In the first episode of Continuance, an in-depth documentary series on Kelly Slater, Slater says that he’s aiming for the World Title in 2017. “I’m gonna give it everything I’ve got,” he says in Episode I. There’s been a lot of talk about me retiring…but I don’t have to give an answer to that.” Of course, that was before a string of 13th place finishes saw him slip down the ratings, and before breaking his foot at J-Bay sidelined him for the rest of the year.
While Slater won’t be winning another world title (at least not this year), Continuance will still, well, continue, delving deep into the mind of the greatest surfer of all time. With the second episode dropping today (You can watch it here), we called up Continuance’s Director/Producer Alek Parker.
Parker, an ex-pro surfer from Florida, has been in film production for over a decade. But Continuance is his most exciting lead to date. “I’ve always known that I’m most interested in storytelling,” says Parker. “And every element of everything I’ve done up to this point — Surfing professionally, making The Hunt and The Best Laid Plans films with Jerry Ricciotti, moving from Florida to LA, working with Vice on commercial productions — all of that experience has helped me with every aspect of this series.”
How did your role as Continuance‘s Director and Producer come to be?
I was approached by John Moore and Jeremy Groff at Group Efforts, which is the creative agency that does Outerknown and KS Wave Co, and they told me they wanted to do a documentary series following what would potentially be Kelly’s last full year competing. I had already been speaking with those guys about other projects, so when that concept came up, it was a right-place, right-time situation for me. While the concept and name for the series was already set in place, I pitched them my creative view on how I could see it developing, and they liked it. So they gave me a chance to bring it to life.
I definitely haven’t been in the lead on something this large until now. Before the first episode, I wrote out an outline on how I saw things happening, but, of course, it’s basically a reality documentary, and as much as I could outline it, you never know what’s going to happen. The style, pacing, stories…it all really developed while we were on location in Australia. But I think that first episode set the foundation for what this is: a visually stunning series, but also one that has the depth, humanity and story that appeals to people beyond just the surf endemic, all about the greatest surfer of all time.
Before we put out the the first episode, I asked one of my friends who’s never heard of Kelly Slater to watch it, and she had so many questions that were super helpful. From her feedback, we were able to add a bit of context in certain scenarios that we might have otherwise been overlooked. Because transcending the surf industry with surf content is definitely one of our goals with this series.
How much has your background in the surf industry helped you in this role?
Before this project, I had met Kelly several times, but I never thought he remembered me [Laughs]. But I definitely think my past experience has been a benefit, because Kelly seems to let his guard down when we’re together, and I think that really comes through in the interviews. He’s been very candid, and a lot of that is because we connect on numerous things, but especially surfing. When we were in Australia he kept referencing the wave Cory [Lopez] and I found in Barbados when he would introduce me to people. He introduced me to Jack Johnson and he was like, “This is Alek. Remember when him and Cory found that wave in Barbados during that hurricane back in 2009?” Jack was just like, “What?”
He’s definitely a rolodex of information.
Totally. Kelly’s so intellectual, and his memory is insane. You can ask him about a particular surf spot, and he’ll name five different sessions over 15 years and the tides, winds, and swell directions for each one of them. More than anything, I feel like the time we spend talking off-camera about surfing and mutual past experiences has been the most beneficial thing in this role. It’s hard for anyone to be put in front of a camera and have people film you, and be comfortable with letting that all happen.
As far as this episode goes, it probably seemed like everything was lining up for Kelly in the beginning of the J-Bay comp: A Round One win and an amazing forecast at one of his favorite waves in the world. And then he broke his foot. How did you guys handle that?
I will say that it’s a really good thing we’re not making a surf video [Laughs]. But it was crazy. When it first happened, I was thinking, “It’s done.” Up to that point, we’d only shot his surfing, because you don’t get real, in-depth moments with Kelly before the event. I had told him before the day of his injury that it was the last day we had the entire camera crew at J-Bay, and that we had a bunch of stuff we really wanted to accomplish, and he was super onboard to nail it. So we woke up early, shot the sunrise, got some really good Phantom camera stuff of him surfing…and then he got injured. But instead of shutting us out, which I would have expected him to do after the worst injury of his career, he told us to come to the hospital; he was still thinking about the project. Two hours after getting back from the hospital, he was ready to do interviews, which was crazy. So it was challenging, for sure. But thanks to Kelly being entirely committed to the project, we were able to frame up the piece and take it in a slightly different direction, which put a lot of emphasis on the Surfers Not Street Children in Durban, an organization Kelly is really passionate for. Basically, he put the emotions of what he was going through with his injury and his career aside, to make sure this episode and the series still happened.
With Slater’s injury, is Episode III in limbo, or are you already hatching plans for the continuation of Continuance?
I’m really excited about the third episode. It’s so interesting from a documentary perspective, the story of him overcoming this injury, and the unknown of what’s gonna happen next. It actually gives us a really good opportunity, without distraction, to get deeper into who Kelly is as a person, which has been the goal the whole time. But because we’ve been around competition the first two episodes, we’ve only been able to sprinkle that stuff in. Like Kelly says in the first episode, “Continuance isn’t a beginning or an end, it’s just somewhere along your path.”