It was 30 years ago that surfing changed forever. It was 30 years ago that a group of 17 and 18-year-old friends crashed at Taylor Steele's parents' house in San Diego for the summer to film for the movie that would come to define their generation: "Momentum."
Shane Dorian, Ross Williams, Taylor Knox, Rob Machado, and a certain Kelly Slater were among the friends that circulated through the zone. The previous winter on the North Shore they'd all hunkered down together at Benji Weatherly's mom's house in front of Pipeline. They'd found Steele sleeping in a van out front and embraced him as their duly appointed filmer (before surfers had their own private "filmers).
"Our only motivation was to impress one another. That meant surfing beyond our abilities, which then resulted in getting good clips for Taylor's movie," recalled Williams in a piece for The Surfer's Journal. "It meant getting good photos for the magazines too, but more and more the VCR was our medium of choice. Either way, all of these things translated into big contracts from the surf industry, which was right outside Taylor's door. The only drawback: the constant need to out do each other."
While the Momentum Generation, also called the New School, were competitive in and out of the water, getting a marquee spot in one of Steele's films was one of the accomplishments that carried the most bragging rights.
"The battle was definitely egged on by Taylor, as well as the magazines and sponsors. It was all designed to get us to surf harder and perform at our best," Williams explained. "We all thrived on it."
"One thing that made Taylor so good at what he did was that he had an eye for what everyone excelled at," he continued. "When I asked him about this he noted, ‘The crews today seem more specialized. Not as diverse. In our crew everyone was pushing each other in every category. Slater at innovating. Shane with charging and airs. Rob with speed and combos. Ross with style and power. Knox also with combos and power.'"
The surfers and Steele's films redefined what high performance surfing meant and how big the surf industry could be. From Slater's 11 World Titles, to Knox's $50,000 wave, to Dorian redefining big-wave surfing, the sport and culture of surfing wouldn't be what it is today had Steele, who's enjoyed a remarkably prolific career as a filmmaker, not invited his buddies to come crash at his pad in California for the summer back in 1990.
"Looking back, that had to be one of the best summers of my life. We all had our future in front of us," Williams says. "I know we didn't know how big or how long our careers would be, but it felt so good to be setting out to be what we all dreamed of as kids, professional surfers.
"The videos, the competition and camaraderie were the potion that made us who we were as surfers. Careers that unfolded were no accident. I think if you could label our generation with one word it would be ‘motivated.' We all were so passionate about surfing and wanted so badly to make it our life. If I could pass one thing along to the kids coming up these days it would be to surf with passion and conviction."
The WSL just launched its new series, 'The Collection' featuring surf films and directors who defined their generations. Dive into Taylor Steele's 2007 classic "Stranger Than Fiction" now.