How Margaret River is giving us a glimpse into the future.
The other day I popped in my favorite surf movie, Campaign, for what was probably the 1,245 time in my life. I might be slightly bias, and make your case for Stranger Than Fiction, View From a Blue Moon, Cluster, Blue Horizon or what have you, but Campaign is the greatest surf movie of all time.
If you’re unfamiliar with the 240p, 2003, Taylor Steele classic — and you’re doing both yourself and the collective surf world a great injustice if you are — it follows the likes of Mick Fanning, CJ Hobgood, Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson and more in a punk-rock laden shred parade around the globe. It’s a surf purists dream come true, a face-melting adrenaline showcase of the Momentum-era’s best and brightest as they have their will with every wave from the Mentawais to Mundaka. And what it lacks in airs (after deep film analysis I counted 12 in total) it makes up in rail-game, power-surfing, below-knee-length board short brilliance.
After my heart rate came back down to normal levels and I regained consciousness several minutes after the film’s conclusion, I realized just how hard the Campaign crew used to run surfing. CJ, Kelly, Mick, Joel, Taj and the rest of the gang had a monopoly over World Title trophies, standalone films, rabid fans and all the good times in-between for decades.
Boy, how things have changed.
Now; CJ is retired, Mick and Taj are quickly following his lead, Kelly looks ready to ride off into the Outerknown at any second and Parko is just barely cracking the Top 10 (always number one in our hearts though).
And as the stars of yesteryear slowly join the post-competitive retirement home one-by-one, the spotlight is now shifting to guys like Julian Wilson, Jordy Smith and John John Florence, whose dazzling air displays are being pitted up against Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo and the rest of the Brazilian uprising. Even newcomers like Conner Coffin, who’s carve game would bring a tear to Taylor Knox’s eye, elevate above the lip for some high-performance razzle-dazzle every now and then.
In short; that was then, this is now, and the Campaign is not up for reelection.
The past couple days of competition at Margaret River have been particularly telling of this. In just three rounds of match-ups we’ve seen Kelly lose to an 18-year old Italian who grew up surfing the Mediterranean, Taj take off his Australian competitive jersey for the very last time and Mick disappear from sight altogether. At this point, only Parko remains and oh crap he’s up against the invincible Matt Wilkinson who apparently will never lose another heat again in round four.
But, the weirdest part is, even though this quasi-Shakespearean tragedy is being live-streamed on WSL webcasts daily, everyone seems to be totally ok with it.
In fact, this is an incredible time for competitive surfing. Things are strange, different and downright thrilling. We’ve got Caio Ibelli winning heats with air-reverse buzzer-beaters, Kolohe Andino delivering perfect scores while he runs around the beach wearing an American flag and Oakley radars (Tony Abbot and his infamous speed dealers give you two trendy thumbs up there Brother), injury replacements taking down WSL giants and everyone else hustling one another amidst the chaos. A competitors job used to just be to win, but now entertainment is being taken into consideration as well.
Thankfully, the excitement we’ve been seeing from Margaret River is only a preview of what’s in store for the future. And while nothing will stop resentful traditionalists from crying out and shaking their fists at the inevitable tide of change, that’s what they have their Taylor Steele, Bruce Brown and Alby Falzon films for.