RAPTURE

Benji Weather­ley chats about the re­cently re­leased ‘Mo­men­tum Gen­er­a­tion’ doc­u­men­tary.

Tracks - - Regulars - By Ben Mondy

The new doc­u­men­tary ‘Mo­men­tum Gen­er­a­tion’ is a bril­liant, hon­est and emo­tional ex­plo­ration of a gen­er­a­tion that changed surf­ing. Tracks talks to Benji Weather­ley about the film, his piv­otal role and why Kelly Slater is, and isn’t, an ass­hole.

The night be­fore the world pre­miere of the ‘Mo­men­tum Gen­er­a­tion’ at the New York Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val the film’s di­rec­tors Michael and Jeff Zim­bal­ist con­tacted Benji Weather­ley.

“They wanted a pri­vate screen­ing as they said it might be too in­tense for us to watch in front of strangers,” Weather­ley tells Tracks. “I said, “How in­tense can it be? It’s a frig­gin’ surf doc­u­men­tary.’ Fast for­ward to me and Do­rian sit­ting in the the­atre, half way through the movie hold­ing hands and cry­ing. We were in bits.”

The orig­i­nal ‘Mo­men­tum’ movie was re­leased in 1992 as a 35-minute VHS tape. Tay­lor Steele’s mix of low-fi footage mashed with high en­ergy Cal­i­for­nian pop-punk and the soon to be era-defin­ing surf­ing of teenagers Slater, Do­rian, Machado, Knox, Robb, Wil­liams et all, was a game changer for surf movies.

Yet ‘Mo­men­tum’ and the slew of tem­plated fol­low-ups that Steele re­leased over the next decade didn’t pro­vide any emo­tional heft or per­sonal in­sights. They may have chron­i­cled Kelly Slater and the crew’s high per­for­mance surf­ing as they re­de­fined the sport in their twen­ties, but of­fered lit­tle when it came to ex­plain­ing what made Kelly tick. The new doc­u­men­tary how­ever delves into the dif­fi­cult back­grounds that helped form their bond, the com­pet­i­tive ri­val­ries that al­most de­stroyed them and the cru­cial role Todd Chesser, and his death, played in their lives.

“I thought the film would prob­a­bly be about Slater be­ing the best surfer of all time and his all round awe­some­ness, but he comes across as an ass­hole,” laughs Weather­ley. “It’s per­fect be­cause it’s real. 99 per cent of that movie is true.”

Slater, like Kalani Robb, Shane Do­rian, Tay­lor Knox, and Weather­ley him­self all had at best, ab­sent, and at worst abu­sive fa­thers. The film opens with the surfers be­ing bru­tally hon­est about those re­la­tion­ships and the largely neg­a­tive im­pact they have had on their lives.

“Slater is the best surfer of all time, be­cause of the hu­man that he is,” says Weather­ley. “He’s a true, hon­est, lov­ing crea­ture and he’s flawed be­cause of his abu­sive dad and heavy fam­ily dy­namic, but deep down he wants to love peo­ple and take care of them.”

Weather­ley’s role in the ‘Mo­men­tum Gen­er­a­tion’ is cru­cial. His mum rented what is now the Vol­com House at Pipe, be­tween 1986 to 1996. She and Benji op­er­ated an open door pol­icy for the Mo­men­tum crew, plus dozens of oth­ers. For many who had trou­bled fam­ily back­grounds, that house be­came a sanc­tu­ary and safe haven. Weather­ley didn’t have the com­pet­i­tive drive or raw tal­ent of Slater, Do­rian and Machado, but his eternal op­ti­mism and con­stantly bub­bling hu­mour were cru­cial in the group’s dy­namic. The role of that house and its ef­fect on surf­ing can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated.

“We solved a rid­dle in terms of ca­ma­raderie that got us through some heavy shit,” says Weather­ley. “It’s al­most like sol­diers at war and the bond they de­velop. My house at Pipe­line was like the im­pact zone for ev­ery great and tragic mo­ment for surf­ing at that time. We felt we had to make some­thing of our­selves, be­cause you could feel the pres­sure build­ing as we were run­ning out of time to get out of the lives we’d been handed.”

One of the cru­cial fig­ures at the house was Todd Chesser. A few years older he was al­ready a leg­endary big-wave surfer and be­came a men­tor, fa­ther fig­ure, hero and moral com­pass to the Mo­men­tum gen­er­a­tion.

“Ev­ery day you’d go to Benji’s house and Todd was there,” Rob Machado tells Tracks. “And if it was gi­ant, he’d be go­ing surf­ing. He’d say ‘Get your big­gest board, lets go’ and there was no op­tion. He didn’t surf for the cam­eras or for the com­pe­ti­tion, which is all we did. He tested us and showed us what was re­ally im­por­tant in life.”

“This was be­fore jet skis and life vests, it was raw and gnarly,” says Weather­ley. “Chesser would take me out to Hi­malayas. And if you lost your board you were on your own. There’d al­ways be friends in hos­pi­tal and guys that had nearly drowned and you were ter­ri­fied all the time. It was trau­matic, but the bond that de­vel­oped as we surfed those crazy waves was so strong and has sur­vived all these years.”

In 1997 how­ever, Chesser died surf­ing Out­side Al­li­ga­tors aged 29. The film art­fully por­trays the deep ram­i­fi­ca­tions of that tragedy. With­out their moral com­pass the Mo­men­tum crew dis­persed in dif­fer­ent direc­tions. Slater and Machado’s com­pet­i­tive en­mity as they tus­sled for a World Ti­tle is chron­i­cled through the prism of the in­fa­mous high-five in­ci­dent at Pipe. “He was be­ing a dick,” Machado says mat­ter-of-factly of his mate and neme­sis, in the film.

We see footage of Kalani Robb spon­sor­less and work­ing a 9 to 5 job in the mar­ket­ing depart­ment of a bio-tech com­pany. Tay­lor Knox takes an up­tight decade to get his head around the fact that he’ll never win a World Ti­tle. Ross Wil­liams suf­fers de­pres­sion af­ter re­tir­ing and Weather­ley un­der­goes treat­ment for drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion. Slater, who ac­com­pa­nied Weather­ley through his whole re­hab stint, is also open and hon­est about his own strug­gles.

This is one of the film’s great strengths. While it cap­tures an in­cred­i­ble decade that changed surf­ing, it is the re­fresh­ing sight of men be­ing hon­est and open about their emo­tions that might de­liver the most cru­cial les­son of all.

“For me one of the big­gest things I took from the movie was Kelly Slater’s hon­esty. He’s not ashamed of who he is and that’s why he is so suc­cess­ful,” says Weather­ley. “Like he’s the best surfer that ever lived, but he strug­gles to be happy just like us. We didn’t talk about our feel­ings af­ter Todd died and we were tight, so imag­ine those guys out their on their own. Hope­fully this will open up a new con­ver­sa­tion. It sure has with all of us. And be­cause of it we’re stronger friends than ever.”

Photo: NBC Uni­ver­sal Be­low: Photo: Bosko Photo: NBC Uni­ver­sal

Above: Mem­bers of The Mo­men­tum gang back to­gether. Left to Right: Rob Machado, Tay­lor Knox, Kelly Slater, Benji Weather­ley and Tay­lor Steele Kelly Slater back­side pop when his boards were ul­tra-thin and his hair was long. In­set: Goofy duo, Rob Machado and Kalani Robb.

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