Single: Studies of Movement by Andrew Kidman
It rained all of Saturday and Sunday and there was precious little to do. Time ticked by, as the old saying goes, as slow as a wet weekend, and because it was wet and surfless it went even slower. To pass the plodding time I went out to the shed, pulled up a pew under the window, and grabbed a random collection of old surf magazines off the shelf.
Midway through a Channon/McLeod-era Surfing World I was struck by an image of Steph Gilmore getting barrelled at Burleigh Heads. She was crouched perfectly in the pocket, bent at the knee and waist, her leading arm hanging loose, trailing hand caressing the wave face. Simple yet effective, and also so graceful. It was a perfect execution of the classic tube stance. Bikini top notwithstanding it could almost be MP.
But my reverie was quickly undercut by a gathering awareness. This magazine was printed in 1995, the caption to the picture said the photo was taken in 1980, and the board 'Steph' was riding was a Hot Buttered. Steph Gilmore is, of course, aged in her mid-twenties. She wasn't even born when the photo was taken, let alone having ever ridden for Terry Fitzgerald.
The accompanying text explained the mystery; the surfer in the image was Linda Davoli, a native of New Jersey. “One of the very best woman surfers of all time,” read the caption. In 1980 Davoli was ranked third in the world and despite living many miles from North Narra flew high on the Hot Buttered totem.
Yet even after the explanation I couldn't get past the uncanny likeness with Steph. How one still image of a surfer, a single fleeting moment in time, could look so much like another surfer born half a world away and a whole generation later.
I went looking for images of Steph, motivated now by curiousity rather than a need to pass the time.
Linda Davoli, Burleigh Heads 1980 (Pic Hugh McLeod)
First stop was Andrew Kidman's 2012 book Single, subtitled 'Stephanie Gilmore: Studies Of Movement'. For those unaware of Single, and if you aren't then you should be, it was made in the wake of Spirit Of Akasha. Kidman has always been multi-disciplanary, interpreting the world through words, film, or song. He's equal parts scribe, auteur, and troubadour. Singular events find various renderings within Kidman's purview.
In the case of Single it's a Greenmount session with Steph Gilmore filmed by Kidman. Filmed, that is, not 'shot'. From the moving footage, Kidman pulled frame grabs to use as 'still' images. There's some history in this concept: the defining image of Morning Of The Earth is a frame grab of MP, as is the poster to Kidman's own film Litmus which featured Derek Hynd's high line jive.
The book's presentation warrants comment. Hard bound in royal blue with a white, august font it defies all gender stereotypes. No doubt it's a deliberate ploy by Kidman to take the spotlght away from gender and put the focus squarely on Surfing - deliberate capital 'S'. It's a brave move by any author - daring their work to be judged purely on content and not the packaging it's sold in - made almost revolutionary by the demands of the marketing age.
The abstinence continues within the covers. Opposite the table of contents is a passage printed in small type: Stephanie is a Quiksilver ambassador. At the beginning of the Spirit of Akasha project we asked Stephanie if she would keep the board we made for her logo free, so visually the audience could watch her without their thoughts being broken by references to marketing.
Steph's session features in Spirit of Akasha, it's arguably the high point of the film. By pulling stills from the moving footage, Kidman ostensibly deconstructs Steph's glissade and we see the elemental ingredients of her style without the distraction of motion: the relaxed leading shoulder, the cocked back knee, the long limbs that could so easily be a hinderance used gracefully for projection. We also see the flashes of white spray that mark the board's sovereign glide on the water, and that becomes a chapter in itself.
Kidman's long time collaborator Dave Parmenter made the yellow six foot single fin, and it's no incidental prop. They forgo the modern Thruster because, as Parmenter explains, "...in order to ride these boards at black-belt level, everyone ends up surfing with almost exactly the same style because the fundamental mechanics of locomotion have to be the same or the boards just wont get out of first gear."
The choice of board is telling, because it's not only gender and marketing that Single eschews but also age and era. All board designs are rooted in time, forever associated with the date they were invented and perfected, but the single fin is the closest we have to a 'timeless' design. The simplest of all the fin configurations is best complimented by sublime curves in the board it's steering.
At least half the book is comprised of full page, sometimes double spread, stills of Steph surfing. Dissappointingly I couldn't find a 'moment' that matched Linda Davoli's Burleigh tube stance, but it doesn't matter, the similarities are there irrespective of the specific pose. Their body English being the lingua franca that connects them over a thirty year span.
From the cover to the content to the idea behind the book, there's a subtle resistance within Single. A resistance to being defined by that which is irrelevant to Surfing. Single transcends all trends, totally ignores gender, and only the publishing date betrays its age. Much like the board Steph rides, and Linda too for that matter, it's a timeless book.
Perfect reading for a wet weekend...anytime.