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Stylemasters

(Defend Films; US DVD: 25 Jul 2006; UK DVD: Unavailable)

Greg Weaver and Spyder Wills documented Hawaii’s popular North Shore surfing with their new film Stylemasters. The DVD is aimed primarily at surfing enthusiasts, and includes current interviews with many of the sport’s pioneering professionals.  It’s mostly athletic footage from when these wave riding enthusiasts were still young. If you’re not already a surf fanatic yourself, you may find these endless offshore shots repetitious after a while.


The significance of new-at-the-time short surf boards is strongly stressed during this film. These emerging tools of the trade gave surfers greater maneuverability, and few took better advantage of this newfound freedom than “Buttons” Kaluhiokalani. Initially labeled a hot-dogger, Buttons was one of the first surfers to popularize 360 degree spins on the waves. Sadly, Buttons descended into drug abuse in later life, although he’s said to be clean, now. Nevertheless, when he’s interviewed during this disc’s extras, you can’t help but notice how all the partying has taken its toll. He just doesn’t sound like he’s all there.


The producers do nothing to define the surfer-centric terminology they use, which helps give this DVD its insiders-only feel. In the same way serious surfers constantly keep the best surfing spots all to themselves, these veterans are apparently attempting to keep everything about their culture—including their language—to themselves, as well.


A little more information about its Hawaiian locale would have been helpful, too. For example, what was life like in Hawaii at the time? How did the locals react to all these hot shot surfers invading their beaches and turning this tourist state into sports central?


In many places, this DVD plays out like Dogtown and Z-Boys. If you recall, that excellent documentary detailed the evolution of skateboarding. It includes plenty of vintage skating clips, as well as interviews with the sport’s essential participants. It also places today’s skateboarding popularity into proper perspective. These skaters were some of the first and most daring ones to take the sport to the next level, which has led to such national extreme sports events as the X-Games. In fact, many of the early skaters featured in Dogtown and Z-Boys started skateboarding merely to kill time between surfing trips; many of their early street moves were patterned after tricks first perfected on fluid waves. It’s not too much of a stretch to refer to skateboarding as sidewalk surfing, and these first roller daredevils were like speedy lab technicians. In similar fashion, surfers in Stylemasters were like scientists experimenting with a new and evolving sport.


As entertainment, Stylemasters is often overly cheesy at times—especially its narration.  It’s like one of those NFL football bloopers programs, which tries just a little too hard to be funny, but isn’t. You can clearly gather that the narrators are reading a script, and reading it poorly. If it had been scripted correctly, though, it might have sounded like these gentlemen were watching successive clips for the first time. Bluebird’s musical score, which is presented in 5.1 surround sound, isn’t much better than the narration. It sometimes sounds lrather ike a porn soundtrack. Early surfing inspired great music from bands such as the Beach Boys, but it didn’t seem to inspire Bluebird.


In addition to the regular pros recollected, there are also some fun clips of Fearless Phyllis “the flying fanny”.  Phyllis surfed these massive waves on nothing more than a boogie board. Strangely enough, this praiseworthy tribute to Phyllis follows a few unwarranted male chauvinist pig comments from our piss poor narrators. “We first let women vote, then we let them surf”, our unfunny hosts tells us. It’s completely uncalled for. The only other times women are mentioned in this film are when these sexist narrators gawk at shots of gals wandering around the beach in skimpy bikinis.


Due to recent (and much better) films such as Riding Giants, surf movies have made somewhat of a comeback. But Stylemasters is not up to Riding Giants high quality. Stylemasters is good for what it is; a simplistic documentary on a specific era. But it’s by no means a great cinematic work.

Rating:

Dan MacIntosh is a freelance writer from Bellflower, California,


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