The Undeniable Influence of Narrative in Surf Films
Or, why Roark’s ‘Arc of Aleutia’ was so extraordinary.
I’m fascinated by the narrative approach to surf films. It reverts to the spawn of their production. Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer wasn’t solely a highlight reel of Mike Hynson’s and Robert August’s surfing; it told a story. It whispered tales of adventure and accentuated cultural differences across the globe. That’s why it lit the world ablaze.
No matter how much you cringe at that pink and orange license plate on the back of every Jeep on I-95, that film inspired you at one point. It sparks the desire to travel—to leave home, surf new waves, and forge a purposeful connection with Mother Earth.
The role of the expedition in surf films hasn’t disappeared, but it has become a rarity. Somewhere along the timeline of high-performance surfing, the purpose of filmmaking was twisted.
Obscured by exaggerated masculinity and fragile egos, we’ve let skill become the only criteria. The anecdotal aspect was cut like fat from the meat, leaving savory juices to waste.
While it’s entertaining to watch the world’s best surfers push each other’s limits, the cinema aspect is mundane. Evidently, storytelling has been irresponsibly replaced by b-roll. A few clips in the airport, a shot of a brand new board getting waxed on the beach, and then cut to surfing: bigger airs, sharper turns, and complete neglect of soul.
But inspiring films—the ones that make you question going into work tomorrow—still exist. Enter Harrison Roach. My first glimpse of Harrison Roach’s surfing was during my freshman year of college. He featured in a film called South to Sian with his buddy Zye Norris.
Harrison narrated as the duo roamed Indonesia by motorcycle, scoring spot after spot, with no real plan set in stone. No responsibilities, just hollow waves and carving through massive dunes on their motos.
That movie really fucked me up. I couldn’t get over it— the looseness with which they lived, how they traveled at their own free will, all of it.
Was the surfing CT level? No. There’s not a single air in the film (just hot nasty badass rail surfing on alternative craft). It didn’t matter; I was mesmerized. It completely contradicted the hi-fi clips that I had looped on my YouTube queue. My perception of what was cool about surfing did a complete 180, and it was because of that film.
Harrison Roach has continued to venture down his own path in Roark’s Arc of Aleutia. Instead of hacking away at branches in the depths of Indonesian jungles, however, he finds himself in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. A brutal and unfamiliar landscape, but Roach doesn’t let that prevent him from charming his audience.
Harrison tells the full story of the trip. He acknowledges both the highlights and the struggles of the journey. Roach mentions the fright of being days from the nearest hospital, the doubt of whether or not the crew would actually find waves, and the reward of finding choice conditions in complete isolation.
With the assistance of filmmakers Chris Burkard and Ben Weiland, Arc of Aleutia has me itching to escape the routine of my daily life. While the frigid waters of Alaska aren’t as inviting as a “No-frills approach of board shorts and a tube of zinc,” the thought of spending a month in South America has me foaming at the mouth.
Begging the question, where’s my goddamn stimulus check?
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