The London Surf Film Festival: Barrel Riding With The Dawn Patrol

Surf Filmmaking is finally coming into its own on shores closer than California. These short films show it's a movement to get excited about...
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Surf Filmmaking is finally coming into its own on shores closer than California. These short films show it's a movement to get excited about...


It’s been an exciting couple of years for UK surf filmmaking. In a medium that has been the traditional preserve of Californian, Australian and Hawaiian lensmen, a small but committed bunch of creatives have suddenly found themselves at the vanguard of a new and very British movement, one born of the frigid line-ups and steely waters that stretch from the brooding North Sea to the raging Atlantic. Raised on a strict diet of Celtic points, Yorkshire reefs and Devonian beaches, this new breed are seeing their hard work chasing the best swells these green isles have to offer finally start to pay off, both in and out of the water.

The first signs of a sea change came with the 2010 release of Cornish photographer Mickey Smith’s ‘Dark Side of the Lens.’ This seminal film charted his time living, shooting and surfing on the Irish coastline, blending spectacular images with the ethos behind his life view: “If I only scrape a living, at least it’s a living worth scraping. If there’s no future in it, this is a present worth remembering.”  ‘Dark Side’ became a global digital phenomenon, scooping multiple accolades, including the Surfer Poll Awards (the Grammys of the waveriding world). However, perhaps its greatest impact was within the UK surf filmmaking collective. Mickey didn’t just raise the bar in terms of the filmmaking process – the cinematography, the grading – he hammered home the need for creatives to focus not only on the images, but on the narrative, the score, the production, the whole package. These six minutes provided a multi-dimensional alternative to simply capturing a frantic thrashing session set to a formulaic heavy metal sound track. Waiting in the wings there was a crew of filmmakers ready for this shift, and like a tidal surge they rose to the challenge.

This hotbed of UK talent burst onto the international scene in 2011 with the emergence of the creative partnership of Mark Waters and Chris McClean, as well as the likes of Cornish filmmaker Tim Boydell and Tim Davies from Wales. With their project ‘Uncommon Ideals’, Waters and McClean focussed on the Doggerland region of the North Sea, setting images of Norwegian Fjords and Yorkshire reefs to a haunting UNKLE soundtrack, bringing to life the poetry of Dan Crockett. Their film touched the global surfing consciousness, winning big at the 2011 London Surf / Film Festival, busting down the door in San Sebastian, San Diego and beyond. It was shortlisted for the Surfer Poll and nominated in the international Vimeo Awards. Like Mickey before them, ‘Uncommon Ideals’ went viral across the mainstream.

The emergence of this next generation of filmmakers coincided with the launch of the London Surf / Film Festival. The UK’s first ever International surf culture festival not only brought to the capital the best film features from across the globe, but championed UK filmmaking through ‘The Shorties’ short film contest, a platform created exclusively for home-grown talents to showcase their work. For 2011 Tim Davies teamed up with British pro surfer Alan Stokes to produce a series of short films called Strange and Beautiful Life. They premiered ‘Rubber Tracksuit’ in the capital, their tale of cold Celtic swells and shallow Scottish slabs.

Tim Boydell has been bubbling under the radar for sometime, but last year saw him break cover and everyone sit up and take notice. Boydell became the first British filmmaker to have his work featured in the ground breaking Taylor Steele project ‘Innersection’ which collated contributions from a handpicked selection of the very best filmmakers across the globe. In his next short, ‘The First Swell’, Boydell spent long winter weeks chasing the unridden realms off the Orkney Isles, suffering the rain and wind yet ultimately discovering a terrifying right point that raged below towering cliffs.

Perhaps it is these hard times, both climatically and economically, that have sculpted British lensmen into such a hardy and single-minded crew. One thing is sure, when they step up to full-length features, they possess the drive to change the trajectory of surf filmmaking and push the waveriding media into new waters. The forecast is clear; Lundy, Fair Isle, Cromarty and Dogger, rising, with increased visibility.

This years London Surf / Film Festival will take place at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith 11-14 October.

Read more about Chris Nelson.

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