A couple of nights ago I went and saw Under the Sun (you might just be able to see it here if you're in time).
The film sells itself as an exploration of the interesting dichotomy of approaches to surfing that exist between the Gold Coast and Byron Bay, which, geographically, lie so close together.
Certainly, an interesting premise.
The film was a joy to watch - the production was beautiful, the images hypnotic and the editing created a strong and spirited story that was easy to travel with. Truly I enjoyed the film.
As a passionate local of Byron Bay, I was disappointed with the liberties that Cyrus Sutton felt he was able to make in his representation of the town and the community, especially in contrast to the way he represented the Gold Coast.
Let's begin with his 'local'* surfers. Neither Dave Rastovich, Beau Young nor Nat Young could be called local to Byron. OK, Rastovich I'll give you at a stretch, but allocating them as spokespeople for the town seems like a bit of a long shot. Two of them may live there (Nat is not one of those two), but they are not exactly active members of the broader community and using them as examples and products of the Byron Bay surfing life is a bit far-fetched. My point here is that if you want to show how a community or location shaped a surfing style or aesthetic, then you can't just focus on individuals who happen to live in a place. You need to focus community of that place, as well as the context of that community in a certain timeframe, just as Sutton attempted in his representation of the Goldy. There cdrtainly were hippies and social drop-outs and deviants and druggies in Byron in the 70s and still now, but so what?
Next, Sutton uses several images of Nimbin (an alternative community that lies 45 mins inland, and outside Byron Shire) to represent the town of Byron Bay itself. Sutton also makes a point of focusing on the more alternative people that he finds and films at the weekend handicraft markets, which may or may not have been held in Byron (could have been Nimbin again, or Lennox Head or Bangalow or...). Anyone who lives in Byron is painfully aware of the not-so-alternate members of the community who are just as active and outspoken as the hippie contingent. Byron is more than a hippie town. I'm from Byron and I don't smoke pot, wear tie-dyed clothes, wear sandalwood oil, have dreadlocks, do yoga, play the bongos or read Buddhist texts. Just because I and my friends and family don't fit into this stereotype doesn't mean that we don't exist. The town has a varied socio-economic history that is based around logging, whaling, an abbottoir, a dairy and now a sell-it-all tourist industry that has again redefined who belongs and who has rights (start here and work your way through if you like). Peace, love and mungbeans came along with it all, but it never defined the way the town was run from within.
My final point is that although the bulk of the Gold Coast surfing was shot on the Gold Coast, other than a couple of sequences that I could recognise as being shot at the Pass, Wategos and Brunswick Heads, the bulk of the 'Byron' story showed surfing that was shot in Angourie, Indo and (my co-Byron-local viewing companion reckons) West Oz. Look, maybe I got that all wrong, but I'm telling you what I saw.
At the end of it all, Byron's surfing community is far from 'soul' but is instead fragmented into a variety of approaches and interest groups, just like any other coastal town. There is a strong and active Boardriders club that has yielded and supported a glut of now professional shortboarders who, like the Goldy crew, have experienced various levels of success (see for example films 'As Is' and 'On Credit'). The professional surfers who are from Byron are, just like the Gold Coast men that are shown, hungry for success and dollars and the chance to surf around the world and be admired for doing so - don't be fooled for a moment into thinking that they're beyond the desire for both lots of money and lots of chicks. Rastovich shows himself as an intelligent and thoughtful human being when he explains his free-surfing job entails his supporting the companies' stuff, which in turn means that the companies support his stuff. This is unlike Beau Young who explains to the audience (and this is close to being a direct quote) that being a sponsored free-surfer is basically being a commissioned artist. No Beau, I'm sorry, but it's not. It means you are, as Mr Rasta understands so perfectly, a commodity.
Anyway, whatever. It just riled me that Byron, once again, is sold as being an alternative and spiritual place, when it's just as commercialised and busy as the Goldy. Infact, go surf the Pass or Tallows on a good day and see how soulful you find it.
Underneath all of this, Sutton makes some good points and allows for some interesting conversations to emerge. He could have ended up editing the whole thing into some kind of statement that one surfing ideal or approach is better or more useful than the other, but that was not the feeling I got. He tried to show a disparity of experiences and that he did.
Go see it.
*Oh yes, I KNOW that this word presents a whole host of idealistic and conceptual issues but let's just go with it and think of it in terms of people who live in a place, and not only have a real investment in the community there but are also active within that community. Thanks. Please don't think that I give two hoots about the 'but you weren't born here' crap because I don't.