With a few more dark nights ahead we reached out to our ambassador Sam Bleakley for some film and book recommendations to take us through to spring. For the next few weeks Sam will be dropping some insight into some of the surf films and books that have shaped surf culture. This is the last of his movie recommendations.
Momentum (1992) Taylor Steele / On Surfari to Stay (1992) Chris Ahrens / Litmus (1996) Andrew Kidman / The Seedling (1999) Thomas CampbellLike most teenage surfers around the globe in the early 1990s, all I wanted to do was a radical tail slide or a huge turn at warp speed on my wafer thin shortboard. Blame Taylor Steele’s punk-infused, aerial-infested Momentum (1992) videos. They showcased a group of Americans spearheaded by Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Shane Dorian, eclipsing the power surfers that went before them with light-footed, lightning-fast acrobatics. Better, they did this on the kind of closeout beachbreaks I frequently rode. I studied these videos with my best friend Tristan Jenkin, and shutdown waves in West Cornwall suddenly took on new meaning as place to try and boost aerials and pull 360s.
But in the early 1990s I also started longboarding, and a new film out of California by Chris Ahrens called On Surfari to Stay (1992) really fired me up. It starred Joel Tudor and Robert ‘Wingnut’ Weaver riding 9 footers in California and Mexico. I devoured every frame. It did not feature amazing conditions, but amazing surfers doing impossible things on average waves (like I often had in my front garden at Gwenver beach). I felt that if I studied the moves, I could learn to do them. On Safari To Stay induced a new kind of stoke, combining nostalgia with radical longboarding. It even featured the old salts: 1960s stars Skip Frye and Donald Takayama were reborn. New generation Wingnut was like a remodelled Phil Edwards - clean-cut, but pushing longboards to new limits, all the while making it look effortless. Tudor had a similar flowing style, but a touch of punk – taking it to the edge and a little bit further. What I appreciated were the subtleties of his poise, and the way that he worked the rails as well as tail and tip. Tudor was a bridge between the past and future. He became the ultimate postmodern surfer – the radical tradionalist – going backwards to go forwards.
The true power of surfing’s retro revival would be realised in Thomas Campbell’s groundbreaking The Seedling (1999). Shot entirely on 16mm film, and mostly in black and white, The Seedling was a masterpiece, a rare entity that magically blended beautiful surfing with artistic editing and fresh music. Sprout looked at modern surfing as a whole; longboarding, mid-length boards, eggs and fishes, men and women. Featuring the likes of Dan Malloy, Alex Knost and Belen Connelly, Sprout was not concerned with explosive surfing, but attempted to show people what surfing can be (and is for the majority) - the sensation, the feeling, the beauty. It has become a timeless documentation of the surfing art form. But we have to respect the true trendsetter in all this retro revival: Australian Andrew Kidman. Watching his film Litmus (1996) you can feel every part of his work as essential to the jigsaw of the whole. Basically, the complete ride forms an elegant whole, from takeoff to kickout, not a set of isolated, dislocated moves, apparently modelled in elite world tour surfing at the time. The stars of Litmus included Derek Hynd riding a Skip Frye built twin-finned fish shape. “The Litmus film that Andrew made,” said Skip Frye to me on a trip to Scotland years ago, sipping on a peppermint tea from a thermos flask, “liberated shortboarders to ride other boards beyond three finned thrusters. Importantly, surfers related to it, because you can taste, smell and sense these experiences and feel these alternative board shapes that we explored in the late ‘60s and ‘70s and made better in the ‘90s.” These stoked surfers, young and old, male and female, made the retro revival appealing again, because they were driven not by fashion, but by simple fun and functionality.