Surfing World - - Introduction - By Dave Ras­tovich

Did you know that as a young man Tay­lor Steele fig­ured he’d re­tire from mak­ing surf movies when Kelly retired from the tour? Ha! Nice move!

SW: El Cap­i­tan (what we call Tay­lor on trips), how is it that you’re still so stoked on mak­ing surf movies? When­ever I’ve been on the road with you, you gen­uinely still seem to be hav­ing a good time shoot­ing and show­ing surf films and lov­ing what you do… TS: It’s a funny thing Dave, I ac­tu­ally started surf­ing around the same time I started mak­ing surf movies. My par­ents bought a video camera for shoot­ing Christ­mas and home movies and I swiped it off them. I’d go surf­ing with my friends and we started shoot­ing each other. We’d do half hour shifts, in our wetsuits all day film­ing each other, then come home at the end of the day and watch the footage. From there it nat­u­rally evolved into my ca­reer. I was friends with Rob Machado and he in­tro­duced me to ev­ery­body else which re­ally brought me out of my shell and into the world, cause I was a re­ally shy kid. It helped me grow as a per­son. This was back in the nineties and it hap­pened so seam­lessly. I had my place to cover pro­gres­sive surf­ing and stay out of its way while doc­u­ment­ing and I re­ally en­joyed that, and I don’t know if it was just a part of get­ting older or if it was the pres­sure of do­ing the same thing over and over again but I be­came a vic­tim of suc­cess, in that I be­gan to feel re­ally sti­fled by the ex­pec­ta­tions of other peo­ple. So I took a break and didn’t do any­thing for a while... Well kind of, I pro­duced stuff and helped with projects like the Drive-thru se­ries but in a back seat kind of role on other peo­ple’s projects. When my wife fell preg­nant I be­came re­ally in­spired to show our kids the world, in a ro­man­tic kind of way, at a time when they would be old enough to ap­pre­ci­ate it. I wanted to show them places that were per­ceived as sup­pos­edly dan­ger­ous. Coun­tries like Egypt and Morocco and so many oth­ers. I wanted to show them the other side of the world, the beau­ti­ful and the hu­man side. It was dur­ing this time that I re­ally fell in love with mak­ing films again. The one con­sis­tency with that re­birth into mak­ing surf films is that I never rush into them, I do them when they feel right and I make sure I am one hun­dred per cent present and soak­ing up every mo­ment of them. I am stoked that the feel­ing trans­lates into these trips and ev­ery­one shares the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Are there any ex­pe­ri­ences in par­tic­u­lar that sit at the top of your mem­ory bank? The fun thing about these projects is that you’re learn­ing from peo­ple on the trip and you’re also learn­ing from peo­ple who aren’t on the trip. In your trav­els you ob­serve how peo­ple live and what brings them joy and I

Af­ter a quar­ter cen­tury in the surf movie game, Tay­lor Steele is em­bark­ing on a new project that may very well prove to be his opus. Called Prox­im­ity, it pairs dy­namic surf­ing duos in ex­otic lo­ca­tions with crazy pump­ing rollers. Ph­woar! The roll call reads as you'd ex­pect: Slats and John Floz, Ando and Mob, Rasta and Ste­phie G, Shane-o Doz and Al­bee Lazer. Star of the film and long time Steele col­lab­o­ra­tor Dave Ras­tovich sat down with the globe trot­ting film­maker to dis­cuss mo­ti­va­tion, creativ­ity and whether Prox­im­ity will be his Cit­i­zen Kane.

def­i­nitely try to take away pos­i­tives from this ex­pe­ri­ence. And as far as spe­cific peo­ple you know… Chris Mal­loy is one of those peo­ple, when we worked on the film Shel­ter I learnt so much from him. Chris is such a vi­sion­ary, he ap­proaches work dif­fer­ently to me but I just love how he thinks so deeply about things. I learnt from him to have heart and a mes­sage be­hind the im­ages. An­other per­son would be Dustin Humphrey. When we started work­ing on Sip­ping Jet­streams to­gether we would sit down months be­fore a trip and talk about all the dif­fer­ent as­pects of beauty in travel. Those two as­pects of ap­proach are what I’ve tried to unite with the per­for­mance side of surf­ing. Do you think other peo­ple in our surf cul­ture mak­ing film projects are also into col­lab­o­rat­ing in this way? I’m sure they are, but I do feel like some of us can get in the way of things, like di­rec­tors who re­ally get into the idea of own­er­ship and want­ing to own all the ideas, I don’t re­ally agree with that. I feel like that’s just ego get­ting in the way of art. I re­ally try not to do that. I try to keep in mind what’s best for the project.

Have you ever ex­pe­ri­enced hard times to get to that point of clar­ity with your style of film­mak­ing? In the nineties I didn’t feel that wor­thy to be a part of the group. It was all friends but they were such a force as a col­lec­tive... Shane, Kelly Rob and Ross. I felt more pas­sive in that cir­cle. When I started to do work out­side of surf­ing, com­mer­cials where I needed to lead I came out of my shell more and I re­alised I wanted to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that’s fun, be­cause a lot of time on shoots peo­ple are so stressed and run­ning be­hind the clock in an in­tense way. My men­tal­ity is like hey “We’re not cur­ing can­cer, we’re not do­ing any­thing that is that world chang­ing so let’s just en­joy it. Don’t take it so se­ri­ously.” I’ve never been much of a dic­ta­toral di­rec­tor. I en­joy mak­ing films so I try to lighten the mood of the work with that at­ti­tude.

What’s it like to bounce be­tween your own projects and projects for oth­ers? Is there an emo­tional pres­sure that comes with that? The more I learn and grow the more I feel ful­filled, and even if I’m shoot­ing a com­mer­cial for a car or a com­puter I try to de­liver a film­maker’s point of view where I can learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence, then I re­ally en­joy it. I’m not the best film­maker but on the sets it seems like ev­ery­body is hav­ing fun.

You’ve watched the most cel­e­brated and tech­ni­cal surfers of the past few decades surf­ing at the height of their pow­ers. That a few dif­fer­ent eras now… ( Laugh­ing) What are you try­ing to say, Dave? I’m like the For­rest Gump of surf­ing?

" I love do­ing surf movies when they feel right, when they don't have any big obli­ga­tion to them, when they just feel real and au­then­tic."

Yeah man, I got a sweet ride-on mower here, you can do laps around my property if you want. Se­ri­ously, you’ve filmed the best of the best for years now, what have you learned about surf­ing? I would say that the guys hav­ing the most fun usu­ally have great styles, and you can tell they’re vib­ing off the waves and that trans­lates to more of the rhyth­mic side of surf­ing. But then the most ag­gres­sive, ad­dicted guys who are the most frothed out, they tend to push the lim­its of pro­gres­sion a lit­tle more per­haps.

Which crew have been the most fun to travel with on your surf films? There are a hand­ful of peo­ple who I would go with on any trip be­cause they are such great trav­ellers and you are just al­ways laugh­ing with them. You are one of them Dave, Steph Gil­more (travel name: Vibes) is now one of them, Machado and Dan Mal­loy... that’s a short list that I will al­ways try to in­clude in my projects cause you all are key play­ers and clas­sic peo­ple that have sto­ries and have lived life. There is a whole lot more to share than just how to do a cut­back or an air. Well cheers El Cap­i­tan, I am pretty sure Vibes is the DJ for our fu­ture trips from here on out. That’s for sure!

When you look at our cul­ture and see how it’s changed since you first started, what stokes you out? On the movies side of things, it seems peo­ple are much more open minded these days, open to dif­fer­ent kinds of films, whereas be­fore it was just nineties punk and any­thing dif­fer­ent just wasn’t ap­pre­ci­ated. It’s the same with surf­boards. Back then long­boards were not around at all, they were com­pletely wiped out, but now they’re back along with alot of other shapes. It’s also nice that from a wider per­spec­tive surfers are more aware of their en­vi­ron­ment. There is more weight to be­ing a surfer these days. When we started out there was no weight at all, we were just lumped in with the whole Jeff Spi­coli stoned surfer stereo­type, and that was a big part of what we were try­ing to undo when we started out with the Mo­men­tum crew. We were con­scious of it and we were all pretty clean cut, and not re­ally into show­ing par­ty­ing or us­ing that in mar­ket­ing. We wanted to change that neg­a­tive at­ti­tude to­wards surfers that was around then. To­day, it seems that be­ing a surfer can be as­pi­ra­tional for those who don’t surf, and peo­ple lis­ten to surfers more than ever be­fore when we talk about our en­vi­ron­ment or other is­sues.

How do you see your cur­rent surf films fit­ting into surf­ing cul­ture. What’s their cul­tural con­tri­bu­tion? Go­ing back to the films I made in the nineties, they might not have been the most thought pro­vok­ing movies but there was al­ways this con­scious thing of know­ing that it was four­teen-year-old surfers who were re­ally into it and so I’ve wanted to be re­spon­si­ble with that. I was re­ally con­scious of it as a film­maker, and I thought a lot about those kids. Mov­ing for­ward to nowa­days I want to learn from

dif­fer­ent surfers, dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions, what their ethos is and also from places and cul­tures. My cur­rent film has con­ver­sa­tions in it, to give a lit­tle in­sight into the kind of peo­ple I want to travel with, and the peo­ple I want to learn from on the trip.

Do you en­vi­sion your­self mov­ing in this di­rec­tion then? You know, mak­ing a surf film for a lit­tle bit, then mov­ing into some mu­sic stuff and some other types of films, then com­ing back to an­other surf movie... Yeah, I think so. I’ve been want­ing to make a fea­ture film for some time now, some­thing that’s re­ally in­spir­ing. It’s a goal I have, and by work­ing to­wards it I feel like I’m im­prov­ing my surf film­mak­ing, it’s all in sync. I love do­ing surf movies when they feel right, when they don’t have any big obli­ga­tion to them, when they just feel real and au­then­tic.

It’s a great place to be mak­ing surf movies from, con­sid­er­ing most peo­ple mak­ing them are do­ing so to feed them­selves and make some coin to get by. Did you en­vi­sion your­self be­ing in this

"In the nineties I didn't feel that wor­thy to be a part of the group. It was all friends but they were such a force as a col­lec­tive."

po­si­tion when you started mak­ing movies like Mo­men­tum? Hon­estly, I didn’t think I was go­ing to make more than two or three surf movies. In the past there weren’t that many peo­ple who were mak­ing lots and lots of surf movies, there were peo­ple like Chris Brys­trom, and then the Wave War­rior se­ries and a few oth­ers that were all in three packs and so I didn’t re­ally see any kind of long ca­reer in it for me. Then as it started get­ting go­ing in the nineties I thought “Oh this will end at the end of the nineties cause my friends like Kelly and Rob and those guys would be re­tir­ing some­time around then, ‘cause that’s when surfers ca­reers ended at that point in time. I was just go­ing to wrap up my ca­reer when they ended theirs...

Which seems like it’s never gonna hap­pen, Well yeah! They haven’t retired yet, so it’s still true to this day, ev­ery­one’s still go­ing! I feel blessed that it’s all gone this way. I don’t make surf movies to make money, I do them for dif­fer­ent rea­sons, and that feels good.

An­other part of your life that’s pretty amaz­ing is how you and your fam­ily keep pick­ing your­selves up and start­ing new lives in dif­fer­ent parts of the world every few years, first it was Bali, then north­ern NSW, and now you’ve all set up in Mon­tauk out on the coast from New York City. We move around for dif­fer­ent stages of our chil­dren’s lives and it also works per­fectly for us too. It feels like every six years or so we all need some sort of change. The tougher it is to move and make new ad­just­ments the more it seems to bring us to­gether. The whole point of it is to have us all grow to­gether as a unit, and I can see how it’s help­ing us all be more and more open minded. We seem to be able to make friends in each of the new places and I think we feel so­cially bet­ter off from the moves. As far as bring­ing it back to my trade, I be­lieve the more you travel the more you are go­ing to ab­sorb new ideas, and stay fresh.

It seems like the be­gin­nings of your surf movie mak­ing, where you and your friends would switch out and surf and then film each other is still kinda hap­pen­ing these days. When we have gone on trips to­gether there is al­ways a cam­era­man’s cup, and plenty of surf­ing to be had by ev­ery­one. Do you have any thoughts around what it means to have an ‘off switch’be­tween work and play con­sid­er­ing it seems that most of hu­man­ity is work­ing more and play­ing less these days? I worry about some of the younger gen­er­a­tion of surfers and film­mak­ers not be­ing able to switch off and ap­pre­ci­ate things, I was maybe a lit­tle bit like that in the nineties, ac­tu­ally… I def­i­nitely was! ( Laughs) I think it’s nice to have projects that we get into one hun­dred per cent and stay re­ally present with, where we are re­ally ex­cited to be there, but it’s im­por­tant to switch off as well. I think with all the forms of me­dia around now like In­sta­gram, and Face­book and all that, we are con­stantly try­ing to keep up with the masses and that pre­vents us from fol­low­ing what our hearts want us to do, what makes us happy. For me, when I go on trips I dive into them and try to be as present as pos­si­ble, but on the way back on the plane I try to think about my life back home and how this trip can change me for the bet­ter, and that feels good. That feels like I am learn­ing and grow­ing.

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