Nathan Fletcher: Heavy Water and a helicopter

Stu Nettle
Talking Heads

The Nathan Fletcher biopic 'Heavy Water' begins its Australian premiere this week. Fletcher has impeccable surfing lineage: grandson to Waimea pioneer and surfing industrialist Walter Hoffman, nephew to world and US champion Joyce Hoffman, son of Astro Deck founder Herbie Fletcher, and brother of aerial whiz Christian.

Yet despite the crowded family tree, Nathan has managed to get noticed, and seemingly without trying, owing largely to his approach to big waves. 

Director Michael Oblowitz - who made 'Sea of Darkness' - has called his latest film a meditation on death and extreme sports, but Nathan is much more coy about what the film represents. He only signed on so he could jump out of a helicopter.

Swellnet rang Fletcher at his Hawaiian home where there was much laughter and noise in the background. We only found out afterwards it was Fletcher's birthday.

Swellnet: You're not very active on social media. In fact, it seems the only time you appear in the media is during XXL swell events. Do you deliberately hang back in the shadows?
Nathan: Yeah, I don't want to go out and wave the flag. I don't like Instagram or all that. I don't want to put a bunch of pressure on myself. I just do this because I love it. It's my passion. It's what I grew up doing...really, it's what my purpose is on this Earth. 

What do you mean?
So, my purpose isn't to take pictures, it's not to do interviews, it's not to, uh, you know, do business. It's not to send e-mails. My business is to go out and surf, and so that's what I strive for. The reason I love it is 'cause it makes me feel like a seven-year-old kid whenever I hit the water.

Is dodging the limelight a product of being Herbie Fletcher's son and Christian Fletcher's little brother? They were both big personalities.
Yeah, it could give you a complex. Dad is a big self-promoter, though he still worked every single day. I could go home to a family dinner and I got Joyce Hoffman, Christian Fletcher, Herbie Fletcher, Walter Hoffman, and all these people sitting down for Christmas dinner. You think you're something special among them? No way. It keeps you humble, it makes you realise that you're not the gnarliest surfer going. Not even close! Surfers have been doing gnarly things forever.

You know, I could care less what people think of me, to be honest with you, and I ain't gonna go tell people my story, but now my life's changing and so I'm at a different place with this movie and everything.

Tell me how it's different.
I'm trying to grow up socially, mentally....I don't want to take this [movie] for granted. I didn't go out looking for it, but, you know, I have the greatest gratitude and honour for what is happening. I'm super thankful and fortunate. It's a blessing that people before me didn't get. You know what I mean?

Surfers who weren't recognised, you mean?

(Brian Bielmann)

How did this project get started?
Well, Michael [Oblowitz] was doing a movie on Sunny [Garcia] and he wanted to do an interview with me so I was like, "Sure, I'll do an interview." So I did the interview, told him my story, which was part of my life story with Sion [Milosky], Andy [Irons], lots of people I've known, and I busted into tears and told him the story of what really happened and he called me back a couple days later and said, "Nathan we got a movie in here".

What was your reaction?
I told him nobody's gonna wanna watch my life story. But he was persistent, you know, so I said, "I'll do it, if you can get me to jump out of a helicopter."

Jump out of a helicopter? That was the condition for appearing..?
Yeah, sure. But anyway, I was like, "Yeah right, this guy ain't gonna fucking do that," but sure enough, he's all, "Okay, we can do it. We can pull this off."

That's how he got a hold of me and that's how the movie happened.

You just wanted to jump out of a helicopter?
Well yeah, it was just something I dreamt of for a long time. I just threw it out there because I had the opportunity and he bit, so...but the funny thing was I didn't think about all the things that go into jumping out of a helicopter. 

So when it came down to it, jumping out of a helicopter is very different than what I imagined. But I got the job done. I did it on the day I had to do it, with a permit, with insurance, with cameras, with the boats, with the water, all of it and everything riding on me. And I actually pulled it off. So, I was pretty happy with that.

(Hank Foto)

Was it the highest acid drop you've done?

You've done higher?
Oh yeah, much higher. Just off a cliff and stuff, and just doing it for fun. I wasn't doing it under the pressure of somebody making a movie with Redbull Media. 

Were you aware of Michael's reputation before you met him? Have you seen 'Sea of Darkness'?
Oh sure. But you know, when I'm doing something with him I ain't thinking about what he's done in the past. I'm only worried if he's doing what he says going to do and that he'll follow through with the job. 

And did he?
He did better than I could have ever expected. He followed through on everything he said he would. It turned out much better than I imagined because when you get Hollywood involved it can get real weird. So I'm happy that I gave him the blessing to tell my story, 'cause I never thought it was gonna be as good as it is

The remaining Australian dates for 'Heavy Water' are:

  • Tues 11 June – Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney
  • Wed 12 June – Event Cinemas, Miranda
  • Thursday 14 June – The Jam Factory, Melbourne

For all other information click here.


Mata's picture
Mata's picture
Mata commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2019 at 3:16pm

His wave at Chopes still looks like CGI. Incredible

Vic Local's picture
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Vic Local commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2019 at 3:34pm

Amazing Red Bull went the helicopter drop again after their debacle near Bells Beach which ended with a hospital visit, the Torquay rescue boat getting rescued, and about $100,000 worth of camera equipment ending up in the drink.

"angry online, smiley in the brine"

Tim Bonython's picture
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Tim Bonython commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2019 at 6:55pm

Looking forward to this one!

Reefeater's picture
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Reefeater commented Tuesday, 11 Jun 2019 at 7:05pm

Love me some Nate Fletcher.....true individual.

goofyfoot's picture
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goofyfoot commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019 at 8:26am

That helicopter thing just seems so gimmicky and lame.

JackStance's picture
JackStance's picture
JackStance commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019 at 10:53am

I saw Heavy Water last night at George street. Thank you Swellnet for the tickets.
Subjective content follows:
The film is well-worth watching on the big screen because big waves on the big screen is a great experience.
The first hand story telling by the people in the film is great. As is the film makers story telling for the most part.
Subjective criticism:
My bias is grounded in an allergy to hype.
On one hand the sincere want of Nate to acid drop out of a chopper and the actual doing of it is what it is. Perhaps in someway both a homage to his colossal mentors and a group breaking act as it was the first time it was done: From little things, big things grow.
On the other hand, the suffocating effect of Hollywood on the "stunt" is self evident. Unfortunately the stunt is way over hyped in the film and consequently drags the end of the film out, and attempts to retrospectively contextualise the rest of the film to make it appears as if the 'the acid drop' as the culmination of a life's effort. This, by inference, kind of puts a diminishing gloss on all of the incredible efforts Nate has made - as they are represented by the film, which of course is a version of reality.

This criticism is of the film making, contextualise by my hype allergy and value difference with everything Hollywood represents: corporate colonisation of our minds.

I also wish to convey, if possible, a fair weighting of this criticism: it does not destroy the film, it taints the after taste.

I don't want my 2 cents worth to be all negative as the essence of the story is worthy- in my opinion of course.

However, and this critique goes to a broader criticism of the distasteful nature of marketing, which unfortunately Heavy Water does not escape.

Firstly, Andy Irons and Jay Adams are legends due to their efforts and contributions.

Nothing will ever change that.

The behaviour of Billabong and Vans however is at minimum distasteful.

The framing, marketing, and capitalising from AI's death by Billabong has never passed the stink test. On it's surface, Billabongs conduct is sold as paying homage to AI, but do they make a cent from his death? Do they make more money from him as an immortalised legend? If occy had died soon after his world title would he had been a better 'asset' for Billabong?

Great homage is to duly paid to Jay Adams in Heavy Water, and the film investigates the deep and formative relationship between Jay, Nate and others and of the progression of surfing and skating and going hard. For Nate's part, theres an unquestionable sincerity and respect emanating for Jay, of course. However, in the film, the representation of Jay Adams, his efforts and contributions, his death, does not pass the stink test because of the obvious and subtle characterisation of the relationship between Vans and Jay. That is to say, that the film crosses the line: from homage of a great person, to a brand-aligned PR film designed to intermingle Vans with Jay Adams' immortal legacy: "when you buy Vans, you wear the immortal legacy of Jay Adams". ...
That is why it does not pass the stink test.

Lastly, to reiterate what's above: the substance of the film: the feats, the unscripted and authentic aspects of the interviews, (to my biased mind) mostly withstands the wafting stink of PR.

Thank you Swellnet for the opportunity to see the film, on the whole it was very good, and certainly worthy of engaging with.

The Q and A excluded the audience - there were no questions from the floor. Most of the talk afterwards was from Michael Oblowitz who came across like a rambling NAME DROPPING and COST DROPPING coke head who was completely unaware of his state and ego. We all have shockers. To his mild credit, in his ramblings he mentioned the idea of telling the story of people who don't speak much. I guess to tell the story of a quiet and humble person who does incredible things for the love of it.

The Promoters 'Adventure Films' need to break out of their corporate colonisation language framework and stop referring to people at either "The Talent" or "The Market" and other such terms: Fuck dudes, I don't want to give you tips so you can use them to manipulate others for capital gains, and I appreciate that you're not running a charity, but expect when you talk to humans as if they are purely potential cash dispensaries that such representations probably undermine your objectives.

Thank you Nathan for your colossal efforts and contributions.

Breathe. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

boxright's picture
boxright's picture
boxright commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019 at 11:01am

Good review mate. I've been casting a cock-eyed stare at Heavy Water because of the ridiculous heli jump thing. I like Nathan but my worry was it would be a movie with that stunt as centrepiece and everything built outwards from it.

JackStance's picture
JackStance's picture
JackStance commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019 at 11:19am

def still worth watching, the stunt is just the focus of the last 20 or so minutes. And the stunt of course has a lot of merit, its just way over hyped in my opinion.
Def go see the film if you can

Breathe. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

dinnerdish's picture
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dinnerdish commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019 at 2:34pm

I haven't seen it yet and I like what you have to say about it Jack...nicely dampened my over- excitability about seeing it


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JackStance commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019 at 5:56pm

The code red, cloudbreak, authentic and insightfully communications from legends, the histories and progression, the re-writing of histories by correcting some potential historic errors previously claimed.... there is PLENTY to be excited about...

As I mentioned, trying to give the critique the right amount of weight was something I probably wasn't going to nail...

The film is so worth seeing - as is the apparently coked out ramblings of the director... but Chopes maxing on the Big screen - what is there not to love about that... and, I'm sure you could jam a good question to Nate in the QandA...

Get excited. it's a sick film.

Breathe. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

JackStance's picture
JackStance's picture
JackStance commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019 at 5:57pm

other than the gross PR which we can sideline... the substance is cracking

Breathe. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

Andrew Pegler's picture
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Andrew Pegler commented Thursday, 13 Jun 2019 at 8:22am

Dude, thanks for taking the time and effort to write this. Love the term hype allergy and will use liberally from now.

radiationrules's picture
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radiationrules commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019 at 11:36am

Coincidentally I saw the film last night; no after show talk - just talked to myself on the way home in the car. So good to read Jack Stance's review, I agree with him in most respects, maybe not to his level of annoyance...but totally agree with his substantive comment that it was a thinly disguised attempt at getting the Van's brand "embedded into an adventure entertainment package". As in when is a documentary not a documentary? When it's thinly disguised product placement lifestyle ad?

Also I went hoping/presuming I'd see Chris Bryan's phantom footage of "that wave". Surely the pivot of the film should be that wave not the way it ends, which is like TV bloopers. Anyway you want o dress it up or down that one wave is mind blowing, even after the 100th time watching it. I can't imagine what it feels like to be the guy that rode it; hearing more from Nathan about how that ride has changed him, would have been more interesting to me; compared to the chosen ending, the unedifying spectacle of man (10 men actually) forcing themselves on nature with the aid of machines, if that's the future of surfing - well it did nothing to excite me.

On yah Nathan - total legend

Salty98's picture
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Salty98 commented Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019 at 4:08pm

whats wrong with your arms?

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 commented Friday, 14 Jun 2019 at 8:19am

epic review Jack stance.

I'm, going to watch it tonight.

It has a personal flavour for me because I saw the Code Red wave at Teahupoo live and close-up.
It put the fear of God into me.

Blowin's picture
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Blowin commented Friday, 14 Jun 2019 at 8:30am

Great review. Thanks.

batfink's picture
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batfink commented Friday, 14 Jun 2019 at 3:04pm

I saw the code red wave on my TV, and it put the fear of god into me!

JackStance's picture
JackStance's picture
JackStance commented Friday, 14 Jun 2019 at 4:09pm

Thanks Freeride and Blowin.

FR- you saw code red live: thats incredible.

Breathe. Murdoch's empire will one day fail to control our minds.

ojackojacko's picture
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ojackojacko commented Saturday, 15 Jun 2019 at 12:14am

great reviews- thanks

BorisB's picture
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BorisB commented Monday, 17 Jun 2019 at 12:52pm

Nathan Fletcher seems like a sound fella. I saw the film and Q&A after and he's an interesting character. His surfing speaks for itself. The film's worth seeing just for Fletcher's surfing but the writing and direction are pure shite. I feel sorry for Fletcher that he ended up with that writer/director because his story could have been so much better with a good writer. There's also some tingy shite muzak throughout the film that nearly did my head in. That wasn't needed.

Another gripe I had with the writer/director is that he is an objectionable pr*ck. He sat in the theatre with his phone on/screen brightly lit up, looking through Instagram during the film, and mouth open, furiously chewing gum. He then sat at the front of the stage - with massive gut flowing over duds - phone out some of the time and the mouth open gnawing again. He was too cool to even listen or pretend he was listening, I guess. If his work had been outstanding, or even mediocre, I'd get the attitude. He is the major flaw with the film, however. Nathan Fletcher is grand though.