Should We Talk About Cluster?

dj_salinacruz_2013_477Noa Deane, owner of the last section in Cluster.

"Fuck the WSL."

Noa Deane is the man credited with publicly voicing that sentiment. He dropped it like a Pearl Harbor bomb on stage at the 2014 Surfer Poll awards, and it too shall live in infamy. Only five syllables, but Noa's words sure found a way to shake the surf world. And they were met with everything from savior-ish praise to fist-clenching ridicule.

"Fuck the WSL."

Now, at last night's world premiere of Cluster, Austyn Gillette is on stage howling those same words into a microphone. Austin Gillette is a professional skateboarder and I'm confused. Maybe he's not big on Pat Parnell? He repeats the mantra, then encourages the crowd to join him.

"Fuck the WSL."

Half of the mob sitting in the theatre at LA's Ace Hotel indulges. The other half smiles uncomfortably. The stage clears and Cluster begins. It goes like this: Flowers, cigarettes, beers, graininess, middle fingers, songs you haven't heard of yet, surfing. It had a great feel — raw, but raw with a very high production value. And after years of I'm saving all my best clips for Cluster, the level of the surfing did not disappoint.

But now, let's be honest. Why are you here? Do you want to hear about how tweaked Noa Deane's slobs were in the last section? How smooth Jack Freestone looked? How very Dane Dane's surfing was? Do you really want to read a review? It's 2015. Just watch the film. Buy it when it comes out, it's great, you’ll be happy you did. But there's more to Cluster than just another surf movie. There’s a discussion. Let’s.

Surfing is at a crossroads. Media is at a crossroads. Everything is at a crossroads. And Cluster is standing — dick-in-hand and having a blast — in the middle of the intersection.

First, is surfing a sport or a lifestyle? Trends ebb and flow, but for the first time it's beginning to feel like the anti-surge of the I don't care too much, but aren't my clothes real nice? movement. Sure, half of the men in attendance wore a beard and an additional third wore man-buns. And, yes, the outfits were plenty fine. But in terms of actual wave-riding, the Mason-Dixon line has been drawn. On one side, you have the fun, cool, hip, adjective, adjective adjective Cluster side of things. On the other side is the WCT. The restrictive, the subjective, the place where the best surfing in the world is happening. Not one clip in Cluster was comparable to John John's Keramas alleyoop (which he stuck while people were hoarding clips for the film). Nobody charged as fearlessly as Owen Wright did at Teahupo'o last year. And they didn't find waves as good as J-Bay was in July. As much as I hate to say it, advantage: sport.

Second, is the full-length film dead? In my post-film bro-brah-beer mingling, I spoke with a few people who questioned what Cluster did that a five-minute edit couldn’t. You end up with the same dopamine rush. The same value of entertainment. The same excitement for surfing when it’s over. One just takes longer. But do people still appreciate the idea of full-length, in all of its unconventional glory, the same way they appreciate a good old fashioned tree-and-chemical-ink magazine? Possibly. There’s something so romantic about taking the best of your very best and compiling it into something that’s tangible and forever. Something that might never go away. Advantage: full-length film.

And third, where are all the Brazilians? Disadvantage: Gabriel Medina.

In summation. Cluster is lovely, the whatever you want to call it (apathy intended) trend is probably waning, full-length films are fantastic and somebody should give Kai Neville Filipe Toledo’s phone number. And for the record, Dave Prodan, I was on the side of the crowd that smiled uncomfortably. —Brendan Buckley