A filmmaker reviews Vans' latest full-length movie…
We all know the state of surf cinema: the industry’s in decline, there’s no budget, instagram ruined everything, attention spans are too short, blah blah blah.
All of this was on my mind as I queued up the livestream for the premiere of Wade Goodall and Shane Fletcher’s Pentacoastal. As the opening notes of the metronomic score thumbed I immediately felt like I was in good hands.
Opening credits in surf films are rarely good. Taylor Steele might be public enemy number one, but even View From A Blue Moon spends what feels like an eternity introducing its cast over painfully repetitive, if beautiful, underwater cinematography.
Goodall and Fletcher gracefully side-step this pitfall with a wonderful montage of hand-drawn, mixed medium animations. These strange creations, over 1700 hand drawn images according to Goodall, vibrate and morph with small imperfections from frame to frame.
Amid these little slice-of-life moments featuring random passersby, each cast member is brought into the narrative in his own animated sequence. (On a side note, does Vans have the most likeable team in surfing? A Goodall, a Graves, two Gudangs, a Bryant, a Fletcher, a Florence and a fucking Reynolds? And Kyuss King is there, too.)
The true genius of the introduction is the employment of the age old adage: show, don’t tell.
Nothing kills my boner faster than half assed B-roll over a surfer’s narration of what their home is like, or why they love surfing, or why their team is “like a family” (ironically this is basically Passion Pop, Goodall’s early 2000’s Billabong flick).
These images feel like Goodall’s POV. Without any explanation or direction he has transported us behind his eyes Being John Malkovich-style, depicting a world strange and alien.
Every frame is operating on multiple levels, and while describing it is some real film school bullshit, it makes for a compelling opening that reflects careful thought and attention to detail.
One minute in and we’re out of the intro, wham bam thank you ma’am.
And once this film ramps up, it doesn’t really slow down for the rest of the running time (around thirty minutes). There’s no candid B-roll, no narration, no explanation, just top-notch, progressive surfing complemented by a beautifully consistent, semi-monochromatic color treatment of deep blues and crushed blacks and a soundtrack of feel-it-in-your-chest pounding rock.
They surf that one stretch of the South Coast that is in way too many web edits, but somehow Shane Fletcher manages to make it look fresh and entertaining. They surf that one super-fun-looking-but-probably-pretty-gnarly-in-reality beach with all the A-frames on it (See Parko in Trilogy).
They have the obligatory Indo part but Dane is there so who cares, gimme all the Dane, gimme my precious! Kyuss King goes wave for wave with Goodall at a shallow right slab in a coming out party reminiscent of Kolohe Andino in Lost Atlas.
Harry Bryant surfs with the reckless spontaneity that has recently and deservedly made him so popular.
Goodall closes with a solo section at maxing P-pass, a wave which, no matter how many times I see it, is still jaw dropping. It’s beautifully shot by Fletcher, who much to my relief, doesn’t camp out on the same 200mm lens, but varies his focal length, giving us cropped-in close-ups and wide, pulled0back shots of the break.
I think filmers get obsessed with walking the tightrope of “how tight can I shoot from a boat and still keep it steady and framed up”. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you are cutting off the top and bottom of a wave, don’t do it more than once.
Show me the wave, show me the lineup, I will likely never see a wave break like this in person, show me the mechanics.
Obviously I really liked this film, but I do have to level a complaint at one element, and frankly the entire surf filmmaking community at large is guilty of this. Sloppy, handheld footage on a film camera is not compelling and needs to die a quick death. Every asshole with a Super 8 camera thinks they can zoom in on a flower or point it up at the trees and it’s god’s gift to filmmaking.
And I get it, shooting film is really fun, but at this point it’s the surf section equivalent to dancing while lip syncing a pop song on TikTok. It’s as lazy as it is boring. Look no further than Jack Johnson, Thomas Campbell, or Joe G for alternate and interesting ways to navigate film.
In any case, bring back full-length films, stop posting all the best clips on insta, cue old man shaking his fist at the collective youth etc.
Go watch the film, it’s free on YouTube, forever, and we are damn lucky to have it.