Jack McCoy and his films defined generations of surfers and inspired those emerging.
From the ’70s’ In Search of Tubular Swells to 2011’s A Deeper Shade of Blue, there is little that McCoy hasn’t covered in surfing. And when I say films, I don’t mean a few clips set to your favourite 90’s band, I mean legitimate, narrative-driven films. ‘I take my hat off to anyone who has made a film and not just a bunch of clips put together, but a film with a beginning, middle and an end,’ Jack famously said. ‘People don’t realise how much work and effort, blood sweat and tears that goes into a film.’
Jack has more director, production and cinematography credits than we have fingers and toes (25 feature films, to be precise). And not all of those are for the mere surfing audience—he even made a video clip for Paul McCartney’s Blue Sway. And since Jack is about to embark on another ‘Surf Talk & Jam Tour’ of Australia’s east coast (in conjunction with Globe’s new film, Dark Hollow, featuring Dion Agius, Craig Anderson, and Chippa Wilson), we thought we’d recommend five McCoy films we consider essential viewing.
Bunyip Dreaming (1990)
Bunyip Dreaming was released 30 years ago this year. Jack McCoy’s first film for Billabong featuring the likes of Mark Occhilupo, Ronnie Burns, and Darren ‘Magoo’ Magee. ‘[A film] I’m surprised didn’t burn out in my VCR was Jack McCoy’s Bunyip Dreaming…’ Taj Burrow wrote for Stab a few years back. ‘Bunyip got me so psyched. It was full of all my heroes; like Luke Egan and Occy and was shot in my hometown of Yallingup.’ Unlike most films today, with footage compiled from many a filmer, Jack shot the entirety of Bunyip Dreaming. ‘You have to remember everything was shot on film and I had no sound recording, and the other thing about the Bunyip is that I shot every shot—land and water,’ Jack said in an interview with Swellnet.
In addition to all this, the film also had a strong and important message regarding Aboriginal culture and the trauma inflicted on Aboriginal people by British colonisers. ‘With Bunyip Dreaming, we spoke very loosely about the Dreamtime, the Aboriginal worldview, and we had little morals, little messages, in there.’ McCoy said. ‘Around the same time, I encouraged Gordon [Merchant, Billabong’s founder] to do an indigenous surf contest and to sponsor indigenous surfers.’
Storm Riders (1982)
The 1982 documentary reached an audience beyond the sport’s partakers. It was made along with Dick Hoole and Maurice Cole and, as the title suggests, chased those who surf the biggest swells, from Oz to Indo and Hawaii. It was also the first film that Wayne Lynch and Jack McCoy made together and birthed a relationship as strong as the one Kelly Slater has with World Titles.
In addition, it also featured Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, Gerry Lopez, Mark Richards, Simon Anderson, and Tom Carroll. In other words, every god damn fucking A-grade 80’s surfer on the planet. Put simply, you should just watch it.
Free As A Dog (2006)
Now this one might not have aged as well as Jack’s other work (but it still hasn’t aged as poorly as the fashion), but Joel Parkinson’s mid-00’s opus is worth watching just to understand Jack’s ability to adapt—if not to see Parko surfing at his arguable peak. The film is strewn with acting which wouldn’t pass in a primary school play—cringey skits and a soundtrack that will have you yearning for Top-40—but there’s special something here. Maybe a few tokes pre-viewing will make the skits more bearable, and possibly even funny!
The Green Iguana
Now this, The Green Iguana, is a must-see. A film that broke the mould of typical surf films. It was so creative that it makes using the word ‘creative’ seem hyperbolic whenever it’s used for the more alternative surf clips of today. It was Jack McCoy’s second for Billabong which once again lined him up with Occy, Luke Egan, and Margo. The locations were Australian dominant (excluding a timeless Pipeline section) with an all-Australian bands soundtrack.
When I first saw snippets of this film in 2019 at a talk Jack gave alongside Craig Anderson, I realised that technological improvements don’t always lead to a better end product. If you’re a surfer, The Green Iguana will make you want to surf; and if you’re a filmer, it’ll make you want to incinerate your RED and grab something with a physical roll of film.
A Deeper Shade of Blue (2011)
Jack McCoy’s most recent feature, released back in 2011, showed that it was still possible to make a narrative-driven surf film in an age increasingly dominated by social media scrolls and viral hits.
At the time Jack saw a growing disconnect between the history of surfing and its younger generation. The film’s bio claims Jack spoke to kids who didn’t know who Gerry Lopez was, or had little knowledge of Duke Kahanamoku and his role in surfing’s popularity in Hawaii and worldwide. Jack wanted to bridge that gap, and A Deeper Shade of Blue does that and still features memorable sections featuring Steph Gilmore, Jamie O’Brien, Jordy Smith, and Derek Hynd. It’s a different film to those he’s most known for, but it is a different time, and as previously noted, a different audience. The thing also cost $1.8 million US to make, and we’d say that’s money well spent.