Longtom: “New documentary is the greatest film about surfing ever made!”

In its treatment of the emotional and physical extremes of big-wave surfing and the reality of death this movie transcends its subject matter.

Since humans came out of the trees, or out of the swamps if you believe the aquatic ape theory, as I do, the earliest stories we have told ourselves have been of monsters of the deep.

The first literature we know of: Beowulf, The Epic of Gilgamesh features heroes battling watery monsters. No wonder big-wave surfing, a modern day trope of the ancient theme, where surfers seek a “chilling ecstasy” in waves that can kill, exerts such an arresting influence on filmmakers and audiences alike.

Films about big-wave surfing almost all suffer by succumbing to the irresistible temptation to over play the hand. Waving around fully erect for 90 minutes in a state of over engorged high drama makes for great trailers but terrible films. Heavy Water is a different film altogether.

The latest incarnation Heavy Water, by Sea of Darkness director Mike Oblowitz, examines the nexus of death and big-wave surfing through the deadpan delivery and life arc of Nathan Fletcher.

Films about big-wave surfing almost all suffer by succumbing to the irresistible temptation to over play the hand. Waving around fully erect for 90 minutes in a state of over engorged high drama makes for great trailers but terrible films.

Heavy Water is a different film altogether. Eschewing the constant drama it spends most of it’s time building and maintaining an atmosphere of claustrophobic dread.

In its treatment of the emotional and physical extremes of big-wave surfing and the reality of death it transcends its subject matter.

The greatest film about surfing ever made, I think. Please allow me to persuade.

Leathered ancient Woody Brown sets the emotional tone of the film in the opening montage.

“I loved to challenge death,” he claims, with the resulting thrill giving his life a frisson the unjazzed could never comprehend.

Nathan is introduced. We are all familiar with the broad narrative arc: son of Herbie Fletcher, brother of Christian, grandson to big-wave pioneers Flippy Hoffman etc. In a sense, it was a risk to hear Nathan speak. In doing so the danger was the mystique that surrounds him would be gone and gone for good.

A man of few words might be concealing anything, or nothing at all.

Thankfully, in Nate Fletchers case it’s a whole heap of the former.

Despite the advantages of the groomed industry upbringing Fletcher found his own path pretty quickly and it was radical. Falling into the orbit of surf/skate/punk icon Jay Adams shit got very loose, very quickly. The opening stanza of the film explores the influences of a radical California skate/punk culture that no longer exists. Its tentacles extended outwards across the Indo-Pacific.

Like every other cat my first OS trip was Bali.

Lacking a budget we crashed in the Ulu’s warungs, which you could do for free if you could handle rats, monkeys and lying on bamboo mats. I met Jay Adams and Owl Chapman and that’s what I thought surfing was: mushroom milkshakes, airs at low-tide Racetrack and Team Pain tattooed on a neck.

Jay had scary, don’t-give-a-fuck eyes and an unbelievable intensity which flies out of the screen in a scene where Nathan interviews him on home video. The film mostly skirts the darkness of Jay Adams. The next time I saw him was in the tenements of Sunset Vistas on Sunset Point. Jay busted through the door one night, as naked as the day he was born, hid in the bathroom for hours while men with baseball bats roamed the neighborhood, then slid into the surf and swam to safety somewhere. A dangerous friend.

His wasn’t the only radical friendship cultivated by Fletcher. He got cosy with the Irons Brothers at Pipeline. A mutual admiration developed. A kinship with Bruce had parallels with overbearing and aggressive older brothers, Andy gave Bruce hell and although it’s never explicitly stated in the film the presence of Christian in Nathan’s life has a hard edge to it that no editing can hide.

Things came to head on a pre-millennial trip to the Mentawais which coincided with Andy’s 21st Birthday. Andy tried to drink with Matt Archbold, a very unwise move according to Christian. He stopped breathing, poisoned. It was Nathan who found him and brought him back to life.

Life-and-death friendships and a calm intensity in heavy water dominate the second half the film as a sense of inevitability settles on the film. People seemed marked for death, or greatness, or both in the case of AI.

A delicious irony propels the narrative. Despite the Laird/Kalama team bathing in the glory of the tow-in revolution it was Nathan’s father Herbie who pioneered the use of power in the surf zone with jetskis at Pipeline. And it was Nathan who swung the pendulum back to paddle surfing in giant surf on the outer reefs of the North Shore. Phantoms, Himalayas, Outside Alligators, all tamed by Fletcher and pals on dedicated sleds built to get in early in thirty-foot-plus surf.

I fell head over heels for the film at this point.

Hollywood would have ran straight ahead to the tragedy of Sion Milosky’s death at Mavericks and Nathan’s redemption waves at Cloudbreak and Teahupoo but Oblowitz detours left, into surfboard design. We meet a barrel-chested, long-haired barefoot shaper, Leroy Dennis, and the story of eleven and twelve-foot surfboards.

History and lineage flow through into the present. The Buzzy Trent outline, the Brewer rail profile. Combined with Nathans re-introduction of the four fin it illuminated a feature of his big wave paddle-ins. He gets in earlier, cleaner and cuts a deeper, purer line from a more forwards stance than any other big waver. It’s something never mentioned but it becomes obvious in the film.

From outer reefs to Mavericks, to the left at Jaws, Nate gets in better than anyone.

How do people survive giant surf? The answer is, they don’t always.

The death toll slowly ticks over. Year on year. Mavericks surfer Grant Washburn reminds us that you are pushing up against human limits and it’s not a case of mind over matter. Shit goes wrong, people die. Fletcher’s strategy for survival is one of limited exposure. It’s the same one used by American author Jim Harrison as outlined in his obit in the NY times.

In this case, it applies to eating but it makes more sense when considering giant surf.

“The idea,” Mr. Harrison wrote, “is to eat well and not die from it — for the simple reason that that would be the end of your eating.”

We all know Sion Milosky drowned at Mavericks. The details make for some of the most powerful and moving cinema ever made about surfing. Nathan had done the business and got out, limited exposure, Sion was on a roll and wanted to charge on.

Fletcher heads back to the harbour to drop off Danny Fuller and comes back out with a new board. In late afternoon fall light, and to Fletcher ‘s incredulity, Sion is gone. A panicked search ensues. Milosky is found face down still attached to his board floating around the inside rocks.

Cold and dead.

A victim of the limits of human experience being violated one too many times and what Fletcher described chillingly as a failure by skis in the line-up to account for “inventory.”

I’d always wondered about the timeline of that year. Fate brought me into contact with Nathan at the high point of his big-wave journey. We crossed paths on the small bridge at Teahupoo on the morning of the Code Red swell in Tahiti before he entered the water.

A few hours later, I witnessed first hand and close-up the infamous Teahupoo monster he rode and that could have easily claimed him, like Mavs did Sion.

Sion died March 16, 2011. July 12 Nathan paddled an extra perfect massive wave at Cloudbreak on a pink ten-footer. August 27 he got the Code Red Teahupoo wave.

That’s a gnarly few months in any estimation.

What is obvious from Heavy Water is that Nathan Fletcher is a man whose inner and outer worlds exist in a strange kind of asynchrony. When I met him on the bridge at Teahupoo he seemed almost preternaturally calm and composed. He describes the mission as being disorganised and his internal state as a nervous wreck. Chaos was the dominant theme that day at Teahupoo.

It seemed inevitable human beings would be crushed under the weight of mountains of deformed bacterial-green ocean.

Gendarmes prevented boats leaving the harbour. It was after midday when I finally snuck aboard a vessel after a whole lot of hustle. The lagoon was heaving with current like a tsunami. The first wave I saw was a Bruce Irons beast that ripped his shorts off.

Within minutes, Nathan was being whipped in.

Memories are unreliable, I recall something so dark as to be subterranean, the footage shows a wan sunlight illuminating the wave. I remember screaming, horrified screaming, but that might have been my internal monologue. Even today, I have no words to describe it, except for deeply terrifying. My stomach felt full of ice cold gravel.

As the moment of impact became inescapable Nathan submitted to fate, “Oh well I’ve had a great life, humans just don’t handle this”.

But he did. He came back.

The film could have ended there. But as a coda to a life of extreme wave chasing Nathan planned a stunt to acid drop a white crested boomer from a chopper.

“This has to be lame,” I thought. A lame, Hollywood gimmick.

It is not lame.

It is so fucking good.

I loved this sequence so much.

It is so well shot, so masterfully edited with so much flow with a soundtrack that paws along underneath like a caged beast pacing in a cage.

When Darrick Doerner made a cameo as safety officer in blue camo I was in ecstasy. No spoilers. Some will see it as a stunt.

I say, appreciate it on it’s merits, as a masterpiece of filmmaking.

I watched Oblowitz’s Sea of Darkness anchored up off Sipora. The dream of “60 feet on the waterline” affected everyone who viewed.

This film, which explores why we do what we do, who we are and how the granite strata of fate traps us all, is better.

The best surf film ever made. I urge you to see it, in the strongest possible terms.

Heavy Water opens in 150 cinemas across Australia tomorrow (June 26); UK Tour Dates here. 

USA cinema release to come.


"Hello. Do you know a place I can keep my boat?"

Wanted: A slip or mooring somewhere in LA or Orange county!

Also juicy surf secrets!

I sometimes use our BeachGrit like a personal soapbox, screeching about this or that, jabbing my finger into the air because I have caught a wild hair and think whatever non-sober passion smashing through my brain is sensible, valuable and makes great sense. I’m sorry but what I love most about this space is that it feels like a conversation. Like a real, honest, funny conversation and in our day and age of bots and purchased “likes” “shares” etc. that feels important even when I’m just screeching.

Which brings me to my point. As you know, I have recently fallen in love with sailing. Not the sort of sailing that Travis Rice and recently injured John John Florence do all masculine and tough but sailing nonetheless (and involving Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt) and I need your help. My best friend with a wonderful 70 foot downwind sled is losing his mooring in Newport Beach. I had no idea but moorings and slips, like houses in Southern California, have unhinged value attached. The man who owns his bought it a few years ago and sold it for double at the beginning of the month.

He needs a new one and, ergo, I need a new one. Do you know anyone renting a mooring or slip anywhere in Los Angeles or Orange Counties (and I’m gonna throw San Diego County in here too even though he’ll be mad)? For a 70 footer? Oh I’d be the most grateful ever if you did and emailed [email protected] You could come sailing all you wanted and also I’d tell you all the surf secrets I know that I can’t print.

There’s some juicy ones.

And the sailing is too much fun.

Email [email protected]?

Thank you!


Find Pip!

Question: How absolutely green with jealousy was Gabriel Medina yesterday?

"More men die of jealousy than cancer."

Do you suffer from jealousies? Seeing people get either what you could have had or want very much? I don’t think I do but probably burn as much as the next man unless that next man is Brazilian champion Gabriel Medina and imagine the internal combustion in his heart yesterday on the sands of the Oi Rio Pro.

For there thousands upon thousands of his countrymen were swept into an absolute frenzy by one of their one, Filipe Toledo. Medina had surfed the event earlier in the day, bowing out in the quarterfinals to American as apple pie Kolohe Andino. And there he sat, bowed out, watching the crowd swell, build and roar as Filipe dispatched South African as boerewors Jordy Smith.

And how sad must he have been? Sad or sizzling with envy. He had been the one befriending Brazilian soccer star Neymar Jr. He had been the one broadcast into Brazilian homes nightly, shaving his supple skin. And now those Brazilians who loved him so could barely even shake their hips as a greeting. There was no room for anyone but Filipe Toledo.

It must have stung and stung badly but how will this covetousness alter the rest of the year? Will we witness rabid Brazilian on Brazilian violence or will Gabriel cram those feelings so deeply into his heart that they’ll only manifest themselves in some weird sexual way when he is 65 years old?

Much to discuss.

Also, how do you grade the commentators over the event? The box was all mixed up, Barton with Brad, Pottz with Kaipo, Pete instead of Rosy.

Better, worse or same as the traditional crew?


Cold-Blooded: Famous Hawaiian surfing pig murdered by “ignorant, desperate, idiotic individuals!”

"We have lost a Hawaiian island icon."

The Smith’s second album, Meat is Murder, is arguably their best and I think you probably agree. Morrissey and Johnny Marr really soar together on “I Want the One I Can’t Have,” “Well I Wonder” and the titular track “Meat is Murder” which begins…”Heifer whines could be human cries. Closer comes the screaming knife. This beautiful creature must die. This beautiful creature must die. A death for no reason. And death for no reason is murder.”

Poignant and moving even for hardened steak eaters.

I won’t lie, I enjoy a good steak but enjoy al pastor and bacon much more. Yes, I’m a pork man but the death of Hawaii’s famous surfing pig Kama3 has rocked me to my core and let us turn to Hawaii’s KOHN news for more.

Kama3, part of the Hawaii’s surfing pig ohana, has died, on Saturday afternoon, June 22.

According to Kama3’s owner, Kai Holt, the pig was killed by unknown suspects.

“We have lost a Hawaiian island icon,” said Holt. “A legendary beast who has touched the hearts and souls of millions of people around the world.”

This surfing pig was the first hoofed animal to win the Duke’s Ocean Fest Tandem Animal Division alongside Kitty the Surfing Cat.

“With all the good that these surfing pigs have done in the world, it saddens me greatly to see such an evil and senseless act executed by very ignorant, desperate, idiotic individuals in broad daylight,” said Holt.

The story goes on to recount all the films that Kama3 starred in and the joy he brought to so many lives. And what would possess those bastard ignorant, desperate, idiotic individuals to carry out such a brazen act? For plate lunch or something far more menacing?

Also, have you ever had a wonderful pet that broke your heart upon demise? A dog? Cat? Parrot?


Watch: Self-aware VAL film warms hearts and soothes frazzled nerves!

How to Learn How to Surf!

I don’t think that VALs are Enemies of the People, per se, but usually the VAL lack of self-awareness makes for rough exchanges in the water and/or on land. Lack of self-awareness is a nasty bit of business wherever it’s found. I was standing in a crosswalk a few days ago, for example, with the crosswalk light blinking, waiting to guide my daughter across when a car blazed right through. Of course I kicked his door as hard as I could sending him to a screeching stop. He stuck his blubbery head out the window, shouting “Do you have a problem?” I shouted back many swears that HE broke cherished crosswalk RULES at which point he angrily squealed away.

The man in the car was not necessarily a VAL but his attitude was metaphorical. VALs heedlessly break our cherished rules then don’t care. They don’t know not to care and don’t care to learn etc.

Which is what makes contemporary artist Tom Sachs’ movie How to Learn How to Surf so pleasant. It is not a movie about how to learn to surf or how to surf but how to learn how to surf.

Very self aware.

Enjoy.