The Surf Film Archive
In 2009, Jolyon Hoff was sourcing footage for his fim ‘Searching for Michael Peterson’ and found himself in Dick Hoole’s garage among piles of old film reels, many of them unseen by anyone except Dick himself.
“At the time I remember thinking, ‘Holy shit, there must be some gold in there,’” says Jolyon about how the seed for his latest project was planted.
Jolyon then spent many years thinking about it, however it wasn’t till COVID brought the nation to a standstill that he had the time to act on it. Thus he’s created The Surf Film Archive, a repository of film footage scanned into digital format. The archive’s goal is ‘to find, scan and restore as much footage as possible’ from surfing filmmakers.
Film has a shelf life before it degrades, as do the images recorded on it, so the archive is both a race and a rescue mission to find all the footage before it decays and is lost forever. They’re starting with all the 16mm footage first before moving onto other formats.
Though it began by searching for footage of one particular surfer, the significance of the archive expanded the more footage that was found. For one, much of the footage didn’t make the final cut, the waves may not have been perfect or completely in focus, but they were landscapes that have changed significantly over time.
“We’ve got this shot of Lennox Head when it was just a little hamlet,” says Jolyon with barely contained excitement, “There's this old railway crossing you had to go over, and the old wooden fence that used to be at Lennox Point.”
Surfers were spearpoint travellers, so along with the NSW north coast the archive has period footage from other early outposts such as Bali, Jeffreys Bay, and Hawaii, presenting them as a time capsule from the past.
However, Jolyon sees the footage as containing something even more profound than physical change. “Surfing in Australia up until the late-seventies, early-eighties, was really ambitious,” explains Jolyon. “It had a lot of ambition: environmentalism, alternative lifestyles, not working for the man, sustainable living.”
In the decades since, surfing has changed a great deal. To underscore the point, a few hours after Jolyon and I spoke, ‘Ultimate Surfer’, a reality show for preening surfers with fashionable hair and tattoos, premiered on network television in America.
“The project is an opportunity to revisit some of those early ideals, “says Jolyon. “Not all of them deserve a place in the modern world - we can leave the sexism and drugs for instance - but it’s worth remembering what’s at the core of surfing.”
And finally, there’s the surfing itself. “There's a clip of Wayne Lynch in '68, just surfing unreal for 1968,” says Jolyon. “I’ve come to this project from a social, historical, even cultural point of view, but most surfers, they just love the sea.”
Jolyon has teamed up with Elements, a production house in Byron Bay, resurrecting the film by way of a 4K digital scanner, though the work isn’t cheap. To that end he’s seeking some corporate sponsorship - a coalition of brands - and he’s happy to say that some have been receptive to the idea.
Once the coalition is set in place, Jolyon will reach out to the public by way of a crowdfunding campaign to make up the shortfall. Stay tuned for those details, and click on The Surf Film Archive to become a member and watch what’s already been scanned.