I grew up in the 1980’s, the decade in which Bodyboarding literally Exploded onto the mainstream sports-scene. The fledgling sport was then hailed as the fastest growing sport in the world and neatly dropped into a pre-packaged World, a clear departure from the Hippie sentiments of the 1960’s and 1970’s; the 1980’s was characterised by bright colours, lots of plastic and big hair.
The Surfing scene, despite all its bravado and claims to non-confirmity, did not escape the pendulum’s momentum and well known brands of surf clothing and wetsuits started coming out in colours previously reserved for Emergency Identification. So, it was inevitable that Bodyboarding was conceived into a World that was Tight, Bright & Dynamite.
One person soon emerged as the undisputed King of Bodyboarding, Mike Stewart, the Hawaiian youngster who befriended Tom Morey, inventor of the Morey Boogieboard and by implication the Father of Bodyboarding, and took what was conceived by Tom to places he probably had never dreamt it would or could go.
Thus, the legacy of Mike Stewart started close on 30 years ago, and he has been crowned the Worlds Best Bodyboarder and Bodysurfer more than any other person in the world…. and apart from the competition results has also earned himself a place amongst the more respected Watermen in the world. His accolades and those who sing his praises go way beyond the Bodyboarding & Bodysurfing Fraternity and most recently he has made his mark in the Surfing Industry with his Science Brand of Bodyboards and genuinely innovative Gear.
In fact, it was on Mike Stewart’s Science website that I first heard he had produced a DVD entitled FIRE, which was said to be the distillation of his entire Surfing Life into one seminal work of Art which would push the genre into another level altogether.
Not a big fan or purchaser of Surfing and Bodyboarding Videos, I resolved that this is one DVD I MUST HAVE. So, I went on the Mike Stewart Website, and bought it on-line. Delivery took about 2 weeks and with great anticipation I waited until after the kids had been put to bed before inserting the disc into the Player and sitting back to watch FIRE, uninterrupted.
Perhaps I should interject at this point and say that early in the 1990’s I had the good fortune of spending a few days with Mike Stewart when he was in South Africa & specifically my hometown of Port Elizabeth, which is the base from where most Surfers head out to Jeffreys Bay to surf the infamous Supertubes, a mere 80km’s away. I was fortunate to both hang out with him and and also travel to J’Bay and paddle out with him when Mike Stewart surfed Supers for the first time. During the time I spent with him then, I was especially impressed by his quick wit, deep insight into wave-riding and the possibilities thereof and most of all that he was a nice easy going guy who was very approachable and keen to discuss and debate issues.
…with this as a back-drop then, I sat in great expectation to see the lifes-work of someone whom had not only been an idol to me as a youngster, but also someone whom I’d shared some time with and gained some insight into the man behind the accolades… armed with all this expectation, I pushed Play >>>
A few seconds into the movie and my first thought was that I am pleased I put the kids to bed… what I was watching was a Visual Cacophony – random images flashing interspersed with occasional wave-riding… and so it continued for most of Disc 1.
Irritating Music, Disturbing Imagery with some Bodyboarding in between. What is that?
Disc 2 is somewhat better in my view, the 10minutes of uninterrupted Bodysurfing Footage is excellent and one or two other segments make it less jarring than Disc 1.
On the whole, I DONT GET IT. I am willing to concede that I may be missing something, but the DVD FIRE, as I’ve seen it is very disappointing for me. In fact, I think it does a disservice to Mike Stewart and the sport of Bodyboarding.
Comparison with other Productions in the same type of Genre are inevitable and also by these high standards FIRE is a dud. Consider such pieces as: Sipping Jetstreams, One California Day, The Present, Sprout etc. Though these are not Autobiographical as such, they also lend themselves more to Creative Expression rather than just Documentary, and on that score FIRE is a burn-out.
In the final summation, I am left puzzled. All the ingredients were there for a truly exceptional piece of Cinematography: A fledgling sport, the protagonist who came out of nowhere to reign supreme, unrivaled competitive and personal accomplishments, exotic shores as a back-drop, a pretty deep philosophical main character, accolades from all over the Surfing World… It seems to me that FIRE sacrificed all for the sake of being different and in the process lost its soul. I am reminded of a quote by Giorgio Armani, which I first saw on Tom Wegener’s website, it goes:
“I’ve tried to find a new modernity, a new elegance. It is not easy because people seemed to want to be shocked. They want explosive fashion. I try to avoid that because explosions do not last; they disappear immediately and leave nothing but ashes.” – Giorgio Armani
And so, I fear that FIRE will end up in a pile of ashes and soon forgotten, because it sacrificed all to be different and nonconformist, when really all it needed to do was give Honour to a man whom deserves it.