By Jeremy Gosch and Shaun Tomson
To see the million-dollar surf kids of today, you’d think the WCT was just naturally meant to be – every ‘sport’ has a pro circuit, right? Well, Bustin’ Down the Door shows how it happened, and how it nearly didn’t, serving up a first-person history of the birth of professional surfing through archival footage and interviews with the central characters. If you’re not that interested in pro surfing’s roots, don’t worry, because all that is merely the happy upshot of the multiple dramas and dreams that comprise most of the film … and make it a real tour de force.
Shaun Tomson was the film’s executive producer, so access to key protagonists was never an issue. Numerous Hawaiian surfers of the era, brash invaders Wayne ‘Rabbit’ Bartholomew, Mark Richards, Pete Townend, Ian Cairns, and Michael Tomson, plus a bevy of talking heads (including TSP’s very own Drew Kampion, then a correspondent for Surfing magazine) guide us through the winters of ’74, ’75 and ’76, which saw the collapse of one epoch and the birth of another.
Few surfers thought of surfing as a ‘real sport’ in those days. The main proponents of this concept were the above-mentioned white colonials, hailing from cultures steeped in competition ethos. Their intense approach was iconoclastic by nature, and it pissed people off. In surfing terms, they confronted waves with an aggression and abandon unseen by the Zen masters of the day. In cultural terms, it meant confronting surfing’s two dominant paradigms – the post-’60s, hippy-era, drugs-and-drop-out approach (which ruled the discourse of the day) and (far more profoundly, yet with total naivety) surfing’s intrinsic Hawaiian essence.
In mouthing off about how great they were – better than the Hawaiians at surfing Hawaiian waves – Rabbit and Ian Cairns had no idea that they appeared to be claiming dominance over one of the few remaining legacies of the stolen Hawaiian culture. Rabbit and Cairns learned a fast, violent and important lesson in cultural relations, and Hawaiians learned to accept that Australians are “paranoically” competitive. Once the best surfers in the world were again allowed to surf in the heartland, international competitive surfing was clear to begin.
This film works as both historical document and gripping drama, with huge personalities pitched against one another on land and sea. There’s awe-inspiring surfing (including unseen footage from Shaun and others’ private archives), cultures clashing, and, somehow in the end, a bunch of guys finding the holy grail of surf addicts everywhere: a way to actually get paid to go surfing. Maybe a polite knock would have done it, but bustin’ the door down sure made for a great story. WATCH THE TRAILER HERE!