Former WSL CEO Erik Logan's parting gift to the surf world!
I broke Amazon, and Chas made me do it. All I wanted to do was watch Surf Girls Hawai’i, a series recently released on Amazon Prime. Chas tried to lend his account to me, but he didn’t know the password. I am not judging. I forget passwords with reckless abansdon. In fact, I managed to lock two accounts at Amazon that I didn’t even know that I had. After much trial, I made it in. The world is mine.
About two years ago now, the women’s media platform Togethxr made a four-part film called Surf Girls Kaikaina. Owned by Alex Morgan, Chloe Kim, Simone Manuel, and Sue Bird, Togethxr has created a killer platform for women’s sports. Surf Girls Kaikaina painted a group portrait of teen surfer girls coming of age in Hawai’i, and focused on Hokulani Topping, Vaihitimahana Inso, Ēweleiʻula Wong, and Puamakamae DeSoto.
As the Surf Girls Kaikaina series progressed, it centered the girls’ Hawaiian culture and their efforts to find themselves both in and out of the water. Though contest surfing formed a piece of the story — Moana Jones and Carissa Moore both appeared — it was not foregrounded. Instead, director Monica Medellin centered the young womens relationships with surfing, the ocean, and their culture. The interviews, which took place in bedrooms and skateparks had a raw authenticity. It felt real.
So, I was excited to see a new version of the film appear with some fanfare and a release on a mainstream platform like Amazon Prime. The new version, renamed Surf Girls Hawai’i bears only a passing resemblance to its predecessor. Moana Jones receives top billing. Ēweleiʻula Wong and Puamakamae DeSoto reappear, while Brianne Cope and Maluhia Kinimaka join the cast. And while Medellin returns as director, the series receives a new executive producer.
I’m pretty sure you can see where this whole thing is headed. You are smart people. Have you already guessed the identity of the executive producer? Sure, you have. Of course, it’s Erik Logan, with one last parting gift. Without giving too much away, too soon, I have been forced to conclude that the man can not make good media. Like, at all.
The shift in vision is clear from the start.
Surf Girls Hawai’i puts contest surfing at the center of the story. The narrative arc becomes the effort to qualify for the Championship Tour and the stresses of competing. There’s a sequence devoted to training that predictably involves carrying rocks underwater. It’s like Ultimate Surfer got stuffed on a plane and flown to Hawai’i.
When the women involved have the opportunity to tell their stories, Surf Girls is at its best. But the interviews have lost their intimacy in favor of studio backdrops and professional makeup jobs. We learn about where the girls come from and how they learned to surf. The stories have a Hawaiian accent, sure, but the cultural connections are largely lost in favor of a kind of stock hard luck, long odds sports story-telling.
There’s nothing Hawaiian about the soundtrack either. With the exception of a brief bit of Moana playing ukulele, the scoring is mundane and unimaginative. The film now even sounds like Ultimate Surfer. It beats you over the head, like omg, isn’t this exciting?
Surf Girls Hawai’i plays like an extended advertisement for the WSL, and that’s almost certainly what Logan set out to make. In her original, Medellin trusted her material. She believed that this coming of age story about girls surfing in Hawai’i had something to tell us. There was less lip gloss and shine in Surf Girls Kaikaina, but far more authentic story-telling.
Watching Medellin’s original, I became invested in the girls involved, never mind their world rankings. And that’s the reality that kept intruding into the new version. The women in this film are young contest surfers who have a long — and maybe impossibly long — way go to to make it on Tour. After all, this isn’t the story of Sierra Kerr. Centering their heat surfing did the women in the film a disservice that I lay entirely at Logan’s door.
It takes a long time to get good at surfing, and an even longer time to get good at contest surfing. It requires a deep well of financial resources and a so, so many hours in good waves. Contest surfing is a painfully cruel business where only a small fraction of even the most talented surfers succeed. The best in the world are the best for a reason. No shade on anyone for not making it to the top level right away, or even ever.
What’s frustrating about Surf Girls Hawai’i is that it grew from a compelling concept. These women are plainly strong, engaging, and passionate characters. Tell me the story of these women, growing up in Hawai’i, finding their way in some of the world’s toughest lineups. Tell me about their fears, frustrations, and joys. Tell me about what it means to them to be Hawaiian and how their heritage shapes their relationship with the ocean and the wider world.
That’s the story Logan steamrollered in his desperate effort to sell contest surfing to the masses. And I think we all know by now, that they aren’t going to buy what he’s selling. The story that didn’t get told, that might have drawn people to follow these women and their journey, that might have shown the world something beautiful about women’s surfing and Hawai’i — I’m not sure he even saw that story and its value. And that’s a shame.
I really wanted to love this film. I got super stoked when I saw Togethxr promote it. I am a fan of what Togethxr is doing to elevate women’s sports and I couldn’t wait to see them wave their wand over women’s surfing. Medellin strikes me a talented film-maker and skilled interviewer. I look forward to seeing what she does next.
Too bad a spectacularly untalented man had to get in the way.