For a very long time the surf movie's basic premise was straightforward; good surfers, good waves, good music. However in more recent times filmmakers have been increasingly drawn to the stories and characters that surround surfing. The act of surfing is still at the heart of the surf film, but now the narratives behind the act are being explored. The rise of the surf film festival circuit has helped as it has provided a platform and demand for films with more complex storytelling. 2017 might be a watershed year with a number of high quality surf documentaries available covering a vast area of ocean interests Here we take a quick look at some of the best.
Under the Arctic Sky
Photographer Chris Burkard has forged a world wide reputation (and collected 2.8 million Instagram followers) for his stunning natural world imagery in some of the most beautiful and remote parts of the world. In this film Ben Weiland documents a mission organized by Chris to the outer coasts of Iceland. Without giving too much away, it shows the dedication required to truly open up the surfing frontiers and the rewards that come through pushing through adversity. As you'd expect, the scenery is incredible and the waves aren't bad either.
With Bunker Spreckles being Clark Gable's stepson, heir to a sugar fortune, international playboy and revolutionary surfer, you'd think that the myth couldn't match the truth. Yet in Takuji Masuda's film, which features expertly edited footage from Spreckles' own archive, we see that the mad, crazy truth of Bunker is beyond anyone's imagination. It was a life filled with passion, decadence, and reckless experimentation, that had surfing at its core. Brilliantly told, this is a fascinating documentary of one of surfing's greatest characters.
"No one's got any right to tell me how to surf or experience the ocean," says Dave Rastovich in Keith Malloy's documentary, Fish People. That might be the takeaway of a film that follows six people's very different ocean experiences. In addition to Rasta, there's the spearfishing champion and freediver Kimi Werner, endurance swimmer Lynne Cox, photographer Ray Collins, Californian youth mentor and counsellor Eddie Donnellan and young Teahupoo charger Matahi Drollet. Each individual has dedicated their lives to the ocean in different ways and the film tells their inspirational stories.
The Church of the Open Sky
Nathan Oldfield's The Church of the Open Sky focuses on various troubles that afflict surfers and how the act of surfing can provide a path to a better life. Addiction, loss, war and natural disasters are all subjects covered in a wide ranging documentary that illustrates that how pure stoke can be cure for a wide range of problems. The surfing and cinematography is great too and Rasta's section on the North Coast of NSW is worth the price of admission (or Netflix subscription) alone.
Distance Between Dreams
If you want to see the decade of hard work and good times that went into Ian Walsh's win in the recent Pe'ahi Challenge, Distant Between Dreams is the film to watch. While the surfing footage, especially at Pe'ahi, is mesmerizing, it is the personal relationships Ian has developed that adds emotional heft. The role Walsh and his three brothers have played in the development of big-wave surfing is well documented and the film shows a driven, ambitious and intelligent surfer pushing the limits of a new frontier. After his latest efforts though, he may need a new chapter.