Kelly Slater on display for two dudes at Rincon, 2009.
How the first surf-video biography schooled the world.
Chances are you’ve seen one of those recent surf-video biographies—perhaps it was Dane Reynolds’s First Chapter, Bruce Irons’s The Bruce Movie, or Jamie O’Brien’s Freakside—and, chances are, you were impressed. What’s not to love? The one-man format displays the most radical, modern surfing imaginable, offering also intimate insight into surfing’s most iconic and state-of-the-art cavaliers, deservedly on center stage.
This all trails back to the surf-video world’s first biography: 1991’s seminal and incredibly influential Kelly Slater in Black and White, still one of the finest surf films ever, even if was just about one guy.
“It was clear that Kelly’s talent was unlike anyone before him,” said Richard Woolcott, In Black and White’s director/producer who eventually went on to start Volcom. “Our goal was to introduce Kelly in a way that people could get to know him and really see how talented he was, from small surf to the big stuff. It was definitely about the changing-of-the-guard.”
Which became painfully obvious to Slater’s peers, who one day unexpectedly found themselves glued to the television screen, watching the future in no uncertain terms.
“There was a big group of us staying at a house in Hawai’i,” Benji Weatherley said. “Slater was there, and he had this video of himself. He left, and we put the video on.”
The ensuing 23 minutes of footage struck a chord.
“It made everybody in that room grab their boards and surf until dark in the shittiest waves,” Weatherley said. “I’d never seen guys jump in the water that quickly, and I’d never seen that crew surf so well. Kelly Slater in Black and White was the first movie that had that sort of impact in our age group—after seeing it, everyone took their surfing to the next level.”
Woolcott, who says he made the film as a low-key side project, ultimately knew he was onto something special, and, after the film’s release, that things were destined for change.
“The movie was really a tutorial about the future,” Woolcott said. “The biggest impact it had was giving kids a chance to see how good Kelly was and what the sport of surfing was evolving into. There were a lot of tricks and turns in the movie that many people had never seen before; kids could just study the film and then go out and try themselves.”
Sound familiar? Of course it does—you watch surf videos for inspiration, and if you haven’t seen Kelly Slater in Black and White by now, do yourself a favor and find a copy, because if it impressed the world’s best back in 1991, it’ll impress you today.