Summer Lovers (or, Red Bull Decades!)
From Stab Issue 68: Well, ain't this just the most dewy and sensual and labial thing you've ever seen? Great surfboards in history (classic rock!) Ridden by the modern stud in the waters of French Polynesia. It's called the Red Bull Decades project. Now let's dive!
Words by Chris Cote | Photos by Tom Carey and Rob Snow
Summer Lovers is a 1982 film that tells the tale of "A young American couple and a French woman engaging in a threesome in the Greek Islands." Sounds simple, right? Wrong. After a few sex-filled days on the islands, the young American couple, Cathy and Michael, realise that the sexually charged and exploratory situation they find themselves in becomes too much to be fulfilled by just them. Michael, in particular needs more.
Enter Lina, the free-spirited archeologist whom Michael locks eyes with on a nude beach. Her sexual tractor beam pulls him in and the two begin a lust-filled affair. But what about Cathy? Well, Cathy, the innocent and darling photographer, resorts to reading a book of sexual techniques in a bid to keep Michael’s attention. But it is to no avail as Michael begins falling deeper and deeper in lust with Lina.
Michael begins acting “strange” and Cathy soon realises what’s been happening. Instead of cutting Michael’s balls off, she confronts Lina, not with a knife, but with curiosity and concern. Cathy and Lina strike up an immediate friendship that puts Michael in the dream position of having his long time lover and newly found sexual muse as his partners, locked in a summer fantasy. The perfect summer situation. Or is it?
I’m not going to tell you how this movie ends. You’ll have to ask Ian Walsh. He’s seen this movie four times. I’ll start from the beginning …
Immaculate Two-Beer Conception
I’m pretty sure most of great ideas in history were formed over happy hour cocktails. This idea was no different. On a break from commentating the 2011 US Open Of Surfing in Huntington Beach, I had a happy hour "meeting" with some pals from Red Bull’s surf marketing department.
Their goal was to squeeze some brilliance out of my brain and come up with three or four “big ideas” that Red Bull and my former base of operation, Transworld Surf, could partner up on and knock out of the park.
After one beer, I came up with this stupid idea loosely based on a chess game between surfers where Carissa Moore and Sally Fitzgibbons would be queens and Julian Wilson and Mick Fanning would be kings.
The whole "chess game" would be played out in the water with moves and strategy and outfits, skits, and a whole medieval chessboard art direction thing. This idea was met with polite grins and oh-so-subtle confused glances between my hosts, like, "What is this fool talking about?" along with the question, "Sounds interesting. What else do you got?"
I ordered another beer, stalling. Then, midway through that second beer, an idea popped in my head. Like most people, my best ideas come between two and four beers, with my worst ideas coming thereafter. I started spewing an idea that would have four or five surfers riding the most iconic surfboards from every era starting with giant wooden planks from the 1950s and leading all the way through to the ultra-light, high performance shortboards of today and eventually moving on to some conceptual creations from the future.
The idea came flowing forth like a mad genius solving a complex equation. I was flourishing in the two-beer sweet spot. The Red Bull crew liked what I was laying down and immediately green lit the idea. Thankfully I didn’t have to go to my next idea which had something to do with surfers bungee jumping out of blimps with coloured smoke and 3-D cameras attached to body piercings … maybe we’ll explore that next year.
Anyway, we decided on calling the project, Red Bull Decades. These days, it seems like the hardest part of planning a high-profile surf trip of this magnitude is actually getting the surfers to commit. In the case of Red Bull Decades, it actually took nearly a year from the initial conception to figure out a date and destination that would work for the surfers we wanted.
The crew was Ian Walsh, Kolohe Andino, Julian Wilson, and Jaime O'Brien. The destination was the Tuamotu Island chain in French Polynesia. Raimana Van Bastolaer would be our tube finder. The boat would be the 90-foot power yacht The Ultimate Lady. The production team was Tom Carey and Rob Snow on stills, Rob Bruce and Daren “The International Tanimal” Crawford handling film and production, along with myself and Red Bull’s Oren Tanzer.
Oren was the wolf, handling logistics and overall production. He had the task of getting 40-plus surfboards shipped to Tahiti, wrangling 10 crew members from opposite ends of the Earth, and keeping his credit card cocked and loaded like a gun at his hip. As most of you know, Red Bull gives you wings but it also gives its team and marketing department enough cash and resources to make dreams like this trip come true.
Last year alone, Red Bull sold over 4.2 billion cans of its energy boosting tonic and, in return, Red Bull pours (mind the pun) a huge chunk of its profits into marketing and events, allowing for trips like this to go from concept to reality with few monetary boundaries.
With the crew and destination set, it was time to decide which iconic boards we’d be choosing for our team of time travellers to ride. Much like trained dolphins, pro surfers need to be offered a "reward" for performing tricks on command. So in addition to being invited on this epic trip, the surfers would each be going home with the coolest quiver ever. We would need five exact replicas of each board for each decade — one board for each surfer and one extra in case of damage and to have as a display piece after the trip.
Originally, I wanted to start with the ‘50s and have five giant balsa wood surfboards recreated. But in researching the materials, manufacturing, cost, and eventual transport, we decided to bend the fabric of time and skip the ‘50s and go straight to the ‘60s even though it would have been fun to watch Kolohe Andino attempt to use his back foot for a fin a la Rick Kane in North Shore.
I tried to pick boards that had an impact on surfing as whole, progressed the sport, and became legend. The board chosen for the ‘60s was an easy pick: Greg Noll’s Elephant Gun. In the mid ‘60s, Greg Noll carved a monstrous, banana-yellow behemoth of a surfboard that towered past 11 feet. This board was made for a specific purpose, pioneering and hopefully surviving Third Reef Pipeline. Made for a straight, fast, unstopped descent, this board was a mix between a Cadillac and a freight train.
Before entering the water that fateful day at Pipeline, Greg stopped and assessed the situation.
In that moment, John Severson snapped a photo that will live forever in surf lore — there are two stars of that photo, one of Greg Noll, the other, the Elephant Gun. If you ever get the chance to have a conversation with Greg Noll, take it. The man is a walking encyclopaedia of the greatest surf stories ever told and by far one of the most affable and interesting men in the world. Greg’s son, Jed, is carrying on the family tradition of shaping beautiful and functional surfboards under the Greg Noll Surfboards banner.
Jed walked in is father’s thongs and shaped an exact recreation of Greg’s original 11’2” Pipe Gun down to the finest detail, even fabricating a “chop stick” fin, just like his dad used to make. The sheer board was impressive, beautiful, but terrifying knowing what this board had accomplished.
Iconic doesn’t even begin to describe this board and this surfer. Pipeline is the most famous wave in history and this board was the genesis of that popularity. The Gerry Lopez Pipeline Gun has transcended from just another tool to get tubed with to an era-defining vision of stylistic and soulful perfection. It took a very special surfboard to mesh with the most stylish surfer on the planet at a wave that demanded more from a board than any of wave on Earth. This board was designed for effortlessly sliding in to massive barrels at Banzai Pipeline and throughout the ‘70s no board or surfer was more barrelled than Gerry Lopez and his trusty red Pipeline gun.
Calling Gerry Lopez and ordering five handshaped custom recreations of one of surfing’s most beloved boards was the thrill of a lifetime. I met Gerry while commentating with him at The Volcom Pipe Pro but never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I’d be on a first name basis, even friendly with Gerry Lopez himself!
"Hi is Gerry there, this is Chris Cote." I muttered nervously, realising the magnitude of the call I was making.
"Oh hi Chris, This is Gerry, how are you?" he politely replied.
I went on to explain the concept and I could tell Mr. Lopez was getting psyched knowing that these boards would actually be surfed instead of hung on a wall.
"How about a couple of 7'2"s and a few 6'10"s to give you some variety?"
I was still tripping even to be on the phone with Gerry Lopez and to be ordering five boards from him was unreal. When the boards arrived they exceeded every expectation, truly some of the most beautiful surfboards any of us had ever seen. You could feel the soul and energy flowing through each of these boards. These surfboards were transcendental, works of art that reminded me more of vintage Ferraris than surfboards.
Here's where things got a little bit trickier. The Simon Anderson Thruster obviously had the most impact on surfing, but to me, the board that truly encapsulated the '80s vibe was the Glenn Pang-shaped Town And Country twin-fin shaped for Martin Potter. Called The Saint because of Martin’s then resemblance to actor Roger Moore. The green-and-yellow '80s explosion airbrush is the most recognisable airbrush ever. This was the surfboard that sent us in to the air. Martin didn’t invent the air on this board but he popularised it and made it look fun as hell. We ordered a few different sizes of this particular board to maximise usage from our surfers. Three at 5'11" x 19 1/4" x 2 5/8" and two at 5'9" x 19" x 2 1/2". At first sight and feel, these boards are actually very close to what most average surfers are riding today. The Gerry boards were probably the most revered as the pro’s board collection goes but the T& C "Saint" boards were the boards these guys were most excited to get out and ride.
Kelly Slater’s Al Merrick-shaped, Channel Islands blade signalled the end of the ‘80s and the rise of the Momentum Generation. Kelly Slater’s surfing was advancing light years past his equipment until Al Merrick and Slater collaborated on a design that radically changed the face of surfing and surfboards forever.
By trimming the fat off existing designs, Kelly and Al’s new knife was narrower, thinner, and curvier than any board before it. Featuring a needle sharp nose, flipped-up “elf shoe” rocker, a small, rounded squash-tail and a carbon-fibre strip from nose to tail, this was board that started Kelly’s World Tour domination.
Older surfers called it a "potato chip"; younger surfers dug in and ditched their plugs in favour of this ultra-light, ultra-thin and ultra-responsive new style of surfboard.
This was the board that the four surfers on the trip were most apprehensive about. The rocker, the width, the outline, and the fact that all four of these surfers have been dealt deathblows by the surfer who made it famous, added to the apprehension. The Slater board was the most "different" looking surfboard of the bunch for the surfers, especially Kolohe and Julian, both of whom were hardly out of diapers when Kelly was winning his first few World Titles on the very board we were asking them to surf on. Typical Slater voodoo magic.
Today and The Future
For the surfboard of "today", we set Matt Biolos loose in the shaping room and he came up with a candy coloured quiver featuring the latest in high-tech materials and modern manufacturing procedures. These boards were as close to what the pros ride on a day-to-day basis with a few new and exciting ideas added. The boards Matt "Mayhem" Biolos’s boards may have looked bright and fun, but the technology hidden within these surfboards is a huge leap from what we're currently seeing on board racks in surf shops. Starting with the Hydroflex technology, ultra-light carbon stringers in the blanks and updated flex patterns, Biolos and …Lost surfboards are gunning for the crown of kings of the surfboard landscape. With huge wins on the World Tour, Biolos shapes have become the go-to board for many elite surfers including Julian Wilson, Kolohe Andino and most of Ian Walsh’s small-wave boards.
For our "future boards", we enlisted the help of some mad scientist types to give us their vision of the surfboard of the future. Daniel Thompson, Thomas Meyerhoffer, and Maurice Cole offered up their respective creations giving the crew an insight in to the outermost realms of modern surfboard design.
The Turning Point
The crew met in Papeete and disembarked for a short flight to a small island in the Tuamotus. I'm allowed to say the Tuamotus. Raimana said so. Anyway, we landed and were greeted by the magnificent sight of The Ultimate Lady — a yacht normally patronised by millionaires who like to hunt for very very large Blue Marlin. We boarded, chose bunks, stashed gear, and started motoring immediately for our first stop. The boat was luxurious. Fully stocked with every amenity including a cold storage room packed to the gills with Hinano Beer and, of course, crates of that delicious energy soda, Red Bull. We happily motored along, some of us opting to drink beer and soak up the beautiful scenery, others starting what would be a violent Boston Cop Crime Drama movie marathon that would last for days on end … more on that later.
Production started with the Greg Noll Elephant Guns being presented to the surfers along with a message from yours truly. I said something really cool and dramatic about the importance of these boards and this trip.
The surfers complained that the sun was too bright but when they saw the boards they got mini stoke-boners. You can watch all their reactions on the Internet, this trip after all is an multi-part episodic appearing on Redbull.tv as well as Stabmag.com.
The guys surfed these beastly wave crafts in chest-high perfect lefthand tubes. I was exited to see these guys try and fail to ride these boards. Something about torturing pro surfers gives me joy. But I wouldn’t be granted the sick joys of watching failure on this day. JOB side slipped in and out of impossible mini caves. Ian, Julian, and Kolohe also easily adapted to these 11-foot behemoth’s, setting perfect lines, carving down the line, getting tubes, coffin rides, cutbacks, etc. These boards were made to survive demonic conditions at Third Reef Pipeline and obviously this was not Pipeline, but this bowling little lefthander was the perfect testing ground for to get the feel for the lines Greg Noll once drew.
Spirits were high, shakas were thrown. Our first episode was in the can!
After a few more sessions on the future boards and the ‘80s boards we were feeling pretty damn good about ourselves. Then the waves went flat and sea madness began to set in. For most people, drifting around beautiful tropical islands on a 30-million dollar yacht makes for an awesome vacation. For a group of frothed-out surfers along with a camera crew trying to do work, lack of waves to work with can make a wonderful situation eggy in a matter of hours.
On day three of the trip we woke up to dark skies and no waves in sight.
The excitement of fishing, diving, and surfing novelty waves had worn out. Kolohe slept, like, a lot. Kolohe took two five-hour naps a day when the waves were flat. JOB played candy crush on his phone. Julian, Ian, Raimana and the rest of the crew settled in to back to back to back Mark Wahlberg shoot-em-ups with lots of high-volume yelling in Boston accents.
For some reason, all we watched on the boat was Boston cop thrillers at unbelievable decibel levels. For some, movies and sleeping was a respite from the boredom. For others, like myself, beer and wine became the go-to remedy for sea madness, a tried-and-true method for sailors dating back to Captain Cook who sailed these very seas in the 1700’s very well sloshed well stocked with ample supplies of barley mash. With the swell not cooperating, the decision was made to pull anchor and steam from the Tuamotus to Moorea, a 34-hour boat ride through rough seas. Cue the Boston Cop movies.
As we powered through rough seas, Tom Carey and I had a drinking contest. And as we drank, we were flung about the living quarters of the boat, tossed out of our chairs, and slammed to the ground, laughing the whole time. Drunkenness combined with rough seas makes a seaman clumsy. I filled two “Field Notes” books with unreadable gibberish. I’m sure if I could decipher what I had written on that 34-hour crossing, this article would be whole lot better.
Mutiny on Moorea
When we got to Moorea, we presented the surfers their Gerry Lopez Pipeline Guns. The boys made sad faces at the thought of waxing up these beautiful boards and paddling out into less than-stellar waves breaking over dry reef. The boards had no leash plugs. Ten minutes into the session, Ian Walsh heard a sound that rocked his soul. His beautiful surfboard was being smashed nose first then tail first into a reef slab, smashing both ends of his board. Butthurt and angry.
The crew made their back to the floating mansion. Despair was in the air.
No sign of swell was on the horizon. Talk of returning to Papeete started circulating. A mutiny on The Ultimate Lady was eminent. Then, a miracle happened. Like an angel sent from the land of positivity, Daren "The International Tanimal" Crawford pulled a Hail Mary.
"Everyone needs to cheer up," he declared. "We're all gonna sit down and watch Summer Lovers tonight and everybody is going to be fine!"
Summer Lovers? How would Summer Lovers solve our problems? Reluctantly, the crew settled in for a viewing of the racy cult classic from the '80s. Directed by Randal Kleiser (North Shore, The Blue Lagoon, Grease), Summer Lovers had a calming and meditational effect on the crew. Instead of eggyness, there was happiness. Negativity turned to positivity. The surfers looked forward to the promise of tomorrow and another day of attempting to unlock all the magical pleasures our fantasy quiver of surfboards had to offer.
That night, after back-to-back viewings of Summer Lovers, Kolohe Andino even stopped telling me he hated me. The mutiny had been squashed by a 98-minute hyper-sexual romp through the Greek Islands. Maybe it was the dozens of bronzed foreign breasts on the screen? Maybe it was the fab soundtrack consisting of Hard To Say I'm Sorry by Chicago, I'm So Excited by the Pointer Sisters and Sexuality by Prince?
Maybe it was the story of how complicated love can be? After the initial viewing of the film, Ian Walsh looked around the room and declared that he loved us. Even Julian Wilson was affected by the film. I could swear he had tears in his eyes while watching the ending for the third time. Ask him, he'll say he wasn’t crying, but (Spoiler Alert) when the three lovers make amends there wasn’t a dry eye on the yacht. This is a film that Roger Ebert said, "doesn't really work as semi-erotic romance." Well, Robert, god rest your soul, it worked for us, the trip was back on track thanks to the International Tanimal and the wonderful triumph of a film, Summer Lovers.
The following days on the trip were different. The surfers took to every board with excitement and a drive to "figure out" what made these boards special. The surfers' competitive nature brought forth amazing performances by each one of them on each board. Waves could have been better but as you can see it was mission accomplished.
Oren and I sat on a boat watching Kolohe Andino blast overhead aerials on the '80s Town And Country board while Julian Wilson backed it up doing 540s on an experimental Dan Thomson shape. Ian Walsh drew soul-arch bottom turns, winding up into vertical snaps on a Gerry Lopez Pipeline Gun. JOB powered his way through tight under the lip nosepicks on a bright pink Matt Biolos shape.
Oren and I looked at each other and slowly gave a high-five that echoed through the universe. Along with our amazing production team, our photographers, and under the watchful guidance of Raimana Van Bastolaer, we managed a feat that no one else ever had — we had documented time travel via surfboard. And it was magnificent.
Thanks to the Tahiti Tourism Board, Air Tahiti Nui, Raimana, Captain Tom, Justin, and Danny from The Ultimate Lady.