I don't normally write film reviews — there's probably a good reason why I became a designer instead of a writer — but I wanted to have a go, in support of Manufacturing Stoke. The director Pierce Kavanagh is surfing's answer to Michael Moore — the movie can be hard to watch at times, but it's something I think every surfer should see. Anyway. Here I go...
Manufacturing Stoke (directed by Pierce Michael Kavanagh, misfit pictures)
Rob Machado, Dan Malloy, Kassia Meador and Alex Knost do not appear in this film. The first surfer featured is 9-year old Tiara Thompson: an environmentally-aware, frothing girl-grom from California. And that is perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Manufacturing Stoke — it is one of very few independent films not relying on 'in-crowd' surfers to garner appeal. In fact, the lack of prominent surfers and locations makes this almost an anti-surf film. If sponsored shredders are the tip of the surfing iceberg, Manufacturing Stoke goes below the surface to bring up a colourful and varied cast of pioneers and commentators including the eccentric and inspirational Carl Ekstrom, Richard Kenvin, Jon Wegener and others.
For the first part of the movie, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching an episode of Grumpy Old Men — grey-haired blokes with a malibu-chip on their shoulder about an industry that is partly responsible for propelling the planet towards environmental doom. And you could also be forgiven for thinking that the man behind it all is Grubby Clark. But as the film rolls on it becomes apparent that there is a future for surfing — and it's getting progressively greener. The old guard are graciously handing the baton to a new breed of environmentally conscious independent surfers, shapers and manufacturers like Danny Hess, Lucas Dirkse, Ed Lewis, and Clay Peterson of Marko Foam. As the focus shifts to this new generation, the outlook seems increasingly positive. Here are a growing group of modern-day pioneers whose innovations are starting the next big and much-needed change to the surf industry paradigm — what some commentators are labeling surfing's true renaissance. It's an exciting time to be a surfer, and Manufacturing Stoke gives us a peek into future possibilities.
Manufacturing Stoke's production values follow the lead of pictures by directors like Jason Baffa and Thomas Campbell — with plenty of atmosphere, sensitive camera work, a palpable story-line and a bespoke soundtrack. But it's the film's core message that makes it so different, and so challenging. This is not the sort of movie you put on to fill the background. It demands concentration and a willingness to look at your own surfing habits in the cold green light of environmental responsibility.
Much like the nature of the youthful surfers featured, Manufacturing Stoke asks hard questions and urges you to answer them. While it provides an insight into how the industry is changing for the better, at the end of the day it is up to individuals to make responsible choices and change their own habits at a personal level. There's no neat-and-tidy happy ending here, but the education that this film provides brings us one step closer.