Made by Steve Wall, 56 Minutes, available on iTunes.
There’s a moment early on in 'Riss' – Redbull’s potentially-seizure-inducing effect-laden movie ‘bout Carissa Moore where the #sassy narrator describes Carissa’s journey thus: “It has not been an easy road, the details of which we’ll not disclose in this brief biopsy”.
Stark contrast, then, to the kind of disclosure Laura Enever’s hard road receives in Steve Wall’s 'Undone', an hour long doco tracing Laura’s post-Woz big-wave learning journey, available (and doing deservedly well) on itoons for rent or purchase.
“At first, me and Laura were thinking about doing a series of YouTube clips,” Steve tells me over the phone. “When we were down at Shippies in March 2018, her first wave – it’s not in the film – she got whipped into one of those things you don’t want, one that drains the whole reef, and got completely lit up across the rocks, and she came up just laughing. That was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me, I remember going, 'shit, I think there might be a movie in this'.”
He’s right, you know, there IS a movie in this. And though – if by his own admission the end result doesn’t completely fulfil Steve’s grand initial vision – it’s still a ripper doco.
Righto, let’s scan through the fillum using my patented Swellnet Synopsis Technique (SST)™ of pressing play and fast-forward at the same time, then dive in to a bit of analysis.
OK, so Laura gets smoked by a Shippies lippie, which acts to confirm she A) is a deadset charger but B) has some ground to cover to earn legit big wave chops. We then have some well-constructed exposition – grommethood & Woz-career backgrounding etc – and a roll call of pros speak affectionately of both her appetite for fun and her hard charging instincts. Cut to Laura getting piledriven at Jaws, injury hastening a fall off the ‘CT and a new chapter commencing. A jetski is purchased, we meet brother Chris who’s the big bro / partner in crime we all could do with. There’s a series of trips to the South Coast where, under the relaxed tutelage of Scott ‘Whip’ Dennis, Laura dials her act in on a sweet right slab, and charges a mega left bommie. Everything’s roses. A montage of mishaps then undoes those hard-earned reserves of confidence, which gets clawed back with a covershot and an alternate’s invite to the Eddie. A testing drive across the Nullarbor culminates with a wind-affected session at the fearsome Right, before sweet full-circle redemption at Shippies and bonus paddle success at Jaws.
This isn’t your non-stop surf action kinda flick. By my calculation a mere eight and a half of the movie’s fifty-six minutes actually show Laura riding waves, (and that’s mostly slo mo with a few repeated rides). No, this film’s strength is founded on four other pillars: the story; the protagonist; the setting; and the filmmaker’s commitment and craft.
It’s a smart structure: Initial beatdowns set up the redemption tale perfectly. Of course, overcoming fears, tackling the challenge of big waves, etc, is hardly a novel concept, but usually there’s an element of heroism or elite athleticism involved. There’s no sense of heroics or posturing here: the doubt and uncertainty is palpable, and authenticates Laura’s charisma, humour, and honesty. And the ending is a balltearer.
If there’s a criticism to be levelled at the structure, maybe there’s just too much talking and exposition and not enough surfing, perhaps the ordeal of the Nullarbor crossing is too well documented. Over 16 minutes elapses from Laura’s last East Coast wave to her first effort at The Right. In some ways it’s fitting: 16 minutes without a wave in a surf flick certainly is a Nullarbor-esque stretch of endurance.
It should also be said that we haven’t seen this much dancing in a surf movie since the early films of Taylor Steele, where the Momentum Generation appeared compelled to break out the moves after every sesh, but Laura does it far better. (And while we’re talking music, props to Jake Smith of Yuma X for scoring the film subtly and well.)
With her slight frame, platinum Morticia Addams hair and fondness for train-driver caps, Laura cuts an unlikely Big Wave Dave figure. But even if this film hadn’t been made, she was always going to explore the heavy water dimension. And speaking with Steve I was made aware of something that further raised my estimation of her. “After that first time at Shippies, where she just threw herself into it, Laura understood she had a responsibility,” reckons Steve. “As a bloke, I could go and launch myself over the ledge at Shippies and it wouldn’t be a big deal, but girls do it and they can quickly get pigeonholed as ‘reckless and irresponsible’. Laura realised this, and deliberately went about changing her mindset and practice to be more calculated. Not just for her own safety, but for how girls get regarded in big wave lineups. She was aware of the perception she could help create.”
It should also be said, even though it’s pretty obvious, that Laura’s got some serious ticker. Beyond training, talent or experience, she fucking goes. It’s beyond me.
Though this was shot in the pre-COVID era, it was decided early on to forego the studio setups of Chopes and Cloudbreak etc, and shoot the movie (brief Jaws detours aside) in Oz. This keeps the story grounded and real, and the movie’s yet another reminder how absurdly lucky we are to live and surf here in Oz. Some of Laura’s South Coast bazzas are gorgeous, and for all my moaning about the interminable Nullarbor sequence, there’s some spectacular visuals.
The Filmmaker’s drive and craft:
All credit to Steve on this. This was a project where everything that could go wrong or fall through, did, to the point where less determined souls might have walked. Steve hung in and ultimately prevailed.
“This was my first feature, and there were heaps of times as a filmmaker I doubted my judgement, especially when things were going wrong. Like the decision to drive to the Right, it was far from the logical way to do that trip, but I knew that unexpected things would come from the mission, and the movie needed it. Pretty much my and Laura’s credit cards were maxed out the whole time keeping everything going.
“To be honest, I do wonder what could have been, but it's inevitable with a project like this, it never really feels like it's done. Despite all the challenges, we got there in the end and got a lot of validation from the way it's been received. Definitely learnt some great lessons to take into the next project.”
Steve was pushed right to the end when the edits weren’t feeling quite right. “We’d be looking at the edits and going, ‘I swear there was a better angle on this wave’ and stuff. We had 25 Terrabytes of rushes, and so I jumped into the edit too for the last few weeks. Slept in the edit suite nine of the last ten nights. By the time we handed it over, I was…”
Steve’s voice trails off. It’s hard to describe creative exhaustion. But I’m glad he and Laura stuck it out and did it so well. No doubt there’s a lot of young surfers who this’ll seriously inspire to – as the cliché goes – feel the fear and do it anyway, on their own terms.
Job well done, Undone.
// GRA MURDOCH