Steph Gilmore Talks The Making of ‘Surfing’


Girls Can’t Surf is one of the most (if not the most) important surfing films ever released.

It documents the rise of competitive female surfers in the ’80s and the battles they had to overcome for recognition, all while holding down day jobs. Today, surfing is one of the few competitive sports with equal pay for men and women, and surfers like Jodie Cooper, Pam Burridge, and Pauline Menzer were the ones who started that (still incomplete) path towards equality.

While Girls Can’t Surf is a must-see for any surfer, it doesn’t serve the same purpose that most surf films do: making you want to go surf. And while there’s a bunch of clips being uploaded to the interweb every day, there’s a notable dearth of all-female, full-length surf flicks among them. In fact, we can’t think of one in the last decade.

 

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 Stephanie Gilmore with friends Tyler Wright, Macy Callaghan, Nikki van Dijk, and Dimity Stoyle, along with filmers Dan Scott and Ava Warbrick are about to change that. Their film, Surfing, premiers this Sunday at Mona Vale’s Park House. In anticipation of the premiere, we spoke to Steph Gilmore to find out a little more about the film—not that we needed much convincing to attend.

‘At the start of last year, myself and all the girls were training and planning for another year on the World Tour. Then Covid struck and obviously, we were all locked down,’ Steph told me, the afternoon after the Narrabeen competition ended. ‘For the first time in ages, a bunch of us girls, Macy Callaghan, Dimity Stoyle, Nikki van Dijk, and Tyler Wright were at home in the same place for an extended period of time. We were all just surfing a bunch around Coolangatta, and Dan Scott was getting a bunch of footage every day.’

 

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 The film didn’t start with some grand plan, or even so much as a concrete idea, it just came about by what they did every day: surfed. ‘It was a really nice breather for a lot of competitive tour surfers where everyone is constantly travelling the world non-stop,’ Steph continued. ‘We’re surfing events at great locations, but we’re not always in the best waves, whereas last year we spent the majority of the time surfing our favourite waves on the Gold Coast and northern NSW.

Additionally, the Girls Can’t Surf film had just come out, and there was a lot of talk about how far women’s surfing has come. But there wasn’t an all-girls “surf-porn” film since Nike’s Leave A Message, which is over 10 years old, maybe more. Of course, there’s individual efforts and clips online, but we wanted to do something bigger. We were inspired by movies like Modus Mix, Seven Girls, and a bunch of Bill Ballard flicks that I grew up watching. We decided we’d just make the film as long as we wanted; if a wave was good, we said ‘put it in’—we didn’t have any sort of time limit.’

In addition to this, Dan Scott, a surf filmmaker (who also happens to surf incredibly well) hadn’t yet added the ‘full length’ notch to his belt. The amount of footage compiling combined with the downtime provided by Covid lockdowns provided the platform for this.

 

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‘The pandemic strangely made a great opportunity for us to make an independent surf film,’ said Steph. ‘The whole project was super independent. It was just us girls with Ava [Warbrick] and Dan filming and editing. I also took the main photo for the cover, and then the text on the cover is just some stuff I whipped up myself on my iPad at home. It’s homestyle, but the whole process has been so fun. We ended up calling it what it is, “Surfing”. It’s just fun, it makes you psyched to surf. The people we’ve shown, and the girls who made it, we all agree, it makes us want to go surfing, that’s really all we care about.’

A few names for the film like Rainbows Days, Rainbow Baes, and Surf Dolls [Nikki van Dijk’s nickname is ‘Dolls’, which now all the girls call each other], but eventually they opted to call the film what it really is. After plans to make a film were loosely laid, grander plans of making interstate surf trips were also conjured up with overseas travel obviously out of the question.

‘We had grand plans of packing the car, driving to South Oz and surfing at some point. Then all of a sudden we’d be back in lockdown,’ Steph said. ‘We weren’t allowed south of Brunswick heads and north of Brisbane. Our options were pretty much South Straddie, Rainbow Bay and D-Bah, and that’s the whole film. Well, maybe there’s a couple of waves from Lennox in there too.’

When it came to the editing process, Stephanie and the girls were relatively hands-off, leaving it to Dan Scott and Ava Warbrick. Dan, being a good surfer, has a honed taste for style, and Ava, who has previously worked with Steph in 2012’s Stephanie in the Water has more of a proper film background. ‘Ava gave Dan some input in different editing styles, and it worked out as a great team. She also shot a bunch of Super 8 footage which made it into the film.’ Before the film was edited and compacted into the 30-minute film it is today, Stephanie held a ‘party’ at her place where the footage was only edited into chunks. ‘As the sections went along I just sort of DJ’d to the footage, it was the best night.’

Now, with only a handful of days until the premiere on Sunday, Dan is applying the final touches to the edit, ready for it to be cast to a presumably rowdy crowd. While there isn’t a public holiday on Monday (to account for Anzac Day falling on the weekend) Steph recommended everyone in attendance pretend that there is and chuck a sickie on Monday.

This Sunday, sometime after 6 pm, Park House at Mona Vale. Although we recommend you come early so we can steal some money from you in 2-up.

 

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