Sex, drugs, surfing, boardshorts, and billions in one big, salty drama.
It’s always interesting to watch mainstream TV and film producers plunder surf culture for a good story. Originally talked about back in 2019, ‘Barons’ is finally set to begin production mid-way through this year. Set in the 70s, the story follows two young surfers who become fierce rivals in their pursuit of surf industry billions. The original press release assured us it would be full of “risk, mischief, soul and beauty.” An epic series that would deliver the holy grail of surfing-laced TV, impressing “both avid surfers and lovers of international TV Drama.”
While a range of different sources will influence the plot, Phil Jarratt’s critically acclaimed, non-fiction take on the volatile evolution of the surf industry ‘Salts and Suits’ will likely be a key one.
Of course, the glossy, capitalist dream of sun-bronzed surfers transforming their free-spirited lives into rivers of Quiksilver and gold needed a murkier dimension to make the TV execs happy. It’s here that the best surf documentary hardly anyone’s seen ‘Sea of Darkness’ will likely become a key influence on ‘Barons’. For various reasons Michael Oblowitz’s documentary never got a full release after it premiered at the CineVegus film festival back in 2009, (Read more here) however, it is still mumbled about in reverential tones by those who have seen it.
'Sea of Darkness' examines the well-documented drug-running escapades of G-land camp founder Mike Boyum and Peter McCabe. The film details Boyum’s close connections with several figures who went on to become major players in the burgeoning surf industry. Many of them were guests at his fabled G-land camp in the late 70s and early 80s. When Boyum was first busted and extradited from Bali by the C.I.A he was sent to a Californian correctional facility that let him out on day release with an ankle bracelet on the proviso that he had a job to go to. Lo and behold his old buddies from the G-land camp were kick-starting Quiksilver at Newport and were happy to give Mike an easy gig that let him keep up appearances. Of course, Boyum being Boyum wasn’t content to be the Quiksilver gofer and ultimately returned to his preferred profession as a drug-runner.
Now, none of that implicates anyone other than Boyum, but it does give an inventive scriptwriter plenty to bite on if they have a license to twist it into a good story. So we can expect Barons to be a series, which combines compelling surf imagery with drug heists, sex scenes, and power battles.
Will it be any good? There’s no doubt the raw material is intriguing, but weaving it into a script that cleverly captures the evolution of characters from wave-lusting wanderers to money-chasing tycoons will be the challenge. The writing team behind Barons – Liz Doran, Matt Cameron, and Marieke Hardy – all have serious credits to their name, although it's unlikely any have ever been barrelled.
Surfers are usually pretty opinionated when it comes to how their subculture is represented on the screen. It’s been done badly too often. The Simon Baker-directed ‘Breath’ was probably the best, recent example of a surf-based story that worked well for the mainstream and also satisfied the stringent evaluations of surfers. Baker relied heavily on the cinematography of surf film legend, Rick Rifici to give ‘Breath’ its authentic feel. The realistic look was aided by the decision to cast two leads – Samson Coulter and Ben Spence – who were accomplished surfers. Baker also did most of his own work on the waves with a little help from Heath Joske.
Taylor Steele has an economic interest in Barons and will also be responsible for producing the surfing scenes. Hopefully, that means we will get an accurate portrayal of the surfing lifestyle.
While the entire cast hasn’t been announced yet, Tracks did have a chat in the surf with actor Sean Keenan (Puberty Blues, Wake in Fright, True History of the Kelly Gang) who is set to play one of the lead roles. We can vouch for Sean’s surfing abilities. He’s got a polished style and solid cut-back, and won’t need to call on any stunt doubles for the surfing scenes. Sean suggested he was excited to be part of the project and impressed by the scripts he’d seen so far.
Initially, Barons was scheduled to be shot in Australia, the USA, and Indonesia but COVID spoiled the fun and it’s likely the whole thing will now be shot on the north coast of NSW. Will ‘Barons’ stand-out from the ever-expanding list of TV shows that must be watched. Hopefully. A few barrels, and a couple of beers in front of an episode of Barons sounds like it could be the perfect surfing day.