Drive Thru Review: Real life surfing
If you like surfing then you probably like surfing DVDs. At which point you hit the same problem all surfers over 9-years-old face: most surf films are either cheesy, sentimental homages with waves bigger than houses that try to get into the ‘soul’ of the sport (like the awful Laird) or just lame excuses to play droning Type O-Positive B-sides with the odd ‘ironic’ Bee Gees track while some drooling Goldie-ite talks about ‘charging’.
Update 25/4/08: My new Drive Thru soundtrack listing page is here.
Not so the Drive Thru series. I first stumbled across Donovan Frankenreiter, Greg Browning and Benji Weatherly et al about five years ago when a surf DVD I bought turned out to be messed up so I took it back to the shop. They asked if I wanted to pick a replacement and completely at random I hit on new release Drive Thru California – the first in the now 7 8 9-strong series.
Now just because I put Drive Thru above the big wave porn doesn’t mean these films are intellectual. Quite the opposite. The Drive Thrus are simply extended road movies during which you can forget plot, clever dialogue and indeed any kind of intricate planning. But it’s these films’ lack of direction that gives them their charm. That, and the undoubted surfing talents of the regulars and occassional starring extras like Rob Machado, Pat O’Connel, Kelly Slater and Mike Lossness, make each film a watchable, light-hearted and blissfully under-length snapshot of surfing life.
The format is simple. Go to a country, hire a campervan (or RV as they say in the US) and drive around looking for waves all the while filming the countryside, locals, critters, weather and trivial incidents that hit you along the way. On the whole the Drive Thru team know just when to pull back on the childish humour, ok, there are possibly one too many fart gags but over their 5-year, 7-DVD run, the arguments over waves, food, lodgings, sharks, sunburn and aggressive locals are the hard currency of surfing that anyone who’s ever picked up a board can relate to.
One last thing. The Drive Thru series are a great way to find out about new and old music. If it wasn’t for these films I’d never have hard of The Shins, The Sounds, The Postal Service nor The Hoodoo Gurus and many, many others. I’ve purchased over 5 CDs based on the soundtracks of these films alone. I hope you manage to grab a couple.
Update 25/4/08: My new Drive Thru soundtrack listing page is here.
The real secret to getting into surfing’s soul is simply not to try, as these films amply demonstrate. One question I have for the makers? When can we expect Drive Thru UK?
Drive Thru California (2002). Number 1. in the series and a nice intro to the knockabout gonzo style of the series. Features several secret spots up and down America’s west coast, a wonderful deteriorating bitterness from Tim Curran as he realises that campervan living is basically a prison hell, a surprise showing by The Machado, excellent buffoonery by Shawn Barny Barron, and great tunes from Death on Wednesday and The Dead Kennedys.
Drive Thru Japan (2003). Number 2. Unlike some others DT-J has a generous running time at 60mins and some funny lines from Benji trying out karaoke in the dorm, ultra smooth surfing from Machado on some serious waves, bemused locals and I will be eternally grateful to the Drive Thru gang for introducing me to the brilliant sounds of Shonen Knife and The Dwarves.
Drive Thru Australia (2004). Number 3. and one of my favourites not least because for once I can defeat the DT team’s insistence on not naming the secret spots on film because I’ve been to some of ‘em! This film features a fantastic sequence with sadly-departed croc-meister Steve Irwin at his Australia Zoo (checkout the angry wombat – a magic moment), the pathos of unintentionally amusing, hernia-suffering, head-banging Margo, stunning surf and great music from Pennywise, Postal Service, AFI, The Hoodoo Gurus and The White Stripes.
Drive Thru Europe (2005). Number 4. and not bad. Worth it just for seeing surf superstar Kelly Slater slumming it in the campervan with the rest of the guys. This one works well if you thought there were no waves in Italy, France and Portugal. Nice revealing moment from Pat O as he exhorts viewers to come look at a steeply-cobbled street in a tiny Euro seaside town: he calls it “Disneyland”. Tetchy rivalry between Pat O and Slater as they battle to be first to surf under a pier. Ry Craike’s accent is pure Aussie. Brilliant tunes from two bands that were totally new to me: Sweden’s The Sounds and California’s own Yovee.
Drive Thru South Africa (2006). Number 6. and a beaut as they say Down Unda. This is a great example of how to film a 2-week road trip. Chaotic travel arrangements, a hilarious race on Ostrich back (complete with trampled riders), a genuine close shave with a shark, Pottsy getting annoyed with the younger surfers’ tardiness, the scariest bungee jump I’ve ever seen and laughs galore as each and every pro surfer struggles and fails miserably on a wickedly difficult indoor wave machine. The cameraderie of a surfari really comes through on this one. Great tunes from Damian Marley and er, Toto.
Drive Thru South & Central America (2004). Number 5. OK but it feels like you’re getting short-changed on the running time – yes I know that’s hypocritical when I’ve only just mentioned how ‘blissfully under-length’ these films are, but 48 mins of action is miserly. Great artwork and titles and superb footage of some really out-of-the-way secret spots in Panama, superb hang-gliding in Brazil but someone needs to tell Kalani he’s not funny. Excellent sounds from Yovee – Private Caller remains my favourite track out of the whole 7.
Drive Thru Caribbean (2007?). Number 7. Again a sadly super-short running time of 37 minutes. Perhaps they should have combined it with Central America? Brilliant artwork and titles design. Great footage in Barbados and Jamaica: the accent of the old geezer, Billy Mystic, who acts as their guide is excellent; he’s quite touching when he talks about how Jamaica is known for being violent but hopes that maybe the DT team’s visit can show a fresh side of his troubled island. Great shots of the team doing stunts with dolphins and Kalani’s funny factor improves but is still sub zero. Lots of great tracks from Communique but unusually this one features a somewhat dull soundtrack. A poor showing.
Drive Thru New Zealand (2008). Number 8. Great scenery and great stuff from Occy showing off his songwriting skills with a homegrown Drive Thru band featuring Donnie on the organ and Pat O’ on guitar. Check out the gnarly tow-ins and the insane zorbing. Some of the coldest surfing yet seen on the series. Not a very varied soundtrack but great stuff new to me from Lemurs, Cut City and Los Campesinos. A good Drive Thru but the blokery verges into overload sometimes — how about some female surfers on the next Drive Thru . . ?
Drive Thru Limited edition Collectors Box (2008). Contains the first 6 Drive Thrus up to South Africa. As far as I can see nothing is missing from the original films and having these beauties all together in one place is a joy. Get it here or here.
Drive Thru Australia II (2009). The gang return Down Unda and team up with Shane and Occy. As in Oz I the Goldie features but this time they head west to some seriously windy spots. Full credit to Drive Thru for opening surf shots showing the team wiping out on nasty and unrideable waves — not many pros let themselves get filmed this way. Inventive titles as ever and some nice slo-mo shots and great cinematography — vibrant colours and stunning scenery . . have they upgraded the film equipment? Great moment when Donny puts on his wettie backwards — admit it, we’ve all done it! Great music from El Ten Eleven, New Faces and Head Like a Kite.