10 Films That Defined The Decade
From Dane Reynolds’ opus to softboard absurdity.
The 2010’s marked our world’s mass digital transition. No longer were living rooms and office spaces the only places littered with tech. By the end of the decade, most of the developed world carried high powered computers in their side pockets.
Box office hits have taken a demonstrable dive, and as any surf fan would note, so have full length surf films. We don’t mean that in terms of their quality—it’s as high as ever—simply the quantity of them. In the pre-internet days, the only way surf fans could get their high-performance viewing fix was happening upon a session, watching a comp live, or waiting for a new film to tour. In the 00’s there was a transition to web clips and online parts, as well as the odd free DVD with a surf mag; they were shorter in viewing length, but there was a hell of a lot more of them—think Marine Layer’s heyday.
The 2010’s—mostly its back half—was the point in which we switched from ‘films’ to clips and eventually single wave hits. The emergence of Instagram and its rise to a social media monopoly (as far as surfing’s concerned, Facebook is dead) had a notable impact on our surf media consumption, but despite full-lengths taking a back seat, the films that were released still rivalled the greats from those earlier eras.
The following list is what we consider to be the 10 films that defined the 2010’s of surfing. And due to the term film being pretty arbitrary, we defined a film as any edit longer than 20 minutes; whether it was released on the internet, iTunes, or had a World premiere doesn’t matter.
You might not agree with the films we’ve listed, or maybe you’ll only have an issue with the order, but that’s what listicles are for—discussions which devolve into argument.
10 – Stab in the Dark (the entire series) — Sam McIntosh
A little self congratulatory perhaps, but after consulting a handful of outsiders we felt as if this series of films deservedly made the cut.
Starting off in 2014 as a sub-20 minute piece starring Julian Wilson and 12 blank boards, it was one of surf media’s first dives into the scientific method. The ‘experiment’ was a double blind, with both surfers and shapers unaware of one another’s identities and therefore a supposedly unbiased experimental platform.
While surfing* will always be filled with too many variables—wave quality and idiosyncratic preferences to name a few—to ever truly determine the ‘world’s best high-performance surfboard’, the films have made for fine viewing.
So far we’ve had Julian Wilson, Dane Reynolds, Jordy Smith and Mick Fanning as test pilots, with the latter three returning in the all-stars edition released a handful of weeks ago.
*well, that is unless you’re doing it in a pool.
9 – Who is JOB — Charlie Smith
Simply put, Who Is J.O.B. is the greatest tube-riding compilation ever released. While Jamie O’Brien is most often recognized for his viral jestering on YouTube, in 2010, the light-skinned Hawaiian traveled to Mexico, Indonesia, Micronesia, Tahiti, Fiji and beyond to notarize his incomparable tube prowess.
In the film, Jamie also removes himself from this self-imposed tunnel-vision to catalog his tumultuous upbringing, including growing up in a single-parent home, taking the short bus to school, and being a punky white kid in a primarily native Hawaiian region.
If you ever wanted to learn how to tube-ride and/or get inside the mind of surfing’s greatest caricature, Who Is J.O.B. is a good place to start.
8 – Heavy Water – Michael Oblowitz
A film could’ve been made about the Fletcher family as a whole, but Michael Oblowitz opted to focus on Nathan.
Covering his life story through childhood, his heyday as a professional surfer, time spent with Andy Irons, and rounding out the film with Nate jumping out of a helicopter onto an outer reef wave, Heavy Water is a must-see surf film. The idea for the film all started years ago, and while a draft version was wrapped by 2015, the actual film didn’t come to fruition until mid-2019 with some monetary help from Red Bull—thus just making the decade’s cut-off. Heavy Water’s four years of production ensured Fletcher’s story was told properly.
7 – Kissed By God – Todd & Steve Jones
Not a surfing film to psych you up, but one which details the life of one of the greatest surfers we’ll ever witness, Andy Irons, and for that it deserves to be on this list.
In late 2010, the three-time World Champion Andy Irons passed away from a drug-induced cardiac arrest, in the midst of a CT event in Puerto Rico which he pulled out of citing ill health. It was no secret that Andy had suffered with both mental health issues and drug addiction, but these problems weren’t detailed in an open sphere (on film) until Kissed By God.
Featuring candid interviews with his wife Lyndie Irons, brother Bruce Irons, and an array of surfers from Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, and Cory Lopez, the film is a sombre affair. Detailing the highs and lows of Andy’s life and how his bipolar disorder—mixed with drug use—affected himself and those around him is a difficult watch, but it unveils the dark truths surrounding one of the sport’s greatest stars.
“Andy Irons was my older brother, my hero, he’s the person that made me who I am,” Bruce Irons said. “My brother was a very interesting person. He had a lot of things going on in his mind, good and bad. My brother was unorthodox, wild, you never knew what you were gonna get.”
Kissed by God captures and portrays who Andy was.
6 – Electric Acid Surfboard Test w/ Dane Reynolds – Dane Reynolds & Ashton Goggans
This decade saw the emergence of alternative craft as a popular surfing choice. No longer was a 6’0” thruster the board you must ride to perform and peculiar craft, with greater or less than three fins were no longer boards strictly reserved for those labelled ‘hipsters’.
In no small part, Dane Reynolds was one of the surfers responsible for this shift. When he took a 5’7” Dumpster Diver to the final of the Hurley Pro at Trestles in 2009, the board quickly rocketed to CI’s highest selling spot. And while the Dumpster Diver wasn’t all that unconventional, it proved that high performance surfing wasn’t as by board-design-restricted as previously imagined.
In 2018, we figured getting Dane on an eclectic mix of surfboards was the best way to celebrate the diverse array of craft currently on the market. In a similar vein to Stab In The Dark, the Electric Acid Surfboard Test is focused on the boards, rather than location or surfer. We weren’t however interested in finding the best board, rather just watching Dane tear apart Mexican points and beach breaks on some of the modern era’s more off-kilter designs.
Directed and edited by Dane himself, the film progresses from mid-lengths, to twin fins, down to the most impressive sections where Dane is truly tearing upon a handful of assyms. All of this interspersed with a curated soundtrack—that cost over $15,000 in licensing, Sun Ra is expensive—and candid board commentary from Dane, we believe it’s the best film we’ve produced in our 15 years of existence.
5 – Strange Rumblings In Shangri La – Joe Guglielmino
Joe Guglielmino, best known as Joe G, is one of surfing’s finest filmmakers. Withholding the ease of transitioning to digital Joe has persisted with analog craft and crafted some of this millennia’s best surf films—Year Zero and Electric Blue Heaven just to name a couple.
Captured in 16mm film and inspired by the likes of Bruce Brown and Jacques Cousteau, in the words of our former editor Elliot Struck, Strange Rumblings is part surf film and part adventure cinema. Starring the likes of Dion Agius, Creed McTaggart, Brendon Gibbens, Damien Hobgood and more, the crew travel around the globe in search of ‘surfing’s own holy grail’.
Premiering in 2014—the most recent of Joe G’s full length films—in our eyes it is his magnum opus. On their quest, they surf everywhere from Iceland, to Brazil, and Africa, but the highlights for us are Hobgood at Greenbush and it’s pretty hard to go past Creed in Mozambique. At the end of the year it took out best film at the SURFER poll awards and we won’t bother covering the antics that ensued at the award ceremony again.
Today, we’re fortunate enough to receive a steady influx of Mr. G directed films courtesy of Globe’s Cult Of Freedom, but it’s hard to step past Strange Rumblings in terms of cinematography, composition, and a classy touch of narrative driving you to the film’s end.
4 – Psychic Migrations – Ryan Thomas
It’s interesting that a list of films supposedly defining the decade contain multiple entries not reliant on REDs. In the last five years or more most surf productions you’ll see are filmed on REDs, and hell, any up and coming filmer knows it’s difficult to score a gig without having one in your arsenal.
Psychic Migrations however is one film that doesn’t require the granular, digital detail a RED provides to present surfing. Directed by Ryan Thomas for Volcom Stone—a co with a strong history in making fine surf flicks—much of the film is shot on 16mm and other analog devices. Starring Ryan Burch, Yago Dora, Dusty Payne, Mitch Coleborn, Ozzie Wright, and most of the Volcom team, Psychic Migrations follows them from the West Indies, to Ausralia, and over to South America.
While it’s the film as a whole which places Psychic Migrations in our top five from the decade, it’s hard to move past the Chilean section focused on Ozzie Wright, Ryan Burch and a Burch shaped, multi-coloured twin. Ozzie and Ryan trade funnelled out tubes and stretching walls in what we’d say is some of the best dual-ruddered surfing we’ve ever seen.
It might be cliche to call surfing an art form, but what Ryan Burch does on this left-hand Chilean point is just that. Oh, and the double helping of Thee Oh Sees doesn’t hurt either.
3 – Done – Blake Vincent Kueny
Done was John John Florence’s first feature film with Blake Vincent Kueny and the one which solidified his place in that ‘best surfer in the world’ discussion.
In 2013 when the film was released, John was titleless and 21-years young. Ever since John competed in the Triple Crown at age 13, the surfing world placed a heavy burden on his shoulders—mostly with the prediction that he would be a future World Champion. Done was the film which showed that the precocious kid called John John was truly on another level.
While his surfing since then, in both his films and competition, is arguably better, this was the piece which put him on the map for good. With an unrivalled barrel ability and one of the most finely-tuned aerial repertoires, the question was no longer if John Florence would win a World Title, but when.
Some might argue that his follow-up with Blake, View From A Blue Moon was better, and it was the highest-grossing surf film of all time. But in sheer ability to psych you up and it’s composition we think there’s no looking past Done.
2 – Dear Suburbia – Kai Neville
In all honesty we could’ve squeezed a number of Kai’s films into this list, but as a collective we decided to stick with what we believe is his best work, Dear Suburbia; featuring Dane Reynolds at his performance peak and John Florence on the cusp of both freesurfing and competitive greatness, it’s a film any and every surfer appreciates.
Starring Craig Anderson, Taj Burrow, Kolohe Andino, Jack Freestone and more along with the aforementioned names, Dear Suburbia is a surf addict’s delight. Filmed everywhere from Australia’s south, to Indonesia, and Japan’s best rivermouth, all cut to a tasteful soundtrack, there’s little external distractors worthy of your attention through its 42 minute running time.
If you haven’t seen it, put simply, you’re fucking kidding yourself. The excerpt above is only a small taste.
1 – Chapter 11 – Dane Reynolds
Three parts surf film, one part bio-pic, Chapter 11 surmised the end of Dane’s time with Quiksilver and the beginning of his path with Former. In Sam McIntosh’s words, it’s the best surf bio-pic since Kelly Slater’s Black and White, and that means it reigns supreme in the past 10 years.
In November of 2016, 12 months after Dane officially left Quiksilver, Chapter 11 was released for free to the world. “This footage proves he’s the best talent to ride a surfboard,” Kelly Slater said after the film’s release. “The layers of small detail in the turns and combo’s he’s doing signify huge advancements in the average surfer’s life. He’s putting together multiple manoeuvres per waves that most pros don’t have in their bag of tricks.”
In addition to covering a range of Dane’s early and current surfing, Chapter 11 also delves into his reasons for leaving both the World Tour and his eventual departure from the company that supported him for 12 years. Both the pressures of competing, plus the real and perceived pressures from sponsorship were something which ate away at Dane both psychologically and subsequently physically; in Chapter 11 Dane speaks about this experience in a manner unrivalled by most surfer’s lackadaisical vernaculars.
Above all, it’s the surfing that places this film as the most influential of the decade, a fitting position for the surfer who most would argue has changed the way people surf and the boards they ride today.
We’ll let Kelly have the last word.
“The film was infectious. It’s 2:42 am right now, and I want to go surf. That’s what a great film should do to you. I’m inspired to surf tomorrow and be better than I was today!”
An Honourable Mention – Rip I & II – Dav Fox and Ryan Mattick
The 2010’s were also the years in which surfing got a little less serious—in some ways, anyway. In opposition to the surf jock mentality that has pervaded surfing since the 90’s and even the oft-serious ‘alternative surfers’ was the berth of Drag Board Co and their films RIP I and II.
A mixture of ‘traditional HP booging’, kneeboarding, 4’10” foam board shredding, finless antics, and ‘specimen sightings’, the film is a reminder to stop taking the ‘sport’ of surfing so seriously. The first still had a heavy feature of traditional booging, and while it’s the perfect introduction, you can’t go past RIP II: Fully Ripped.
As unserious as the film is, the surfing the likes of Dion Agius and Chippa Wilson are doing on boards typically reserved for kids learning or weekend warriors between the flags at Tamarama to surf is fucking absurd. It lays testament to the claim that most pro surfers could rip on your unhinged bedroom door.
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