Surfing 50 States is part indie documentary, part road trip narrative, and part surf flick—with a very broad working definition of the word "surf." While traversing the landlocked states of America's heartland, Durrant and Hunt were compelled to redefine surfing as, "standing on a surfboard with some kind of momentum." This came in handy when it came to surfing down the Rocky Stairs in Philadelphia, over the set of The Wizard of Oz in Kansas, or through a mountainous pile of sugar beets in Idaho.
Durrant and Hunt's film is goofy and lighthearted, with more than its fair share of wipeouts and gangly dance moves. Wherever they go, the two Aussies burrow boyishly down into the hearts of the people they meet, leading them into welcoming homes and local eats.
It was this shade of America that inspired Durrant and Hunt to seek similar experiences in their subsequent co-produced endeavors, Somewhere Near Tapachula , about the life and surf culture of a Mexican orphanage, and Surfing 28 States , an episodic "remake" of their original film across the states of India. As with these two later works, Surfing 50 States casts a hopeful light on the everyday warmness of average people—in this case, Americans—which is why watching Durrant and Hunt's film today, perhaps more than ever, is an unexpectedly redemptive experience.
As part of our year-long project 50 States of Art , Creators caught up with Durrant and Hunt to reflect back on their first film and the experience of America as filmmakers, surfers, and Australians.
Creators: How did you get the idea to surf your way across the US?
Jonno Durrant: We wanted to go to all 50 states and have a challenge, but weren't confident enough with girls for "50 Dates in 50 States."
Stefan Hunt: It was 2005 and I was finishing my final year of high school itching to travel while Jonno was travelling in Portugal and reading Jack Kerouac's On the Road. He hit me up asking if I wanted to travel with him across the U.S.A. to all 50 states the following year. We figured if we completed a challenge in every state—like surfing—we'd make the Guinness Book of World Records, which is every kids dream. We completed the challenge but never made it in the book. Their criteria is pretty tough.
Did you decide before you started that you would be making a film out of the experience?
Durrant: Yep, we bought a good camera, but we had no clue what we were doing. We watched Endless Summer II and Long Way Round for inspiration thinking they were real documentaries.
Hunt: Haha, yeah we were completely green to the world of doc filmmaking, so while the production quality was reasonably poor, the authenticity of Surfing 50 States is so genuine and [this is] why it had such a positive response. Our goal was to document the trip for our friends and family, we had no intention for it to go further than that.
Had you done documentary film work previously?
Durrant: Only filming and editing my mates surfing and making terribly long travel vids. Stefan filmed his mates Extreme Walking (an embarrassing version of parkour).
Hunt: Yeah, I was fresh out of high school so had an extensive collection of homemade VHS, Jackass-inspired videos. Nothing you'd consider proper experience in the film world.
Had either of you spent much time in the US?
Durrant: Stefan had been for a school trip and I'd met a lot of Americans while traveling, so we guessed we had a few floors we could crash on.
Hunt: Prior to the trip I'd spent one month there but growing up consuming US pop culture there was an odd comfort about traveling there. I felt that I already knew the accents, the food, the music, and every NBA team so nothing would be that much of a culture shock. The more you travel there though you begin to discover this other side to the US, which is I why I keep going back.
What were your pre-judgements of the US?
Durrant: We had mostly met really friendly, generous and fun people from the States, but in Australia the reputation is otherwise. So we went to see for ourselves.
Hunt: 2006 were the days of George [W.] Bush so America and its people had such a bad rap. I remember so much of the world stereotyping Americans as close-minded, redneck Bush supporters and that intrigued me to experience it firsthand.
What surprised you about the people, the land, or the culture?
Durrant: So many different environments from, black-sand beaches in Alaska, bright red sand in Arizona, superb Rocky Mountains, rocky coast Maine, palm-lined Cali, and tropical Hawaii!
Hunt: Meeting hospitable, loving humans who were proud to share "their America" with me and finding out they had opposing political views initially shocked me. Having only been exposed to extremist supporters in the media it was so refreshing to know that so much good existed in those people and there is hope for the future.
How did it shape your lasting impression of the country?
Durrant: I now have a wife from Minnesota who lives with me in Melbourne...so I've got a pretty good impression!
Hunt: The USA is an energizer bunny of entertainment and extremes. It's a country of the good, bad, and ugly but beyond all the hype and paparazzi it has some of the most hospitable and good hearted humans I've ever come across.
Check out the trailer for Jonno Durrant and Stefan Hunt's Surfing 50 States below, and keep up with the film here.
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