Victorian director Claire Gorman, 24, will join a panel discussion on surf films today as part of the Byron Bay International Film Festival.
Victorian director Claire Gorman, 24, will join a panel discussion on surf films today as part of the Byron Bay International Film Festival. Kate O’Neill

Surf films not just waves and babes

A SURF film was once a scratchy piece of celluloid footage of waves, wax and babes.

These days, the genre has evolved to include social and political issues – from the Gaza conflict to the slums of Rio.

Film critic Peter Thompson, who will chair a discussion of the evolution of the surf film at the Byron Bay Film Festival today, said the surfing scene had been transformed, and the film industry with it.

“In the beginning, technology was primitive and people were just happy to see films of surfers on waves,” he said.

“The early days were about travelling to great surfing spots and also the lifestyle emerging in the '60s and '70s. People would go on safaris in their cars, live on nothing and just surf all day – they were part of the whole surf revolution.

“But then, of course, surfing became professionalised and highly sponsored and available to more people.”

As the surfing population grew, and technology became more accessible, the surf film's subject matter expanded.

He said the magnetic attraction of surfing to young people had made surfing films the ideal platform to present social and political issues to young people in a more relevant way.

Politically-focused films that feature in this year's film festival program include God Went Surfing With the Devil, a documentary about surfing amidst the conflict in Gaza, and Rio Breaks, which follows two best friends through their life in the slums of Rio and surfing on their favourite beach.

Veteran US surf filmmaker Jack McCoy, who will take part in today's discussion, said it was always a challenge to bring something new to the surf genre.

“A lot of people make the same movie over and over – we call it surf porn,” he said.

“Quick waves, quick action – there's plenty of those sort of films around.”

His latest feature, A Deeper Shade of Blue, is billed as “not a surf movie”, but a story about the soul of modern surf culture.

Mr McCoy will be joined by a panel of well-known surfers and filmmakers at today's free “car park conversation” at the Byron Bay Community Centre from 4pm. These include environmental activist Dave “Rasta” Rastovich, Deryk Hynd, Surfer Magazine editor-at-large Steve Barilotti, Rusty Miller and 24-year-old director Claire Gorman, whose film First Love screens tonight.

A Red Carpet Gala Party will be held tomorrow night to celebrate the end of the festival, including the award presentation for best film.

The Byron Bay Film Festival concludes on Sunday.

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