Three years on, this is still Kai Neville's masterwork…
That golden period. All collaborative artists have ’em. It’s only years later, upon reflection, that we can trawl through their work and call it. Kai Neville, the 32-year-old filmmaker, sunglass and media house part-owner (Epokhe and What Youth), has owned the performance surf film space since his 2010 debut Modern Collective.
But for Kai, it was his second film, Lost Atlas, made the following year, that built his reputation into a profitable exercise (Red Bull used Kai for Jordy Smith’s bio movie Bending Colours).
Three years later, it’s still his masterwork. It came at a time when he had John John Florence, Jordy Smith, Dusty Payne and Dane Reynolds in his pocket (Dane is back in Kai’s new film, Cluster, to be released in the northern hemisphere 2015 summer) and more than eager to nail clips.
“I felt like my next movie people would think, well, because of Modern Collective, the next one’s next one’s going to have crazy technology, helicopter angles and a thumping soundtrack. I wanted to tone it completely down, to keep the look and the feel subtle and washed-out, nothing saturated and contrasted,” Kai told me at the time. “I wanted the music to be raw, not so fast and I liked the way I ended up shooting it. It was candid. I shot everything. I wanted to simplify the whole thing. It’s really choppy. I didn’t use any fades or motion graphics.”
As to the surfers he used, which also included Craig Anderson, Ryan Callinan and his best friend Dion Agius, Kai said, “They all surf really well, but they don’t get up, surf all day, then come in and talk surf. It’s not all surf, surf, surf. They’re interested in so many other things. The guys that I work with have to come across on screen, too. They’re really interesting people.”
You want 10 reasons why Lost Atlas rules?
1. Dusty Payne’s late frontside switches to reverse in Mexico and Sumbawa are still the apex of the Hawaiian’s performance.
Dusty had told Kai that if he was starting a move and it was feeling lame he could tweak it mid-turn into something special. I was with Dusty when Kai showed him the movie and recorded this exchange.
Kai: He went up for an air, it was a big straight air, and he thought it was gay so he, you, turned it into a an air reverse. And, it looked sick!
Dusty points at Kai, laughs and says, “He loved the move!”
Kai: It just, like, a last-minute tweak out on the flats. It’s pretty cool.
Dusty: It just happeeeeened. I just remember it was just standard.
Kai laughs, “Yeah, standard…”
Dusty: It was looking pretty stupid and I think it still does look stupid.
2. Dusty on girl’s surfing.
On Lost Atlas Kai played pap-journalist and recorded conversations with his tiny H4 mic. And this quote from Dusty re: girls surfing is priceless in its honesty.
Kai: Dusty, what do you think about girls surfing?
Dusty: Don’t get me started.
Kai: Do they rip?
Dusty: No, they’re terrible! (In a sing-song voice) They think they should just sit on the boat and wait for it to get one foot again so they can go out and do their little tail slides.
“Ok, let me explain,” Dusty told me. “This is why I said it. I was just on a boat trip with some female surfers from the 6.0 team and I’m not saying any names…”
Dusty pauses and laughs.“And, y’know, they were ripping when it was small. And, the last day of the trip, the last session of the trip, we pull up to Greenbushes (a barreling left) and it was three feet. And, we were like… YES! Finally, some waves! The trip was…ffffllllat! And, we go out and the only girl who paddled out was Laura Enever. And, she went. She got a couple of nuts ones and the rest of the girls sat on the boat and just watched. And, I was, like, are you kidding me? It’s finally breaking and they’re not even paddling out?”
3. Jordy Smith is refused permission to surf where there are fishermen because of “security.” Jordy responds: “What about their security when I start baptizing a few heads?”
4. Jordy Smith introduces new expression into surfers’ lexicon. Cringe.
Again, with his little hidden mic, Kai Neville captures a candid exchange, this time between Dane Reynolds and Jordy Smith in France. Their quotes are run full-screen over the pair surfing perfect six-foot French beachbreaks.
Jordy to Dane: You know that guy who interviewed me yesterday? He interviewed me two or three years ago in my hotel room and his breath just stunk… so bad… and I was just so off him and I said I’m never doing anything with that guy ever again. And I saw him and I was eggy from the get go.
Dane: I feel that if your breath is that bad to where someone is like three feet away and tripping out… It must feel disgusting right?
Jordy: That’s my worst, like, cringe. Just cringe.
5. A genre-hopping soundtrack
From Grimes to Hotel Mexico to Dead Gaze, King Tuff, Super CHillers, the Samps and Connan Mockasin (whom I personally loathe but he sure creates a mood). The result is a surf film that cuts to a variety of moods and speeds.
6. A Chilean beachbreak with Wade Goodall, Julian Wilson and Dusty Pane
This is Wade’s last great cameo in the big leagues and he does it in the most immaculate fashion, in difficult waves, with tough competition, including the most extraordinary blonde gals in little bikinis on the beach. Such style!
7. It was all shot on a Canon 7D
A masterpiece created for a few thousand bucks worth of hardware.
8. It created careers Dion Agius and Craig Anderson
Craig Anderson’s manager at the time John Shimooka told me, “That cameo of Craig’s was the start of it… four years ago he was definitely on minimum wage. Now, he’s a top earner. Once you’re affiliated with Kai… it carries a truckload of weight.”
Said Dino Andino, father and coach of the then 17-year-old Kolohe Andino. “If you’re not top 10 in the world, you have to get in a Kai Neville movie. Ryan Callinan, he gets two waves, and it’s huge for him. You take him out of the movie and he might be super talented and super creative, but where would he be? The difference is huge. Money? If you star in that movie you can command 200 plus. If you weren’t in the movie, even if you’re doing the same stuff, you’re looking at 80 or 90.”
9. Kolohe Andino’s frontside grabs in a Canary Islands wavepool
Most surreal, an ethereal interlude in a most prosaic film.
10. John John’s Sumbawa cameo
Until Lost Atlas, the world only had a shadowy idea of how good John John was. Kai showed us.
“I had him on my radar, but he just took it to a whole new level.” said Kai. “That’s what I like seeing in surf films. That raw new talent when they’re surfing with the best guys.”
LOST ATLAS: A TIMELINE.
00:31: 4:52: Mex with Dion Agius, Craig Anderson and Owen Wright, cute music, cuts to hard-core at 3:32 for a one-minute hit. First wave is an unmade tow punt by Dion.
4:52 to 6:33: Jordy Smith and Dane Reynolds in France. Jordy “cringes” at the breath of a surf journalist.
6:34 to 8:59: Dusty Payne in Mex.
9:00 to 11:49: Mitch Coleborn, Chippa Wilson and John John Florence , Indo.
11:50 to 13:24: Conner Coffin, Ev Geiselman, Dylan Perillo and Owen Wright, south coast, NSW.
13:25 to 15:05: Jordy and Dane reprised.
15:11 to 16:31: Dusty, Julian Wilson and Wade Goodall in Chile.
16:32 to 18:30: Craig, Dion and Owen in Mex.
18:31 to 22:35: Craig, Ryan Callinan, Dylan and Yadin Nicol in Indo.
22:36 to 24:26: Dusty and Julian in Chile, points. Backside finners.
24:27 to 26:58: Jordy in Europe. Is refused permission to surf at a beachbreak because of a couple of fisherman, because of “security.” Jordy responds: “What about their security when I start baptizing a few heads?”
26:59 to 28:27: NSW South Coast, reprised.
28:28 to 30:23: Julian, Ev and Kolohe Andino, trippy wavepool session, Tenerife.
30:24 to 33:12: Kolohe, Andrew Doheny, Dusty, mainland Mex.
33:13 to 34:35: Kolohe Andino, cut to Sweet 17 by Dirty Beaches.
34:36 to 37:36: Yadin and Julian in Costa Rica.
37:38 to 39:51: Dion and Craig, with a cameo by Chippa, north coast NSW.
39:52 to 42:46: Dusty, JJ and Chips, Sumbawa, Indo.
42:47: Credits roll to In Power We Trust the Love Advocated by Dead Can Dance.