Why those little glimpses can be so exciting.
Never before has video content of surfing been more accessible. Clips are the currency of cool for modern pro surfers. Every sponsored ripper has some kid slaving on the beach; getting sun-fried behind the lens before they hit the dark, editing suite and become vitamin D deficient.
The upshot is an infinite quantity of surf porn proliferating the net. Even all the old classics, which could once only be viewed on VHS, disc or at the theatre, are lurking in the deep corners of the web.
Despite the abundance of readily available surf cinema, for some reason I still get over-excited when I catch a glimpse of a wave or surfing sub-plot in a mainstream TV or movie.
Watching the recent series of ‘Game of Thrones’ I’m sure I wasn’t the only surfer who temporarily disregarded zombie ice dragons and Machiavellian plots, and started screaming, “Check out that little peak!” when the camera panned across the bay behind Daenerys Targaryen as she arrived on the fictional island of Dragonstone.
Of course the internet oracle was able to identify the real location of Dragonstone as Gaztelugatxe, a small islet off the coast of Biscay in the Basque region.
Still, geographic references don’t explain the manic, psychological response to the site of an average beachie on the telly. My guess is that the buzz you experience when waves make a cameo on prime time is two-dimensional. In the first sense you’re excited because there is this secret little word you are tuned into. While everyone else is just waiting for a dragon to fly past or a cop to pull a body out of the surf, you’re mind-surfing that little left. It’s as if a program just offered you a bonus section that the majority of the general public don’t understand. Billabong’s famed marketing mantra ‘Only a surfer knows the feeling’ sums up the sentiment pretty well in this context.
The second dimension to the random, surfing moment is almost the exact opposite to the first. While surfers revel in the fact that they have their own little world to be immersed in, I think we also secretly like it when the broader population acknowledges our existence. I’ll never forget watching re-runs of Hawaii Five-0 in Hawaii one year and seeing Gerry Lopez make a walk-on cameo with one of his Lighning Bolt spears tucked under his wing. I could dial in the net or classics like ‘Storm Riders’ and watch hours of Gerry footage, but somehow that two second glimpse had all of us in the lounge room jumping up and down. Surfing, and one of its genuine icons, were being featured in a setting the whole world could see.
Of course, there can be a down side to these mainstream, surfing interludes. Sometimes Hollywood and TV networks get surfing and surf culture horribly wrong. However, this can be fun too because there is nothing surfers love more than critiquing the way surfing is handled by obvious non-surfers. Boards carried the wrong way, bogus lingo and probably the worst offence, scenes shot at locations that are obviously not the breaks being referred to in the dialogue.
Most of us enjoyed ‘Point Break’ but probably squirmed when Bodhi supposedly travels to Bells in Australia for the final scene. If the trees, rocks and backdrop don’t give away the hoax then the barrelling left? certainly does.
Still, sometimes the synergy between surfing and a broader theme seems to work. Probably the most celebrated surfing scene from a mainstream film appears in ‘Apocalypse Now’ when Colonel Kilgore, played by Robert Duvall, has his nostrils flush with the smell of napalm and his mind preoccupied with the waves breaking on ‘Charlie’s Point.’ The famous surfer in his platoon can’t quite cope with Kilgore’s manic, surfing obsession in the context of a life-threatening battle. It’s simultaneously a statement about the madness of war and surfing’s capacity to take an irrational hold on the mind. The script for the movie was written by John Milius, who’d already achieved cult status amongst surfers by directing ‘Big Wednesday’.
Maybe none of us will be cast as a surfer in a Hollywood film, but some TV news broadcasts in coastal Australian cities still offer the best opportunity for fifteen seconds of fame. If the swell is up the weatherman will occasionally cut to shots of somewhere like the Superbank, where a couple of good rides by unknown surfing soldiers are featured. For a lucky few there’s nothing like seeing the phone light up with the message, “Mate, you made the news!”