In the winter of 1989 a consortium of upstart surf rats from forgotten corners of the U.S. found themselves living on the North Shore of Oahu, all under one roof, all for one monumental season.
Those kids are now household names in the surf world: Kelly Slater, Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Ross Williams, Taylor Knox, Pat O'Connell, Kalani Robb and Todd Chesser. The roof they lived under? That belonged to Benji Weatherly's mom. Out front, across the street, another kid named Taylor Steele was camped out in a van with his video camera.
Invited and encouraged to film every moment of the action, three years later Steele had cobbled together an edit. He dialed in a punk rock soundtrack and released his first film, "Momentum," on VHS. Like a distortion-filled power chord, it was a gut punch to the surfing establishment.
Young, brash, hyper-talented and hyper-competitive, Slater, Machado and the rest of the crew were dead set on taking surfing to the next level. Nobody realized it at the time, but it was during that winter that the "New School" had arrived.
A quarter century - and 11 World Titles for Slater - later, producers at HBO and Universal Pictures teamed up with Steele, the original Momentum crew, and directors Jeff and Michael Zimbalist to tell the story of how it all went down.
Premiering at the Broad Stage Theater in Santa Monica on Monday night, "Momentum Generation" is a deep and intriguing dive behind the scenes of how a few kids from Florida, Hawaii and California were able to turn the sport of surfing on its collective head.
"It was this time in our lives where things were moving and naturally changing. It was really exciting. We were all at Benji's house and it was the focal point where we all came together and grew up together," said Slater at the premiere.
But for all the good times, it wasn't all high fives and Pennywise shows. As the surfers came of age, there was more at stake in their professional careers. There was money and world titles on the line. Rivalries brewed and tensions sometimes flared.
"I'll speak for all of us, we probably went to sleep after sitting for an eight-hour interview wondering if we said something that would later be used against us," said Machado. "They weren't asking us about where we learned to surf or any of that stuff. They went straight for the jugular."
Machado famously missed out on a World Title in the iconic "high-five" moment of the 1995 Pipeline Masters. In that fateful final, Machado favored camaraderie over the instinct of competition and lost not only the comp, but also that year's World Title.
The idea for the project began six years ago, after Steele put together a reunion trip to the Mentawai Islands for the original Momentum crew. When the got back home, Machado and his long-time manager, Justine Chiara, realized they were sitting on amazing footage with historic implications, and that's when inspiration struck to create a documentary.
"For us, coming from outside the surf world, it was really important that we were going to do this, that they were willing to go beyond just making a surfing film. That was really encouraging to us," said Jeff Zimbalist. "The focus from the onset were the bonds of friendship and family, but then also this insider's look at the cultural zeitgeist of the ‘90s that this Momentum crew is at the center of."
For Steele, that original "Momentum" video launched one of the most prolific careers in surf filmmaking.
"There is a lot to cover in 30 years, but as a director I was trying to figure out where they were leading the story as they conducted the interviews and put the pieces together," said Steele. "It was hard to switch from being behind the lens to being in front of it. I was nervous because we talked about being honest and saying what really happened and you never know what's going to happen when you come out on the other side of something like that."
"Momentum Generation" will be released on December 11th exclusively on HBO.