrapped him up blanket around, told him to put that helmet on, stuffed him into a plastic trash can and rolled him down a steep-ass hill. You might remember the stunt from Steele’s ’95 surf-flick, “Good Times.” "He just ate crap the whole way down," Weatherly says in Momentum Generations. "In any other sport, the Michael Jordan of the sport is not rolling down a mountain after his first world title."
4) Ross Williams may or may not have punched a hole through Shane Dorian’s new surfboard in his sleep.
Many of the Momentum Generation’s key players grew up in less-than-perfect households, witnessing abusive fights between their parents or dealing with alcoholic dads. So they were all quick to find family in each other and develop as a brotherhood. But as the group became wrapped up in the clutches of competition, rivalries between them naturally cropped up. One such weird rivalry was between Shane Dorian and Ross Williams, who had the same sponsors and often found themselves seeded in the same heats. One time, while the duo was rooming together at Reunion Island and was in the same heat the next day, Dorian told Williams how good he felt on his board. When he woke up the next morning, he found a huge fist-sized hole in his board and Williams was nowhere to be found. Williams says he doesn’t recall the episode, but we’ll let you be the judge.
5) The rivalry between Kelly Slater and Rob Machado was real and it was hectic.
Slater and Machado became friends as teenagers, as they would see each other often at surf contests, and their friendship grew throughout the early ’90s. But when ’95 rolled around, the two were both gunning for the title. I don’t want to spoil the doc for you, but there’s a story in there about Slater “stealing” one of Machado’s boards that led to a mini-falling out between the two. And of course, there’s the breakdown of the infamous high-5 at Pipe that some believe was a tactical move on Slater’s part.
6) Benji Weatherly took Todd Chesser’s mom to Fiji to help her process her son’s death.
When Todd Chesser passed away in 1997 while surfing a big day at Outside Alligator Rock, the Momentum Generation was shaken to its core. Benji dealt with his death by treating Todd’s mother, Jeannie, to a trip to Fiji where she was able to surf her son’s board. Unfortunately, as you’ll see in the doc, Weatherly wasn’t able to get closure and struggled with depression, alcohol and drugs in the years following Todd’s passing.
7) Rob Machado was essentially voted off Tour (kind of).
In 2001, after breaking his hand and missing events due to his wife’s pregnancy, Machado was gunning for the injury wildcard spot so that he could compete the next year on Tour. Turns out, so was Shane Dorian. In front of the entire group of ‘CT athletes, the two stated their cases. Ultimately the group chose Dorian and that was the end of Machado’s competitive career.
To learn more about the film before its December 11th release, click here.