Freeride at the Old Smithy…

imageLast night saw the screening of the rare and influential surf movie, Freeride, at The Old Smithy in Welcombe.

I did a little intro before the screening and for those who didn’t make it, I hope this gives a personal insight into a movie that spawned The Freeride Generation and changed the course of many peoples lives.

“It was the summer of 1978, I was 12, queuing with my brother Hugh and around 100 long haired pot smoking scruffs outside the Atlantic Hotel in New Polzeath... I was stood there next to my brother and the local lifeguard, Gavin Bassett who had been persuading my mother i was safe to surf had said i had to come along... so there I was, stood in line with a hoard of rowdy hooting surfers... I was already sold.

There was a sense of belonging at that event that changed my life; it’s why I’m here... kind of why we are all here.

The movie was the efforts of by Bill Delaney and water-cameraman Dan Merkel. Their slow motion water shots and on board cameras set new standards in sports photography that wouldn’t really be exceeded until much later with the likes of Riding Giants.

Sadly this movie is now rarely seen, issues over rights have confined it to all but a few collectors fortunate enough to own one of the rare original 16mm films that were played in the cinemas and halls around the world in the late 70s. This copy comes from someone that has one of these. You didn’t see this movie here tonight, and you may never see this movie again.

imageIt's primarily a chronicle of Pipeline/Off the Wall during the Hawaiian winter of 1975 -'76, with some Australian and Indonesian segments thrown in for good measure. Its stars are Mark Richards, Wayne Bartholomew, Shaun Tomson, who were banging down the door of the Hawaiian old guard. This movie was, perhaps unfairly, most remembered for Shaun Tomson’s tube riding, which whilst incredible even by today’s standards overshadowed the performances of the more stylish and aggressive attacks of Rabbit and the most stylish and radical surfer of the era, Mark Richards who went on to win 6 World Championships.

For me the most incredible thing is that they are riding these awe inspiring North Shore waves on boards a bit like the one Richie has slung up over the bar round the corner, single fins with down rails, low rockers and thick beak noses. The boards seem to skip over every piece of chop, and chatter as they are nursed off the bottom and under the lip... with the exception of Mark Richards who somehow manages to look relaxed whatever the size, even at Waimea.

imageLater in 1994, I had the pleasure of meeting Shaun Thompson in the lineup at Jeffrey’s Bay. He dropped in on me, faded his bottom turn sticking me deep into the pit with nowhere to go. That was a hero busted for me. I later discovered he had given lectures all over the world on his “surfers code”, handing out cards with the code on one side and his clothing brand, Insight, on the other. Interestingly the code DIDN’T include “tho shalt not drop in”, but then he is a Saffa (joke).

I also got to see Rabbit surf at his home break in Oz when I was 18. (Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew got the nickname “rabbit” because as a kid he was this incredibly quick young footballer missing his 2 front teeth!) He was 12 years as a pro surfer on the tour, and with 1 world championship, but I’ll always remember him for his hands-behind-his-back barrels at Burleigh Heads... and he didn’t drop in on me!

I never did get to meet or surf with Mark Richards despite trips to Newcastle. He was known as “the Wounded Gul” for his low centre of gravity, knock-knees, arms outstretched style that seemed to be able to absorb the largest of chops without fluster and enabled him to surf the largest of waves with the most relaxed yet radical style. I can’t see him dropping in either though.

Anyways enjoy the movie... You didn’t see this movie here tonight, and you may never see this movie again...”