A rambling conversation with Vaughan Blakey about Tom Curren
This morning, the enigmatically titled 'Free Scrubber' was premiered on YouTube, as is the fashion for the modern surf film.
Filmed over three months in mid-2020 the film defies easy categorisation, though we can all agree it has very good surfing in it - vintage Curren in fact.
What follows is a back and forth with writer/producer Vaughan Blakey, who gets awfully excited and calls me "man" a lot, offers constructive board advice, and pitches Tom's surfing as a reawakening to "surfing however you want to surf".
Stu: Vaughan, last time I saw you was at Crescent Head early last year and you had some startling things to say about a virus called COVID-19.
Vaughan: That's right, mate!
I thought you were off your head but it turns out you were bang on the mark. 2020 was a weird one. By the end of it, I'd almost given up surfing; I had trouble with crowds, boards...just lost the love for it.
Me too, mate. I'd just fallen out of love with it. I went on a trip with Mick and Morgs ['Postcards from Morgs'], and all those guys, and I just felt like I surfed shit. I didn't come good from it after that.
I realised that I've got to get back onto boards that I really enjoy surfing, because I was just riding weird boards for most of the year. I think I was trying to tell myself I was ripping, yet I've only just realised just now after making the Curren movie that ripping is fucking garbage.
Eh? I don't follow...how do you have fun if you're not ripping?
Well, the ripping thing...I guess I was thinking of ripping in terms of how I view ripping on the web: one big move, blast the tail or whatever, not putting together a ride from start to finish and feeling good about it.
I was just going, "Why am I so amped to try and surf like Fanning and all those dudes?"
Not sure where this is heading, but I also found myself checking out mid-lengths recently. I've never done that before.
Can I offer you a solution, mate? Long twinnies. A long twinny is the go.
Maybe. I've only ever known short twinnies, and I don't really like them, so I've held out against long twinnies.
When I say long, I'm thinking about 6'4"-ish. The range where you wouldn't consider riding a twinny. They're the perfect boards. I don't know...they just work. I had a go on one of Luke Dorrington's ones, which was sick. I also ride a lot of Joel Fitzgerald's boards. He makes incredible ones. He's amazing at them.
Try the long twinny, mate.
Call me convinced.
In the film, Curren exclusively rides twinnies, and it's just an advertisement for pure glide, man.
The whole Curren thing...he reminds you of what real ripping is because he just fully just looks so good doing nothing.
Where does Tom Curren sit in the pantheon of surf greats?
He's in there with the Duke. He's as important as any surfer that's ever ridden because without Curren there's no Slater, and then with no Slater there's no Andy, but then you've also got the style factor, where it's just so mesmerising, man.
I don't know whether it's stance, or poise, or whatever it is, but he just gets up and he looks perfect on a surfboard.
Which is fascinating hey? There's, what, two million surfers in the world, all pretty much standing the same way on a board, you wouldn't think it possible that one surfer's style could be so recognisable.
Yeah. It's amazing. I'm always baffled by that. I've always loved that about surfing, where you can be sitting on a pointbreak, or you can be sitting on the beach of some famous wave, and you can identify almost every surfer. You can almost pick them them all.
Really good surfers do it better than anyone.
Have recognisable styles you mean..?
Yeah, and I guess that's why purists get so edgy about coaching. When there's high performance centres teaching kids how to hold your body and move yourself. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how much they teach, their personality will come through it.
That said, I think one of the crazy things about Tom is that you have no understanding of his personality based purely on how he surfs.
I can barely get a read on him at all...
I reckon Tom is so perfect on a surfboard that you feel it must reflect who he is, yet he's one of surfing's most eccentric, misunderstood personalities.
Have we ever understood him? He's a three-time world champ, that doesn't happen without media wanting to tell his story. Does anyone really understand what he's like?
Oh, man, the only people who would have a real idea would be Sonny Miller and maybe Frankie [Jon Frank] or some of those guys who did real long stints with him on boat trips. Derek Hynd, maybe.
In a way you can understand his reluctance. Just the weight of expectation he felt since he was a grom, the California Kid, his Dad being who he was.
It was a mighty weight to bear. Some people wanted him to be the modern day Dora, others wanted him to be a competitive machine.
Yep, he was so important to California's identity, and he ticked all the boxes: He's the big wave guy, the performer, he's a mystery man, and he's a fucking world champion.
He's everything to everyone, and that's hard to do in America.
And all he wanted to do was just surf.
Do you think he's harmed his reputation by riding those skimboard things in his dotage?
Nah, definitely not.
I've heard it asked: "What is this man doing? Why is he riding these boards?"
Oh man, my least favourite question in all of surfing is, "Why is that person doing that?" When it comes to actual surfing, has this guy not done every single thing that you could possibly do on a surfboard?!
What's left for him? What's left to do?
How does his surfing in the film stack up? [Note: I'd not seen it at the time]
His speed and glide and positioning is perfect. He does a couple of turns in there that look like 15-year old Curren turns.
While making it I thought about all my mates who are from Curren's era, you know like Bainy and Occy and others who surfed against him, and anyone who grew up surfing at that time, how stoked they're going to be on this movie.
I just feel like it's a reawakening to surfing how you want to surf, and it looks like the funnest thing in the whole wide world. You don't have to do anything beyond what you're physically capable of doing, and it's epic.
I think anyone who's heading towards sixty and is going, "It's just not the same for me anymore," I would be so amazed if you didn't watch the movie and just want to surf instantly.
In saying that, he doesn't look even slightly inhibited by age, or stiffness, or soreness, or RSI. He's just as free as a bird, man.
When Dale Egan and Derek Hynd started riding finless, it unexpectedly took off - got really popular. Do you think we'll soon see people riding short, thin, skimboard-style twins?
It's a really good question, but I'll answer it with a question: What's the agenda?
To me, it just looks like he's having fun trying out some funky shit. I don't think he's trying to reintroduce anyone to anything.
Yeah. I don't expect Tom's trying to start any revolution, but nor do I think Derek was either, yet it did happen.
Derek did get shirty about people not doing it properly, or taking the piss out of it, or commercialising it.
Tom, I doubt he'd even have an opinion about what other people think about what he's doing. He's so much in his own space. He's so much absorbed in his own experience, it's the ultimate example of how we should all surf. Like not giving one flying fig about what anyone else thinks.
OK, first things last: 'Free Scrubber' is filmed overseas during COVID so obviously you weren't there. So how'd you get the gig?
So, how it happened was a bit similar to 'Red Monkey, Full Moon'. I got a phone call saying, "Hey, this trip's happened. We got footage. Can you do something with it?" It was exactly that same convo.
Were you given a brief, an idea for a story, or were you just handed the drives and an open slate?
Ridgway [Neil Ridgway] sent us the footage, and I instantly wrote down what I wanted it to be. It was really obvious to me. There were, I don't know, hours of lifestyle footage and hours of surfing, but the best thing and the most enlightening thing is that it just was real. It was so real, man.
I've never seen Tom that animated or unguarded.
There's no hiding Curren here. You get the real guy, and there's no mythologising him. There's no building a god-like aura around him. It's just unfiltered Curren.
When I saw all that footage I was like, OK, we either bend this into a place that is so obscure and so fucking out there that it's really fun to watch, or we just don't do anything. So, obviously, we took the first option, and I can't wait for you to see it, Stu,
And full props to Andy Potts, man. This movie is all his; he had the ability to get these moments. The surfing is shot entirely on drone. The whole movie's a drone movie, and he's a fucking weapon on it.