Review: On the Edge of a Dream
When I think of shapers, I always admire those who have a singular vision, who experiment with design, achieve a breakthrough, and that feature becomes their creative signature; the idea that guides much of their later output. If you want examples then think of Cole and concaves, Webber and rocker, Rae and flextails, Mackie and sidecut fish.
Switching from foam to film, yet staying within the surfing world, the same creative signature can be seen across much of Andrew Kidman’s output. All of his films consider surfing as a quasi-spiritual venture, but the very best of his work - think Glass Love and Lost in the Ether - place surfboard shapers at the centre of our universe. They’re the maypoles around which we all dance.
That concept is Kidman’s signature, and On the Edge of a Dream continues the tradition.
But before I continue, a point of order must be raised. On the Edge of a Dream isn’t a solo work, Kidman shares equal billing with Ellis Ericson. Apparently the collaboration began a few years ago when Ericson came around to Kidman’s house excited about a design. Fortunately for both of them, Kidman documented the exchange as it was their first step onto a new path.
That ‘path’ is the edge design. A largely overlooked feature that reduces drag by placing a narrow planing area on the bottom of a surfboard that runs an inch or so inside of the real rail. Aside from George Greenough and a few Santa Barbara acolytes, no-one has really explored the edge design. It’s fresh territory. Perfect for curious shapers and filmmakers.
By my reckoning this is the first film George Greenough has starred in since Nat Young's History of Australian Surfing way back in 1984, and it's a hell of a coup for Kidman and Ericson to have the design laureate sharing his knowledge and providing counsel. If you've seen the cover of On the Edge of a Dream and wondered about its significance, it's because of George's penchant for sitting in a warm bath and thinking. That's when all his good ideas arrive.
George Greenough and a late-60s edge board
The first interview with Ericson is crucial because this is a film that covers territory. To use an overused term, it’s a journey. From curious greenhorns wondering if there’s any merit in the design, to excitable dillatentes, and onwards to craftsmen, each incorporating the edge into their favoured board design through a process of trial and error. There are no instructions to follow, save the odd bit of feedback from George, it’s all blue sky thinking.
Kidman and Ericson create a design baseline by putting the edge on boards they know. Like the old Terry Fitzgerald maxim: “Keep nine things constant, make one variable.” It’s the simplest way of discerning what the edge is doing. And viewers shouldn’t be put off by the gentle single fin glide of Ellis in the promo clip. Once he starts making his multi-fin edge designs, Ericson comes on like a bastard mix of Cheyne Horan and Shane Herring: a low-slung stance on a perpetual motion machine.
As their knowledge bank builds their boards get more complex. They each shaped many test boards so clearly a lot of work went into the film, and by that I mean grunt work, shaping work.
Ericson and a few of the edge boards he shaped (Kidman)
Considering the physical effort it’s worth noting the strategy Kidman and Ericson employed for the project. That being, radio silence. They told no-one of their intentions lest their idea got hijacked.
A year or so ago I asked Kidman what he’d been working on. “Aw, nothing much,” he replied evasively. “Bit of shaping, bit of music”. Around about the same time Ericson wiped clean his social media presence. Meanwhile, as the internet hummed ever onwards, the sneaky bastards logged off, tuned in, and turned on with George. They put out no teasers or trailers, nothing that might steal their thunder. They told no-one until the curtain rose.
But the big reveal wasn’t just a movie, it was a book too. “It’s like a car manual,” is how Kidman unflatteringly described the accompanying 100 page book. “If you want to know why things work then you refer to the manual.” That being so, it’s the only car manual that opens with a poem. A poem!
At this point we need to tick off the various ways Kidman and Ericson approach their subject:
- Still photos
- Sculpture - the boards of course!
It’s an impressive array of skills, is it not? They’ve both shown amazing focus for what some people may consider a marginal feature in the broad sweep of surfboard design. However, while watching the film for the third or fourth time I realised that On the Edge of a Dream isn’t strictly about Greenough’s edge design. Oh, it is in one sense, for the last five years he was the maypole around which Kidman and Ericson danced, but there’s another way to view it.
The very same things that Kidman and Ericson champion: open experimentation, hand shaping, deference to elders, can be applied to any aspect of board design. The important thing is not the design itself, otherwise they would’ve simply made a historical documentary about the edge. What’s important is the process, of getting in the bay and turning ideas into reality, of making things by hand and “catching sparks along the way”.
Greenough and Ericson hotwire a blank in George's yard (Kidman)
The last song in the film is called 'Terminal Velocity', Kidman on guitar with Drew Montgomery stretching the effects pedals and winding up the tension as the instruments break and heel, they solo into parts unknown then return in a thundering three-way riff, the screen flashing images of pumping Lennox, backyard design sessions, surfboards being sanded and glassed, and Ellis ripping hell. If Baddy running the track at Angourie with a freshy seems antiquated, this passage comes on like a modern call to arms.