ROGER COX Gallery images


Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 29 October 2011

SURF films have mutated in all kinds of different directions over the years, but in the beginning they were little more than glorified slide shows – a way of replaying epic sessions both for the benefit of the people who were there and for those who weren’t. In the 1950s and 1960s, pioneering backyard cinematographers like Bud “Barracuda” Browne would cut together footage of surfing at well-known breaks in California and Hawaii, book a slot at the local cinema (or gymnasium, or crematorium) and then charge members of the tribe a few cents apiece to chow down on popcorn and watch one anothers’ rides. The atmosphere would often be anarchic – arch prankster Miki Dora once let a jar of moths loose in a screening held by big-wave legend Greg Noll – but at least there was a sense of community at these events, a sense of like-minded souls coming together to share their love of the ocean.

It’s much easier to watch a surf movie today than it was back then – many of the big surf companies are now putting films straight onto the internet, where aspiring waveriders from Iceland to Indonesia can watch them for free from the comfort of their bedrooms. But with this ease of access, you can’t help feeling that something’s been lost somewhere. Sure, the message boards on surf-related websites can be entertaining enough, but they’re no substitute for trash-talkin’, popcorn-flingin’ human interaction.

In the light of all this, it warms the cockles somewhat to see Aberdeen-based surfer and graphic designer Allyn Harper releasing his new film, Through The Whisky Barrel at the Granite City’s Belmont Cinema today – the first time, as far as he knows, that a Scottish surf film featuring Scottish surfers will ever have been shown on a big screen.

“I wanted to do a project that would bring Scottish surfers together,” he says. “I often feel that we’re all kind of doing our own thing – everyone just goes surfing, then goes back to their normal life.”

This community spirit extends to the way the film was produced: Harper invited anyone who felt like it to submit footage of their best sessions and then edited the clips together, interspersing the action with interviews with pioneering Caithness surfers like Pat Kiernan and Grant Coghill.

“I opened it up to other people because I was finding that a lot of friends would have a handful of really good clips of amazing surfing, but they wouldn’t have enough to actually do something with it,” says Harper. “So I asked everyone I knew for their clips, and people were really keen to get involved.”

Meanwhile, over in the world of Scottish snow-sliding, a similar initiative is gathering momentum. Back in April, the inaugural Scottish Backcountry Film Festival went down a storm at the Old Bridge Inn in Aviemore, with a selection of homegrown ski and snowboard films screening to a packed-to-the-rafters crowd, and festival co-directors Craig Burry and Scott Glover are already in the process of putting together an even better event for Spring 2012. First, though, they’ll be hosting a season opener of sorts at the Bongo Club in Edinburgh this Thursday, with a screening of the new HD film One for the Road by American company Teton Gravity Research.

“It was Scott who had the idea,” says Burry. “He said ‘Let’s not just do the festival this year, let’s do something to start the season’. TGR were offering the opportunity to show the film as part of its world tour and there were vacancies in Scotland, so we thought, well, if anybody’s going to do it, it should be us.”

So what is it about extreme sports enthusiasts that makes them want to get together and watch films of each others’ exploits? After all, it’s not like five-a-side football teams sit down at the end of each season and watch footage of their greatest games.

“I think it’s about doing something that not a lot of other people might do,” says Burry, “something that you then want to share with people and say ‘this is what you can do with a pair of skis or a snowboard in Scotland’.”

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