Dungeons. It is one of the heaviest waves on the planet, a true guts and glory wave. What we know; the face can be punctuated with steps the size of buses, home to double up drops, it's one of the most challenging waves you'll ever lay eyes on and there's a spooky, sharky outside reef. But can serve up the wave of a lifetime. But what we don't know kind of outweighs what we do such as; the psyche, camaraderie and sheer force of will perpetuated by a tight local crew who know this wave like the inside of their palm.
And it's this deep dive into that mindset that is explored in new big wave docu Satori, a look at the brotherhood of Dungeons from director Rick Wall. Have you ever stopped to think about the lives of those who willingly chase every swell rifled into South African's premier big wave spot? Rick's connected to just about everyone who surfs there – we watched a screener of the film and that fact is so apparent in how candid those hellmen are when opening up throughout the hour or so run time.
This is an indie you don't want to sleep on. For more of a run down, we tapped up Rick to talk it all through, the lives of that brotherhood, why he wanted to show that and what makes Dungeons tick.
What is it about that crew who charge Dungeons that is so special?
The guys that surf Dungeons are all larger than life characters. They love what they do and they do it because it gives them joy. I know them well and that’s why I was able to portray their true personalities on screen. They opened up to me and every interview felt like I was just having a conversation with a friend. Being humble and true to what they do out there is important to them.
Why decide to make a docu on it?
We have such a rich and diverse close-knit group of big wave characters down south. As a filmmaker, and surfer, I knew there was a great story here to be told.
A story that can stand out from the rest of the big wave films out there. I grew up in Kommetjie and have been surfing here all my life and every time I paddle out I say to myself, 'I have to capture this'. The way the swells move, the angles and way the light falls on the ocean is very special.
There is a feeling and a sense joy that you get when you are out there. Staring up at the the huge Sentinel mountain which towers over the Dungeons is mind-blowing. It has an energy and life force of its own, which to me is beautiful.
How do you describe satori? And what’s in the name, it’s a Buddhist term, right?
Yeah, Satori is a Buddhist term that means instant awakening and sudden enlightenment. My last film I did was a cycling film and one of the riders that I interviewed said that when he is on the bike, out in the wilderness alone, he goes into full ‘Satori’ a feeling he describes as elation….bliss.
I showed that to my wife and she said that’s the title for your surf film. There is a feeling you get when you are completely present and in the moment and when you catch one of these waves and you ride it you are complete. That feeling comes deep from inside and stays with you forever…pure elation.
The film’s shot (mostly) in black and white, why is that?
The film was always going to be in black and white because I feel that medium has immense emotion and lets you connect with the characters in a way that you haven’t before. Down South, in Cape Town, we have a very raw and powerful ocean with many moods and colours.
I wanted the film to have a look and feel that brought across a single message and from that, an emotion. The sea has so many different faces especially when it’s big. So by using black and white it gave the film a unity and rawness. I wanted the viewer to have the feeling of being between the raw hardness and the soft beauty of black and white.
I chose to have certain waves in the film in over-saturated colour as that was moments where that character was in full satori. The moment when the feeling has overcome you. It wasn’t something that was supposed to resonate or be understood by everyone that watches it. It doesn’t change the narrative, it just heightens it for some and if you have had that moment in your life it will connect with you.
How would you describe Dungeons?
Dungeons and where it is situated is a magical place. The landscape and mountains that surround it are incredible. You need to give it the utmost respect. It's a wave that takes a long time to start feeling comfortable out there.
To be honest, I don’t think you ever are completely comfortable out there in the lineup. The playing field is huge and the guys that ride it well are highly respected. Everyone out there knows that you need to put your time in at our other big waves spots before deciding to head out to Dungeons. Definitely the most powerful, scary and beautiful wave I have ever surfed.
These guys… they’re all so relatable. In the movie, there's even some existentialism, 'am I good enough to be here? Is it to heavy', thoughts and insight you don't usually hear from big wave surfers. But they go anyway. Is that something you wanted to capture in the film?
My biggest challenge on this film was being true to the characters and having their approval of essentially their lives on screen. That was very important to me. Some of these characters are reserved guys who are not looking to be stars in a movie. They put their trust in me and allowed me to film and interview them.
It's a funny thing but by not over commercialising the situation and staying completely authentic and bringing out every character's true self, the film has actually been boxed into a niche film. Which makes me smile, in today's world most viewers want some form over hyped sensationalism. My goal was to try give that to the viewer in a completely authentic way and feel a connection to these characters regardless if you’re a surfer or not.
Without giving too much away, what were some of your favourite moments?
Aaah there are so many but the films intro is very special to me. It's something that I have been wanting to do for a long time. I worked closely with a local musician and surfer Andre Geldenhuys from Kommetjie. I created the intro edit visuals and he watched that and worked his magic with his electric guitar. Every time I watch that part I smile. It’s a unique beginning and I think it really draws you in.
This film also mentions the bond and connection between surfer and wave, which is hugely important but most people don’t get something so intangible. How did you want to portray that?
It was very important to get these characters' connection and love for the ocean across to the viewer but at the same time not make the connection feel too elitist and unattainable to ordinary people that surf or don’t surf at all.
Satori can be found in everything you do and by letting the viewer inside the world of these characters and how they harness their own ‘satori' out there I hoped to inspire others to find ‘satori' in what they are passionate about.
I really believe that if you want to achieve a goal in your life and you are 100 per cent committed and present when those moments arise, you will succeed.
What can people take away after watching this film?
It's not the conventional surf film. I didn’t want it to be that at all. As I have said before it's quite a niche film in terms of how the the subject matter is portrayed but that was important to me. I wanted to show the world a side of big wave surfing that we don’t see all the time. The side away from cameras, sponsors and endorsements…just the real essence of riding big waves and appreciating the ocean. It’s authentic and true and I love that about it.