Like everything the internet has got it claws into, the world of surf film making has undergone a profound shift over the last ten years.
When the decade began Youtube was still in its infancy, Instagram was still three years off even hosting video and the majority of surfing’s moving images still existed on the shiny side of a DVD. Who is JOB? was merely a glint in Jamie’s eye, TV/Dion was still a year away from inception and the phrase ‘Marine Layer’ was still just an obscure meteorological term.
Pro surfers success was defined by content results, movie parts and column inches and surf fans were fed on a diet of content carefully curated by mag editors, movie makers and surf brand big wigs.
And then, everything changed. Not overnight, but gradually surf content began to made specifically for online release. Surfers and their teams took control of their own distribution channels. Immediacy became the new MO and success was measured in views, likes and shares.
This opened the door to creative minds previously repressed by doubty marketing managers and surf industry bean counters. Surf film making was democratised and anyone with a camera and an internet connection could have a crack at building up a big enough fan base to forge a career.
At the top level, it sent the standard through the roof, with the easy comparability of online vids driving surfers to punt higher and throw themselves into bigger, more horrible waves in an attempt to outdo their peers. The shift also offered opportunities to those with more unconventional styles and ideas (think Ben Gravy) who may have once been ignored by the surf media gatekeepers but were roundly appreciated by the masses.
Of course, it wasn’t all roses. A quick scan of the most-watched surf clips on Youtube provides a timely reminder- if one were needed- that clicks are not always synonymous with quality. And as we continue on the trajectory set by this decade, there are no doubt questions to be asked about if the pursuit of views has reshaped the surf media landscape for the worse, away from the celebration of nuance, towards the melodramatic.
However, that’s not what we’re here to answer today. This is a time for nostalgic levity via a revisiting of the most talked-about surf clips of the decade, where the only question that really matters is; are you not entertained?
Dark Side Of The Lens- 2010
Earlier this week WL Euro editor Paul Evans penned a round-up of stand out performers and watershed moments from the last ten years of surfing, set exclusively on our humble continent. Among his picks was Dark Side Of The Lens, the seminal mini-doc by Mickey Smith, who in 2010 was fresh off the back of several years discovering, charging and photographing never-before-seen waves along the west coast of Ireland. Here’s what Paul wrote of the film, which has notched up a massive 2.6 million views online since its release:
“The moody, compelling short reached well beyond the core surf world and resonated with the broader ‘work/life balance’ conversations, the radical rethinks of the traditional mortgage/secure job/pension aspirations going on nearly everywhere in the wake of the global financial crisis.
Mickey’s widely-imitated earnest, emotive, occasionally melodramatic storytelling style paired with distinctive imagery; heavy surf in heavily contrasted light became the blueprint for almost every budding Vimeo Staff Pick aspiring filmmaker out there.”
For more key Euro-based moments, read the rest of Paul’s article here.
Code Red- Filmed in 2011, Released in 2012
Still revered to this day as one of the heaviest surf sessions ever, the Teahupoo Code Red swell hit in the small island nation in mid-August 2011, during the waiting period of the Billabong Pro comp. As a result, the global surf media were already in attendance (along with the entire roster of CT surfers- although they mostly sat it out), making for an unrivalled quality of documentation that matched the amazing surfing performances. Highlights include Nathan Fletcher wrestling the foamball on probably the heaviest Chopes wave ever ridden, Bruce Irons getting his boardies ripped clean off in the impact zone and Laurie Towner making some of the maddest tubes ever caught on film.
Electric Blue Heaven – 2012
In 2012, Dion dropped a video that melded many of the elements that would later become mainstays of the 2010’s viral cache. It featured aerial irreverence and scantily clad women, all set around a wave forged by man’s own hand. Although the other wave pools that dominated the decade were yet to be unveiled, this clip served as solid proof for other wave machine mechanics of the surfing world’s insatiable thirst for such content, with the original upload garnering well over a million views, which was massive for the time. It was also unusually hi-fi for a web clip of the day, paving the way for the level of production we’ve come to expect from a free surfer’s online output.
Maya Gabeira Almost Drowns- 2013
While videos of ‘heart-stopping’ rescues from Nazare have become a regular part of the viral surf vid milieu over the last few years, this one featuring Brazilian charger Maya Gabeira was perhaps the most impactful. It came before the internet was saturated with such clips and features the nearest near-death experience captured on film this decade. It was also followed by a diss by Laird Hamilton, which upped the conversation around the incident. Not only did Maya make a full recovery, but she returned to Nazare a few years later with two (metaphorical) fingers up to Laird and set the record for biggest wave ever surfed by a woman. She continues to lead the charge at the break and is set to compete alongside the men at the next Nazare WSL big wave comp.
Mick Fanning shark attack- 2015
In August 2015, while surfing in the final of the J-Bay Open, Mick Fanning got accosted by a shark. While the incident itself was terrifying – with a few moments of live broadcasting where it genuinely felt like we might be about to watch one of our sporting heroes get eaten alive- there were a lot of feel-good storylines to emerge from it.
Like Julian’s heroic attempts to aid Mick in the water, the emotional interviews after everyone was returned safely to shore and Mick’s Trestles win just two months later, followed by a runner up finish on tour that year. Above all, the incident reminded us of one of the things we love most about our sport; that no matter how sanitised the comps sometimes feel, the arena really is nature in its rawest and most undiluted form, to an extent unparalleled in any other pro-sporting event.
Kelly’s Wave – 2015
On 18th December 2015, just a day after Adriano De Souza won his maiden world title, Slater unveiled his new creation, ten years in the making, with a video simply entitled ‘Kelly’s Wave’. It was unlike anything anyone had seen before in a pool; a perfect sheet glass barrel, running for several hundred yards down a grey and misty lake. Beloved surf historian Matt Warshaw says that the sport now has only two eras, Before Kelly’s Wave and After. This was the day man outdid nature for the first time and whether you joined the camp espousing the benefits or the one predicting dystopia, huge implications felt undeniable. In the years since the hype has died down a little and so far, earth-shattering ramifications (in either direction) haven’t appeared as promised. However, if this is the start of a new history as Warshaw claims, then it’s far too early days to be making any real proclamations.
Cape Fear- 2016
In early June, 2016 Red Bull’s inaugural ‘Cape Fear’ event was called on at the mutant slab known as ‘Ours’ at Cape Solander. What ensued was undoubtedly the heaviest, most dangerous and most entertaining surf comp ever held. A day gladly bereft of all of the factors that so often hinder surf comps; the swell showed up on time, the format fit perfectly and there was not a drop of conservatism in sight (three surfers ended up in the hospital). For contractual reasons, all WSL surfers (including BWT) were barred from competing, which meant the roster consisted of a veritable mix of underground chargers, work-a-day hellmen and fearless up and comers with names like Ryan Hipwood, Dean Morrison, Koby Abberton and Laurie Towner leading the charge, adding an extra point of interest to an already incredible comp. In the end, a largely unknown 18-year-old named Russell Bierke took the win, setting him on a trajectory that has seen him him finish up the decade considered among best heavy wave surfers one earth.
Aint no wave pool – 2017
Every new wave of change inspires a backlash and after a few years of wave pool media domination Mick Fanning served up a timely reminder that mechanical perfection still exists out there in the wild. The clip also launched against the backdrop of a renewed interest in search and discovery missions in far off lands, aided immensely by Google Earth. In the mid-noughties, the received wisdom reckoned pretty much all the world’s best waves were already on the map. Sure, there was still the odd secluded reef pass out there, but most agreed the chances of finding a new wave as long and perfect as Desert Point or Kandui were slim to none. Then, in 2008 the unveiling of Skeleton Bay cast that assertion into doubt.
What followed was a concerted effort by surf travellers like Kepa Acero, Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker and Naxto Gonzalez to scour the farthest-flung corners of the globe in search of new, sand-bottomed perfection. Then, in early 2017 someone tipped Fanning and Ripcurl off about a rarely surfed freight train right somewhere really remote and the rest, as they say, is history.