The world isn’t perfect.
It rains when we camp, we need to work so we can play, groundswells come and go. We can choose to wallow in negativity, pining over how much better things would be if only this or that intangible element were to only play our game. But wasted hours and wasted days are cast to the winds on empty hopes and ‘what if’s.
At times, things aren’t ideal, at times things don’t go our way, but in these moments, if we can rise up and see the sunshine through the rain, the silver linings to the less-than-perfect, the world is our oyster and the fun never ends.
‘At Times’, a new film by Mitch Surman and Warwick Gow, embraces the average, casting out preconceptions like yesterday’s garbage to revel in the ordinary.
“We did a short series of films called ‘Shatter’, for Glass Coffee House (Mitch’s side project),” says Warwick of the film’s inception. “It was sort of a test run. We did about five before deciding to do a feature.”
While Noosa Heads may boast one of the most perfect collections of logging waves anywhere on the planet, Mitch, Warwick and the surfers featured in ‘At Times’ reside further south, the beach breaks of Maroochydore and the small point wave of Alexandra Headland their local. Although they have their days, these waves are less consistent, less groomed and far less suitable for the heavily glassed, rolled bottom singlefins shaped by Mitch.
‘At Times’ showcases not only the stable of teamriders on Mitch’s Ms. Surfboards label but also their abilities in and acceptance of waves that do not lend themselves to this genre of surfing.
“Because the waves are inconsistent here, it’s hard to get epic, barrelling waves,” reflects Warwick of the film’s premise. “I guess the angle that we went towards, and where the title came from, was in seeing the good in an area.
“If you visit a place enough, you get to learn the good in it, as well as the bad, and you’re going to adjust how you are surfing based around that. That’s where the idea of ‘At Times’ comes in, because, at times, things will be perfect but, when they’re not, you need to adjust for that and embrace it, not just the good times.”
In the early ‘90s, now legendary surf filmmaker, Taylor Steele had a similar vision. Releasing ‘Momentum’, his inaugural major movie, Steele made the top level of surfing, with the likes of Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Shane Dorian riding average waves to an exceptional level. This connected the dots for many young grommets, making surfing more accessible, allowing them to see that they didn’t need perfect waves to get good or to have fun.
Similarly, ‘At Times’ proves that you don’t need a two-minute, lefthander at Chicama to have plenty of fun on a log. Big waves, little ripples, onshore or glassy, ‘At Times’ embraces it all, the exceptional standard of surfing not wavering for a second in a diversity of conditions.
“It’s not realistic to watch these perfect, uncrowded waves, which they filmed for a year to capture,” suggests Warwick. “Hopefully, ‘At Times’ is a more honest portrayal of that.”
Shot in a raw, unfettered style, ‘At Times’ becomes more relatable, invoking a realism as if witnessing in first person. It doesn’t serenade us with dreamy boat trips in the Maldives or uncrowded, unattainable secret spots that few of us have visited and fewer still could frequent. Although shot across the region during and post this year’s Noosa Festival of Surfing and taking in some of the sensational waves of the region, much of the action takes place in nothing more grandiose than crappy, wind-shaken beach breaks straight out the front of Maroochydore’s urban sprawl.
“A lot of the singlefin footage I’ve ever seen has been Michael Peterson at perfect Kirra or Malibu or Noosa – -that’s sort of what you see and what you get with singlefin footage.
But, in conditions that many would deem barely worthy of a paddle-out, the cast of ‘At Times’ unleash a swathe of manoeuvres and a skill level usually reserved for the good days.
‘At Times’ reignites the grommet stoke, those times of youth when you would wait patiently, watching videos and frothing for a surf, until dad could drive you down to the beach on the weekend. It could be four-foot and pumping or six inches of scratching windswell, but you’d waited seven days and you were paddling out come what may.
This is due in no short amount to the cast. Mitch, hardly a veteran himself, has made it his mission to support and mentor the junior ranks, and they in turn have inspired in him an appreciation of all that surfing is, the boundless stoke that becomes trimmed and cropped and cynical with age.
“They’re really inspiring,” enthuses Warwick of the younger team members, including Jordan Spee, Kai Annetts and Cale Coulter, all stand-outs in the junior divisions of this years Noosa Festival. “They make you froth out a bit more too, because I’ll go to check the surf and it’ll be crap and I’ll just go home again, but you’ll go to check the surf with them and [in their eyes] it’s never crap!
“It helps with filming as well, because you need to film a lot to get even ten seconds of footage and you can be filming for days on end to get it. So it helps having their stoke, for lack of a better word. They’re just frothing to surf, and that pushed the film and made it such a fast-paced thing, even though it’s a logging film. It has that energy because they have that energy being kids. It’s awesome to see them innovate. You can see them pulling inspiration from Mitch and the logging community at large but then make it a style of their own.”
As with so many trends and pastimes, singlefin longboarding has fallen into a niche. There are sensational exponents of the genre who have created a style of their own, but they have also branded a formula. The upcoming generations emulate this style, personalising it certainly, but with all the hallmarks of their forebears.
It is when we are thrown into unexpected circumstances that innovation occurs. Without the long point waves so integral to the logging style, one must think outside the box, as this pod of urban beach break rad cats have done.
“When they [the younger surfers] didn’t know I was filming them, they were surfing so much weirder and way less controlled, because they’re not trying to get a part or impress, they’re just surfing and creating on the spot. It was crazy to see…how much they experiment day to day.”
‘At Times’ is not your usual, cookie cutter surf flick so don’t expect it. It is a hand-moulded, unsymmetrical, burnt at the corners cookie with a bucketload of choc chips and an icing sugar dusting. It is honest, it is real, it is a genuine reflection of a surfing life we can relate to proving that, whatever we think a good day is, there’s still plenty of good to be had in the bad times. That frothing grommet still lives on in us all, we’ve just gagged and blindfolded him (or her) with preconceptions and prejudice.
“I wanted that diversity and that fun,” says Warwick. “These kids are going to be sponsored in a few years, but at the moment they’re still just having fun and there’s no pressure on them. We wanted to capture that but also, with guys like Mike Lay and Mitch, who have a lot more pressure on them and more invested on how they surf, to show that they still go and have fun and be stupid. The groms are pushing them to do new shit because they see the younger guys doing something just as good, if not crazier, and they’re constantly pushing each other in this fun but competitive way.
“Diversity comes from that, because they’re all trying to do different stuff and think outside the box.”
Preconceptions kill inspiration. While there are many exceptionally good and innovative surfers out there, there are very few who’s surfing isn’t an emulation of what has come before. Aspiring to our peers and idols can be a fantastic education, mimicking the manoeuvres of others to learn and grow. But if we cross-step that path for too long, we walk away from individuality.
At times, we are our own worst enemies, at times we take ourselves just a little too seriously. At times, the best way to learn is by forgetting all that you know.