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by Ed Temperley on Tuesday 6th November, 2012 67216 Views
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NEW WAVE FILMMAKING Blood in shark-infested waters, time stretched by factor of 60, the linking of generations: what happened when Jordy Smith, pro surfng's renegade talent, became the subject of a documentary profile that pushes the technical and creative boundaries of surf cinema
Words: Simon Nicholson
Aged 24, Jordy Smith has been surfing for 20 years, and yet he's torn between polar opposites of a life lived on the breaks. On the one hand, he's a leading competitor on the ASP World Championship Tour, the high watermark of men's professional surfing. On the other, he fully embraces the philosophy of freesurfing: no rules, no ranking, no regimentation. Fans of the Tour love him for bringing the two together when he competes; his backers and sponsors, and Smith himself, would like better Tour results, which might only come by leaving the freesurfing principles on the shore. (In 2010, he was overall Tour runner-up, after coming 26th in his debut season in 2008, and 11th in 2009. Last year he was seventh, and after seven of the 10 events on the 2012 Tour, he was in 11th place.)
Bending Colours is available to watch HERE for a limited time. © 2013 Red Bull
This clash between the two halves of Smith's surfing character makes him one of the most fascinating characters on a surfboard and perfect as the subject of new film Bending Colours, a production of the Red Bull Media House, realised by Kai Neville Studio and supported by O'Neill. Neville has rightly earned a reputation as a maker of a new kind of surf documentary, thanks to his openness to the current generation of freesurfers. His films, Modern Collective (2009), Lost Atlas(2011) and Dear Suburbia (2012), are not the high-fiving, moody-sunset surf films you're thinking of; they're dynamic and exciting, reaching surfing's outer edges, as well as its inner being. The Red Bulletin spoke to Neville, Smith and some of Smith's friends and peers to get a better handle on the film and its star. © 2013 Red Bull
KAI NEVILLE: The original idea of doing something that's totally focused on Jordy came from the background of filming Modern Collective. We formed a really good relationship and his surfing in that film was something I'd never seen before. He was just an amazing surfer to work with - always getting clips, really high performance stuff. It seemed that a profile movie was a natural thing for Jordy to do. I wanted to document the progression of Jordy Smith, from the early years to today. How he's grown as a surfer.
JORDY SMITH: The title of the film, to me, is the movement of the ocean, the bending of the waves. When you're turning with your board through the water, so many different colours bend and blend. Water turns from blue to white; you could get brown and milky water in Bali, or some of the bluest water ever in Réunion. Water and colours bend, so Bending Colours. © 2013 Red Bull
NEVILLE: It's a true collaboration between us. The film definitely takes on direction from Jordy. He would get psyched, and also tough with me, because I'm used to being totally independent. So we would work at it together.
SMITH: Working on films before meant we have a great friendship. To succeed in front of a camera, you have to be as comfortable as possible. Even when swells didn't show up, when it can get really frustrating, we were positive. But Kai knows exactly what he wants, and he knows the style I wanted. There isn't a better man on Earth to film and direct my movie. © 2013 Red Bull
NEVILLE: It's tougher to do something like this with someone like Jordy, who is also focusing on a world title and a top-10 ranking. It means we don't get to peel out on freesurfing trips as much. But when we get to do trips like Réunion, it's exactly the same - the boys just having fun and the work side of the trip comes naturally.
JORDY: It was fun, yeah, but some days we were surfing for 10 hours. It was draining. (Thirty surfboards and one ankle were harmed during the making of this film.)
The 'boys' included the Australian surfer Julian Wilson and the American surfer Tom Curren. Curren, at 48, is twice the age of both Smith and Wilson, and was world champion twice before either were born.
JORDY: Surfing with Tom Curren was, to me, the best part of making this film. It's been a long-time dream of mine to surf when it's just me and him. He has always been someone I've looked up to. Making the film, I found myself relaxing a lot more watching him surf. He made me go for different lines on a wave and do things I would never do before. Watching him helped me change things about the way I surfed that I hadn't realised I needed to change. © 2013 Red Bull
JULIAN WILSON: Jordy wanted me for this movie, so when I got the call-up I didn't care how I did it - I was going. At Réunion Island, the bottom [of the ocean where filming took place] is sharp like in Hawaii: volcanic rock, the kind you don't want to land on. And, at the right of where we surfed, there's a big pile of rocks. Jordy got smashed on it. On my last session, I hit another set of rocks. But, you're not going to hear any complaints from me. I surfed a ton there and got a lot out of it.
NEVILLE: That spot delivered one of the greatest waves I have ever filmed. It's very exposed to swell; the trade wind blows from the side, and the reef allows for you to have a huge roll into a big ramp. Perfect for airs. It's safe to say the stuff we filmed here closes the movie out. © 2013 Red Bull
JULIAN WILSON: It was the saltiest water I've ever surfed in. The friction from the salt water between our bodies and our boards tore us to pieces. Our chests and our stomachs were bleeding. I wore a full suit for a couple of days. I literally couldn't lie down on my board. The skin would come straight off and I'd be bleeding into the water, which isn't something you want to be doing over there.
(Between January 2011 and August 2012, there were seven shark attacks off Réunion Island, three of which were fatal.)
JORDY: I had a whole bunch of healing to do, because I got really cut up on the rocks.
As well as the physical challenges inherent in making the film, the technical element of Bending Colours led those both behind and in front of the camera to question what they could and couldn't put on film. Archive footage, of course, comes as it is, but for everything shot anew, Neville used two models of high-definition camera: the RED and the Phantom HD Gold. The former, released in 2008, has revolutionised action filmmaking because it makes gathering hi-def footage both cheap and portable. The latter is a slow-motion camera that can stretch four seconds of real-time incident into four minutes of footage. © 2013 Red Bull
NEVILLE: Working on RED cameras and the Phantom has been amazing. At the end of a day's filming, we'd all sit down and check out the stuff we got. You pick up moments with these cameras that you don't normally capture with other cameras - spray exploding on the waves, every movement of the boys bottomturning (the sweeping turns made at the bottom of wave, which set up a surfer for the rest of his ride on that wave). You can even see the boards flexing. When you use the Phantom and slow everything down to 1,500 frames a second, you pick up every little detail. It's a completely fresh angle on surfing. But out there on the water, you have to make sure every last thing about your technique is good; otherwise, the whole thing just looks wrong.
JORDY:: Surfing can look so effortless, and I want people to understand how much power and technique goes into each move. By using the Phantom camera to slow things down, people can see what's really going on and how much effort is going into each move. © 2013 Red Bull
Smith's self-belief nearly derailed the filming of Bending Colours in August 2011, when he competed against fellow South African surfer and long-time friend Travis Logie in the Billabong Pro Tahiti in Teahupo'o, the fifth of 11 ASP World Championship Tour events that year. Logie, 33, was then flitting between the ASP Tour and the qualifying tour one level below.
During their third-round contest, Smith disappeared under a wave and resurfaced in some distress. Initial fears were of a broken rib puncturing his lung, which can be fatal. The injury turned out to be a dislocated rib, which did not prevent Smith from getting back on his board and finishing the round, holding his damaged side with one arm and balancing with the other. © 2013 Red Bull
TRAVIS LOGIE: When Jordy first came on the scene, he was all guns blazing, but there were definitely moments here and there when he needed advice. I think I was able to help him learn how to respect his competitors, but still want to smash them in a heat and then be civil after the heat was done, regardless of the result. Sometimes he didn't know when to turn off after the heat; I was the same in the beginning.
He came on with a reputation for being arrogant, but it wasn't long before he was one of the most liked guys on the Tour. Surfing-wise, I don't think there's much more he needs to do to win a world title one day. He surfs as good, and, in certain conditions, better than some of the guys winning events now. It will come. It just takes one event to start a winning run.
Recently on the Tour, Smith has become friends with Josh Kerr, a 28-year-old Australian surfer who also shares Smith's love of freesurfing.
JOSH KERR: When he puts it all together, Jordy's real strength is flow. I love how he can flow such crazy moves together without any bobbles, it's super-rare to see someonedo that, and he does it in every surf. He is the full package.
Visit www.redbulletin.com to read the more features and to download the Red Bulletin iPad app for free. © 2013 Red Bull
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