To review Under the Sun as a surf film wouldnt give the movie its due credit. The film by the young director of Stoked & Broke and Riding Waves needs to be viewed as a documentary that enlightens and informs. In Suttons film he discusses the contrast between Australias Gold Coast and Byron Bay. Under the Sun continues to illuminate Sutton as an artist but more importantly we see Sutton growing as a filmmaker who asks his viewers to rethink the conventional ideals of the surfing community.
Juxtaposing Australias Gold Coast and Byron Bay, Sutton creates a wide crevasse with the contrasting images of Competition Surfer and Soul Surfer poised on each divided precipice. First Sutton gives a detailed history and emergence of each group: the greedy commercial industry sprouting from Gold Coast competition surfing and the bongo-drumming hippie pushing organic marmalade from the Byron Bay. Although I use these generalizations and stereotypes, Sutton does a great job of remaining passive and nonjudgmental. These two surfer types are then taken through their evolution into the 21st century. Gold Coast competition surfing grows into a cold and mechanical shit show in which the surfing industry sees an opportunity on which to fully capitalize. And then, surprisingly, Sutton shows the Soul Surfer for his/her true self. A point is made that Soul Surfers cannot live or surf without the aid of sponsors and all the free boards and accessories that arrive at their La Jolla bungalow free of charge. I think this is a truth we tend to disregard due to the free-spirited persona of the Soul Surfer, which we envy. Sutton illustrates soul surfing as something attained by money and commercialism ? the very evil for which the Gold Coast competitive surfer is so harshly judged. So what is Cyrus saying? What wisdom is this film trying to impart?
I believe Under the Sun is a film of middle grounds. Even though surf competitions have devolved into events as vapid as Keeping Up With The Kardashians, they still maintain some importance. In the film we hear that surfing competitions are places where young kids can focus their energy and learn social interaction and friendly competition (to say life is void of competition would be foolish). These are valuable skills for the young surfer, and the sport (depending if you ascribe to the idea) keeps the youngsters out of trouble. Also, as is stated throughout the film, surfing competitions allowed surfing to become visible to the outside world and therefore disseminate. Right now next to Lake Erie there is a group of friends shivering around a campfire, drinking seasonal beer, and recapping their days session ? to me that is a pretty awesome thing. Stoke is meant to be shared and competition surfing did exactly that. And, even though the Soul Surfer jet sets around the world on someone elses dime and poses nonchalantly, yet consciously, in a dangling palm branch for a photo-op, surfing is still the better because the soul surfer acts as evidence that a greedless, nature-oriented life of surfing is possible. It is a job just like anything else.
There is no need to demonize these two groups, which is why Suttons passivity is so important. Even though Sutton lightly brushes on environmentalism and population growth I believe Under the Suns true goal is to reveal the whole reality of both the competition surfer and the soul surfer. We tend to lump judgments into categories of right or wrong, black or white but there is a mammoth grey which is inherent in everything. The waves we ride are not concrete and rigid – why should our perceptions of our fellow surfers be? The surfing community has learned and will continue to learn a great deal from both of these groups. Commercialism and shitI dont knowġHippism? Beardism? Machado-ism? Either way we are all surfers under the sun.