The D.I.Y surf movie that will save us all
Dylan Brayshaw and Rian Cope made a documentary about their trip cycling and surfing from Banda Aceh to Bali.
I can't express how disappointed I am with the current state of the surf travel yarn. Looking at the mainstream surf media you could be forgiven for believing that the only surf travel that goes on in the modern world is the three day hit and run mission. Surf travel has become a frantic but predictable story.
Here's how it goes: you spot the swell online, drop everything and jump on a plane, hit the waves, get the footage, then go straight back to the airport and get yourself home by dinner. It's good for the pro surfer who has a hectic touring schedule, it's good for the sponsors who pay for it because they get footage with their logos blaring from the barrel, it's good for the media because they don't have to send some loose-cannon gonzo journalist overseas with an expense account, but I have to say that it bores the living piss out of me. If I have to read another surf trip story that contains nothing more than some pro-surfer tracking swells on a screen and negotiating the pitfalls of airline service I think I'm going to crush my own scull. That was why I was so delighted to watch Eat Sleep Surf, a DIY documentary made by two surfers from the Sunshine Coast. It's a proper surf travel yarn.
Dylan Brayshaw and Rian Cope got off the plane at Banda Aceh, pulled their bikes out of the boxes, strapped their bodyboards to the 'extra-wheel' cycle prosthetic and went off riding down the west coast of the Indonesian Archeapelago. They got all the way to Bali via Nias, The Mentawais, West Java and Gland, a mighty effort by any account.
Let me say straight up that if you like your media well-produced then this probably isn't your surf movie. As far as film-making goes this is a job done by a skeleton crew. It's just Rian, Dylan and a couple of cameras. The surfing sequences are few and far between and surf photography is pretty ordinary especially at breaks like G-land and Uluwatu that are quite a way from shore, the footage is mostly hand held and consequently shaky, the sound is muffled, the writing and presentation stilted at times and, as editors, they seemed to be a bit shy of making tough decisions, but all of these failings are only an indication of one thing: Dylan and Rian are not professionals. No one is paying them to surf or make documentaries and as far as I'm concerned the biggest strength of this surf travel movie is its lack of professional polish.
Stuff professionalism. I'm tired of reading about professional surfers and the way that they always score the perfect sessions because some sponsor is organising every detail of the trip for them from HQ. I'm tired of hearing stories about professional surf travel companies that whisk well-heeled surfers away to the barrels in private transport for fear that they might actually have an unplanned encounter with a local person. Most of all, I'm tired of the professionals themselves. I hate when I'm watching a surf movie and I have to listen to the commentary by some boofhead with a thick neck whose only redeeming quality is a blistering cutback. I want to hear surf yarns about people who aren't balls deep in the surf industry, people with real jobs, real anxieties, and a motivation for surfing and travelling that has nothing to do with their career. I want to hear surf yarns from people who aren't quite confident that they are going to make it out of the barrel.
I don't think I saw either Rian or Dylan come out of any serious barrels in the footage of their four months trip. All sorts of things seem to go wrong for them too. They get floored by Indo belly, they get nudged into dangerous situations by trucks, they blow tyres and stack their bikes. In the first section particularly they seem to be constantly beset by drama and inconvenience, the sort you just can't avoid in Indonesia, and they are forever deciding that the solution to each problem is to pay someone with a vehicle to give them a ride. There was a time when it seemed like the doco should have been called 'Eat, sleep, Throw Your Bike on the Bus' but by the time they hit Java they seem to find the rhythm of Indonesia and start pedalling in sync with it. By this point you really get the feeling that they are tackling the whole of the Archipelago on human power.
When I'm reading surfing magazines and watching surf movies the things that really get me wired are line-up shots, those wide shots taken from far inland where you can really get an idea of the set-up and a broader sense of place. I want to see more than just the wave, I want to see the way that life on land connects with the surfing experience. Eat Sleep Surf creates the wide-shot sensation better than any surf documentary I've ever seen. Part of it is the fact that with a four hour running time they have luxury to include the minutiae of the surf travel experience, part of it is the 'reality tv' style of filming and talking directly at the hand held camera, and part of it is the honesty with which Dylan and Rian approach a representation of themselves in the film with their goofiness, their crankiness and that mortifying naiveté that all westerners have when travelling in Indonesia. Whatever it is, it's a documentary that makes you really feel what moving through modern Indonesia is like.
So that's it. eat sleep surf. It's bodgy, its unprofessional, it's easily an hour too long, the surfing is mediocre and the music sometimes makes me cringe, but I can honestly say that it's the best surf travel movie I've seen in years. It has everything that a proper surf travel yarn ought to have and everything that these tedious 'hit and run' pro-surfing stories miss out on. It's honest and authentic and it genuinely makes you feel like you are in Indonesia. You'll know the feeling if you've been there. You're hot, exhausted, and a little anxious, you've been on the road all day and things are getting more and more frustrating. It's ok though because any moment there'll be a gap in the trees and you'll get that first glimpse of the ocean.
By Pat Grant