Capturing the Essence of the 70’s Surf Scene.

There have been many movies involving surfing over the years. Most of them try hard to share the wonder of a sport that is near impossible to explain through any medium outside of participation.

From Point Break to Chasing Mavericks, to In God’s Hands to Surfer, Dude, from Big Wednesday to The North Shore, from Blue Crush to Soul Surfer, many have come and gone and faded into the oblivion of entertainment whitewash. Each of the aforementioned movies have their moments, both good and bad, but I’ll save those specifics for a later article (inspired by this review).

I remember once, about 10 years ago, sitting in the water on my board, just south of the Huntington Beach pier. The crowd was small. The waves were fun. I wanted desperately to freeze the moment in time, to experience it over and over, for the rest of my life. But how do you explain that to someone without sounding like a transcendental meatball? You don’t. You can’t. If you have ever surfed … really surfed, then you understand, there is no explaining the power of what you feel unless someone else has felt the exact same thing. That’s why Point Break is buried under philosophical cheese; Chasing Mavericks is overwhelmed with melodrama; In God’s Hands is bogged down with an existential purpose (or lack thereof); Surfer, Dude explores the Jeff Spicoli stereotype as an adult; Big Wednesday is coming of age adolescent silliness, and so on and so forth.

Simply, you can’t explain what surfing is, what it offers, why people find a Nirvana-like joy and passion in pursuit of the sport … not unless you have done it.

Outside of a “that looks cool, crazy, or fun,” a movie can’t really capture the spirit of surfing.

That brings us back to Drift, yes, I am finally back to the movie! Drift takes the 1970’s surfing culture and tries to explain the experience of surfing through the lives of a pair of Australian brothers. It has a little of the cheese of Point Break and some of the melodrama from Chasing, Maverick’s, but most importantly, it feels very real.

The brothers Jimmy (Xavier Samuel) and Andy Kelly (Myles Pollard) are surfers who work toward industrializing the industry in the hopes of being taken seriously. But for surfing to be serious, means that the freedom the sport offers must ultimately be sacrificed.

They learn from the wise and free JB (Sam Worthington). It’s nice to see Worthington take a break from his blockbuster fare (Titans, Terminator, and Avatar), and take on an independent Aussie flick. He plays a Obi-Wan Kenobi-like surf and life mentor to the two brothers. JB is a photographer and filmmaker who documents their progress in the water and provides them with advice out of it … but also presents the cause of, what could be, their ultimate conflict.

While navigating the surf, industrialization of the sport, and a gang of bikers threatening their business, Andy must also contend with Lani, his love interest, played by Lesley-Ann Brandt (from Starz’s Spartacus), all the while trying to keep his brother, Jimmy, on the straight and narrow.

One of the strongest and simultaneously weakest points in the movie comes midway through while surfing a break called The Morgue. At the Morgue, we get a scene comprised of intensity and sacrifice all too common to surf movies, as well as the outrageously predated invention of tow-in surfing.

What Drift lacks the most … is surfing. The viewer is only given brief glimpses of the sport that consumes and dominates the life of the characters.

Drift is a fine movie and it’s a fine surfing movie. However, it does not provides neither the connection which surfers will hope for nor the epic waves and surf sequences the everyday viewer will expect.

It reaches for Laird Hamilton status — being towed into a 60-foot wave — but instead settles for the “You should’ve been here yesterday” realities of those in search of the perfect wave — these are references that will only be understood by those immersed in the culture of surfing, which makes the movie’s finale feel somewhat contrived and cheapened by the greater message, because this is a movie that strives for more.

In Point Break, Johnny Utah let’s Bodhi surf the 50-year storm paying the ultimate price; Big Wednesday’s Jack Barlow rekindles his relationship to nature to honor a lost friend; in the North Shore, Rick Kane, fulfills the dreams of his mentor; while In God’s Hands sees Shane fulfill the destiny of his best friend; and Chasing Maverick’s is the story of potential unfulfilled.

All of these movies have this in common, they suggest that surfers must experience great loss to transcend the mainstream justifying the sport — but they all over complicate the experience, Drift included. They forget that the greatest joy of surfing is simply just that — surfing.

Grade: B

Review by Gordon Shelly, special to Influx Magazine