Taylor Steele Won’t Let Surf Filmmaking Die Without a Fight - Stab Mag

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Benji Weatherly, Kalani Robb, Tim Curran, Kelly Slater, Taylor Knox, Taylor Steele and Rob Machado. Photo: Todd Glaser

Taylor Steele Won’t Let Surf Filmmaking Die Without a Fight

Movies shown, filmmaking advice, punk rock at the 2022 Solento Surf Festival.

news // Sep 28, 2022
Words by Christian Bowcutt
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Matt Damon once said in an interview that it would’ve been impossible to make the Academy Award-winning film Goodwill Hunting (1997) if he had tried today. He explained that these days, if he had just graduated film school and pitched the movie to studios, nobody would take the risk of producing such an indie-bent, simplistic film. With profits being lost to the death of studio-owned distribution channels––like DVDs (I still remember my Modern Collective DVD under the Christmas tree), and to the rising sea of a million streaming services, a movie bereft of tights-wearing superheroes or exploding cars, Damon continued, is becoming near impossible to make. 

The same reality exists in our surfing world today, Taylor Steele said this weekend at the second annual Solento Surf Festival at the hallowed La Paloma Theater in Encinitas, which Stab partnered with this year. He applauded all the filmmakers present at the event for finding time and money to create long-form surf movies in an era where there is so much less money compared to years prior. One filmmaker even mentioned that “nowadays kids are putting out mini Momentum movies every day on Instagram” to which Taylor humbly agreed, saying that competition is more fierce than it use to be for him.

A lengthy introduction of Taylor would be almost disrespectful–– as you know the man created culture-defining movies like Momentum 1 & 2, Campaign 1 & 2, Loose Change, etc. and played a huge role in popularizing musicians like Blink-182 and Pennywise. (Click here to learn more.)

Sections like this one from 18-year Timmy Curran make me question if surfing has progressed as much as we think it has since the Momentum era. Video: Taylor Steele’s Focus

But it was thrilling to see films like Billabong’s new movie Interlusion (not an ad, I just really liked it) in a theater full of people shouting and laughing, bottles dropping on the floor, popcorn and pizza fumes wafting in, the train rumbling by, and punk music blaring from the speakers. Eithan Osborne did one of the best airs I’ve ever seen.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a surf movie in that sort of environment. And most of the surf content that enters my eyeballs admittedly comes in the form of bite-sized clips set to sometimes questionable music inside of an Instagram square. In Taylor’s words, “Nowadays we consume movies on phones or computers, which pull us away from those shared experiences. [This event] is a celebration of coming together to share films, music, and conversation.”

Happy campers. Photo: Colin Leibold

The reason for this moving away from the long-form surf movie that enchanted many an up-and-coming grom or grommet? Money. Part of the answer must deal with the reality that anyone connected to the surf industry survives, at least partly, from revenue generated by an average Joe purchasing a t-shirt. Professional surfers direct their fanbase to the purchasing of products, for which they are awarded an income. That’s not to say this isn’t honorable or that surfers and filmers don’t put great passion and energy into what they create–– they do, and the rest of us benefit from it. But there’s a reason you’re looking at an advertisement above this article. 

And the honest truth is that a quick, flashy Instagram edit seems to be a more efficient, cheap, and in essence, more profitable way to move viewers from seeing a surf clip to inputting their credit card number into a brand’s website. So why make a carefully constructed, artful full-length surf film these days? That is the question that Taylor asked filmmakers this weekend. The answer for most of them had to do with a common theme––a personal drive to create. Many of them knew they wouldn’t be driving home from the festival in a Ferrari, but that the ride home in Prius is worth it to them because they will have told the story they felt they needed to tell.  

Surfing’s Broadway. Photo: Colin Leibold

Films like Facing Monsters, directed by Rick Rifici and starring Aussie charger Kirby Brown, had to deal with a sort of purist storytelling. From seeking some of the heaviest slabs in Australia (and not just the ones we’ve seen in other “Aussie slab hunter” films) to fighting drug abuse and alcoholism, to starting a family, and recovering from a near-death wipeout, the movie tells a story so good that even Kelly lauded it on his Instagram the night after it premiered. Taylor Steele also named it Best Film of the festival. No, the movie won’t make either of them rich, per se, but it had audiences in tears at certain moments, and that was special to see. 

There were also several music performances by local musicians like the Aquadolls and 12 movie premiers, including John John’s new movie, Gravity. And yes, Rob Machado also cameoed on the first song of punk band Pivot’s set. Have you ever seen the world’s most zen wave rider headbanging to a raucous punk performance? It was a spectacle. 

Rob diversifying his stardom. Photo: Todd Glaser

I asked Taylor what advice he would give to his 20-something self if he were wanting to get into surf filmmaking now. He was kind enough to think for a minute and give a thoughtful answer. He said that would focus on identifying a specific niche that he could provide value. He would then work on providing valuable content that got “views before money”. Much like the ever-popular Tech world practice of growth-before-profitability, Taylor said he would worry more about creating quality content that acquires a long-term audience before going after quick content that generates short-term monetary gain. 

The weekend finished off with a surf contest at Seaside Reef, a central location in the original Momentum films. Anyone could enter, and with every heat you made you were forced to change your fin set up (thruster > twin > single-fin). Taylor Steele’s always done things his own way. And as you’ll see––even a certain 50-year-old, 11-time World Champion made an appearance. 

For those exploring some new entertainment, you can see the full list of films presented and musicians that performed on the Solento Surf Festival website.

No, Rob, please don’t high-five him. Photo: Colin Leibold

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