The London Surf Film Festival 2018 by Kate Townsend

Walking into Regents Street Cinema last Friday for the London Surf Film Festival 2018 was instantly therapeutic. The room was buzzing with pros, beginners and hobbyists alike, all radiating excitement that would soon be measured by the very scientific ‘Froth-o-meter’. The cinematic menu for the evening included the UK premiere of Momentum Generation, another UK premiere of Electric Acid Surfboard Test, and Railroad, nicely interspersed with two entries in the Shorties category, Todd and Martial Narrative. The visuals for the festival were stunning (shout out to Venn Creative), the coconut rum was flowing (thank you Aluna Coconut) and the crowd was ready for the shred session to commence.


Photo credit: Universal

Momentum Generation, directed by Jeff & Michael Zimbalist

Where to begin. For starters, Rob Machado himself was there in the flesh to present the film and do a Q&A with the audience. You know people say you should never meet your hero? I now wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. Mr Machado was as cool, humble, funny and inspiring as I thought he would be, and those characteristics rippled into the spirit of the film.

Momentum Generation is an un-sugarcoated tale of a group of crazy-talented kids that changed the culture of surfing, and maybe even sport, forever. They proved surfers were athletes, not hippies, they defied the false stereotype that all surfers are druggies, and they shone a light on environmental issues and the importance of connecting with and respecting locals. I laughed, a lot. Watching old footage of Kalani Robb and Kelly Slater tussle in Benji Weatherley’s Mum’s notorious beach pad, and hearing the group mock Shane Dorian for his paparazzi pout was not only jokes but heart-warming. These guys were pros, icons even, but they were spirited teenagers first, something I think pop culture forgot when it swallowed them up.

From the outside, it may have looked like they were living the dream, but Momentum Generation brings the truth to the surface about what it’s like to compete at the highest level. They pushed each other to win world titles and surf the biggest waves our planet has to offer, but these successes came at a cost. The incessant heckling, competitive nature and machoism in the group took its toll on all of them. ‘Guys at that age don’t sit down with each other and say, ‘Hey bro, are you okay?’’, Machado admits when recalling how the group dealt with the sudden passing of Todd Chesser in 1997. Inevitably this atmosphere was detrimental to their friendships and in some cases, their careers.

The film shows the intensity and monotony of the pro tour whirlwind, a lifestyle that sucked you in and spat you out like getting licked at pipe in January. A line from The Drifter (directed by Taylor Steele, 2009) springs to my mind as a scene plays where Machado and Slater run into each other in Indo after years of disconnection: ‘The surf world moves like a travelling circus’.  Momentum Generation lets you experience the highs and lows of that circus, allowing each viewer to better understand, and feel close to their heroes in a way that has never been done before.

One of the opening lines in the film is ‘It was the bond of our family that made us so successful’, which sums the film up perfectly. These guys not only survived the travelling circus, but they also made the world a better place and they did it as a family, against all the odds. The credits roll as Jack Johnson’s ‘Better Together’ plays, a perfect ending to this total masterpiece. Jeff and Michael, I thank you.

Electric Acid Surfboard Test, directed by Ashton Goggans

Oh my goodness I could watch Dane Reynolds rip and be awkward on camera for hours on end. Sure, you can watch this film for frank reviews on the world’s most alternative board designs, but from the beginning, I was in it just to watch Reynolds shred in Mexico. The combination of this man’s freak-of-nature surf skills and his unapologetic pessimism at being filmed make this film as entertaining as it is informative.

Reynolds is a clever dude. Not only does he concisely pick apart each board’s design, but he also offers suggestions for improvement that make you think ’f**k, that’s genius’. He pushes each board (ten boards were harmed in the making of this film) to the max, testing whether that fork-nosed, twin-finned asymmetrical could actually walk the walk.

This film is an exhibition of the best surfing I may ever witness. You need no more reason to watch it than that.

Railroad, directed by Gustavo Imigrante

Railroad is a thing of pure cinematic beauty. Nothing has ever made me want to squeeze into my 5mm and dive into dark, icy waters more than this film. Forget Indo, Scotland and Ireland are my next points of call.

The story is beautifully simple, allowing Gustavo Imigrante to focus on producing breathtaking shots that marry with a perfectly-curated soundtrack. The way he captures natural light is humbling, reminding us that experiencing the way nature behaves at different times of day is yet another gift the sport gives us.

Respecting the environments and cultures we visit as surfers is a strong theme throughout the film, we are eternal guests, but just as important are the methods we choose to travel to those faraway places. We follow Nic Von Rupp on his back-to-basics journey around Europe via train. Stripping away the need for immediacy from transportation while he lovingly drags his board behind him. Nic uses the long journeys to reflect on waves gone and waves to come, new friendships he’s made along the way and the marks each place has left on him (mentally and physically). Every barrel seemed to feel more deserved when he’d spent days journeying to isolated coasts and hours clambering down cliff sides.

Railroad explores what and who the sport of surfing connects us to, and the wonderfully unpredictable ways it does this. ‘You never know what that walls’ going to do’, Nic says excitedly. A sentiment that applies in surf, travel, life, all of the above? You choose. All I know is from now on I won’t be waiting for warmer waters or cheaper flights. I’ll be jumping in whatever the season, painstakingly climbing down the cliff to a wonderfully lonely lineup. (P.S. Nic, Monster. Hit me up with one of those beanies, please. Can’t blame a girl for asking…)

London Surf Film Festival 2018 was a roaring success. It highlighted the mad talent within the surf community, athletically and creatively, and exposed the nitty-gritty of where the sport has come in contrast to where it stands now on the stage of global sport; pioneering and unstoppable. Impeccably organised with a gorgeous venue to slouch back in, 2019 can’t come soon enough.

Kate Townsend

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published