From Stab Issue 59: A Full Frames special, starring Dion Agius! Photos by Grady Archbold (film) and DJ Struntz (digital). Captions by Charlie Smith.
The Wadi Adventure Pool in the desert city of Al-Ain, on the UAE/Oman border. Photo (above) by DJ Struntz: The United Arab Emirates is a steel, marble and glass mirage. Hugging the south-eastern Arabian Peninsula, it rises from the desert expanse and there it is and there you are. Immaculate camel racing tracks. A manmade island shaped like a palm tree that features a giant Atlantis resort on the trunk. Men wearing gleaming white dresses designed by Tom Ford and Jil Sander. Women wearing luxurious black folds of fabric that swath them in glamorous anonymity. Only their eyes peek out and those eyes are lined with black. It might not be the future we wanted when we were young and dreamed, but it is the future we got and, really, what we deserved. It is a future that reached through time and across the oceans and into Dion Agius’s present while he sat in Byron Bay and poked around his computer. He found, on the European surf website Desillusion, a short video featuring a wave pool that featured a perfect, literally perfect, wave and he couldn’t believe his eyes. Outside, the Australian summer sun shone and Australian dreamed about 1976. But inside Dion was transfixed. What was this wave? And his eyes wandered around the screen and he knew it was a mirage. A man-made chlorine anomaly in the United Arab Emirate desert. But, it was also perfect and he thought if, in fact, this wave was actually as good as it looked, then he could do every sort of air. He called the Desillusion and asked that they take the clip down because it was his secret, not theirs nor the publics, and they agreed. He called Globe’s filmmaker Joe G and told him that he had found, maybe found, a Shangri-La. “Drink in the view overlapping the pool,” says Dion. “I love the colour against the desert backdrop. Driving for two hours and arriving at a surreal aqua blue playground was one of the most exciting moments of my life.”
Filmmaker Joe G, manning the 16mm film rig on the left and Beren Hall with the Red Camera, on the right. Photo by Grady Archbold: Joe G had not been on vacation for six years. He had been filming and filming and editing and filming and winning awards. His latest creation, Year 0000, was the film of the year. He was tired. And his gorgeous wife was Spanish royalty with conquistador roots in the Dominican Republic. And so the G family went to the Dominican on a much much deserved getaway. No cameras. No computers. No edits and no deadlines. He stretched out, poolside, on his first day and shut his eyes and felt peace. His phone rang. He looked at the screen and it read Tricky D. Dion told Joe what he had seen and Joe’s insides began to boil. Vacation ruined but a possible future beckoning. He went upstairs, watched the clip and started making his own phone calls. He called the wave pool, first, and spoke with Jason from the United Kingdom, who is in charge of the whole operation, and Ryley and Luke, from Australia, who run the pool everyday. They told him, yes, it is good, and yes he should come. He called its owner, a sheik, and told him that he would need two black Lamborghinis in order for all of this to work. The sheik told him, yes, two. He called Australian filmer Beren Hall to come shoot the most cutting-edge RED footage, Grady Archbold, for 35mm film stills, DJ Struntz for his digital stills and Warren Smith because, why not? “This was super early one morning and this crazy fog had overcome the entire pool,” says Dion. “You could barely see anything in front of you and I had to yell at them through the fog when I was taking off so they knew when to start shooting.”
Frontside varial. Photos by DJ Struntz: Dion caught his first wave and he pumped down the line, a real line, hit the lip, a real lip, and did a frontside shuv. The Australian operators had secured a jet-ski because they thought it might be desirable for the filming but it was unnecessary. The wave was that real. Dion surfed all day and Joe filmed. He got better with each explosion. He learned the subtle nuances. He learned how to read it and how to use it. “I really wanted to get a front-shuv in the pool that I was happy with and this was the last day in the pool so I was freaking out,” says Dion.
The pride of Eastern Europe. Photo by DJ Struntz: “And, y’see that gal?" asks Dion. "That’s Viktoria. She is from Ukraine and one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen. We spent a day with her filming all the initial scenes for the film and I couldn’t even concentrate. I just wanted to ask her to marry me the whole day. She was so tall and so pretty. She thought I was a midget.”
Frontside Kerrupt air reverse, film. Photo by Grady Archbold: “This was another a trick I’ve never got on film before so I was thrilled at the idea of trying to get a couple. Man, I like this angle. Grady never shoots surfing. I don’t think he had ever shot surfing before in his life before so it was awesome to see his take on capturing it.”
Frontside Kerrupt air reverse, digital version. Photos by DJ Struntz: Joe G asked the operators how this perfection came to be and they said by sheer accident. The Pakistanis who poured the cement miscalculated and poured 20 metres short. What was done was done and so they continued the build and filled it with water and turned on the engine and prayed. The result was perfect. The too-shortness meant the wave stood up quicker and with more fury. There was another accident too. They had built a “closeout” setting. The engine was supposed spit out a giant closeout that little boogie-boarders could ride with smiles on their faces. But the closeout setting didn’t actually closeout. Instead, it wedged off the side walls and made a perfect ramp and also a barrel.
Slipping behind the lip with a $10 disposable waterproof camera. Photo by Grady Archbold: What was the inspiration for this wave in the desert? One of the sheik’s young sons surfed in California, once, and told his dad about it. He loved it and so his dad built him a wave. Money makes things simple and, in the future, there is no impossible. As for the lil camera Grady bought from a pharmacy? “Grady busted it out the first day and we all laughed. Then he got the shots back and we were amazed,” says Dion.
Viktoria (left) and a desert cannonball (right). Photos by DJ Struntz: When the sun began to set, they all took yellow Lamborghinis and red Ferraris and drove into the desert. The Russian models wore the traditional luxurious black folds but did not wear them properly, one of their beautiful necks was exposed, and a passing motorist, taking umbrage, pulled over and screamed at all of them. The future is a strange place. It does not always make sense. It is better not to ask. “I’ve never been so fast in a car and was pretty certain I was going to die,” says Dion. And, the sandy chivalry? “This was when we were shooting the intro sequence for the film (Electric Blue). It was so windy out there and Viktoria kept sinking into the sand and nearly getting blown over. So I had to do the obvious thing and give her hand. I never really wanted to let go."
Frontside tweak. Photo by Grady Archbold: "And, y’see that lil frontside kink?" continues Dion. "How amazing is the backdrop to the pool? It feels like another planet when you’re sitting in the water and the huge desert ridge looms above you. In the afternoons it lights up red and you can watch mountain goats climbing around above you.”
Boned-out frontside jam by Grady Archbold: “Let me tell you a little something before we all get impregnated on this joint,” says Dion. “The section is a lot harder than it looks to hit as you really have to wiggle your tits off to get enough speed to punt. It’s a lot easier to jam little air reverses than straight punts. I love those frontside grabs Dane does where he tweaks it really hard and looks back at his tail. To me, they are one of the best looking moves in surfing. Here’s my lil tribute.”
Kooky, possibly even inspired, cropping of the Little Lion on a righthand burger. Photo by Grady Archbold: “This is my favourite image from the whole trip,” says Dion. “Grady’s got such an amazing eye and such a way with composition. I think, the fact that he doesn’t shoot surfing makes his images so interesting and different.”
GLOBE’S ELECTRIC BLUE HEAVEN from GLOBE on Vimeo.
POOL SCRAPS from Beren Hall on Vimeo.