Can Lighting Strike Twice?

Anticipation is the visualization of a future event. While Taylor Steele filmed friends surfing at Seaside Reef in Cardiff, California–did he anticipate the effect his work would have on modern surfing?

In 1989, high school senior Taylor Steele filmed and edited his first real surf movie. When you watch it, it looks like there’s Vaseline smeared on the television screen, but the action behind the haze lit a fire under the surfing movement, changing the world as we all know it. Seaside And Beyond was a glimpse into surfing’s future, featuring a young, skinny, pre-’Fro, Rob “Mouse” Machado and a host of other Seaside Reef locals. Through small premieres and passed around copies, the movie reached every young surfer and bodyboarder in a three-square-mile radius of Seaside Reef, but that was only the beginning.

A year later, as Rob Machado’s celebrity grew–so did Taylor’s. He set out on his second major movie project titled, One Step Beyond, and broadened its spectrum to include surf stars like Martin Potter, Archy, Tom Curren, and Kelly Slater. The production quality of One Step Beyond was far better than its predecessor but still had the homemade feel that gave it a sort of undergound charm. Taylor took One Step Beyond’s distribution into his own hands by filling his truck with tapes, driving up the California coast, and stopping at every surf shop he could find. The sales tour made Taylor enough money to upgrade his equipment and purchase a plane ticket to mainland Mexico, which turned out to be a flight of destiny.

In the fall of 1991, Rob Machado invited Taylor down to the relatively new surf destination of Puerto Escondido. This is where Taylor first met up with the group of superfriends who would change his life. The trip was filled with rising stars Shane Dorian, Ross Williams, Pat O’Connell, Todd Chesser, Kasey Curtis, Colin Smith, and of course Kelly Slater, who at the end of Taylor’s trip blasted a backside method air became a glance at surfing’s future.

After the Puerto trip, Taylor flew to Hawai‘i as an independent, fresh-out-of-high school amateur filmmaker. He brought with him a modest setup, including a video camera, tripod, and a few tapes. He was an underdog in the video world, competing with the likes of Sonny Miller and Jack McCoy. His two videos had only sold about 500 copies total, and he was without the backing of a major surf brand.

For his first month on the North Shore, Taylor lived in a 400-dollar dilapidated van on the side of the road. His sense for being in the right place at the right time paid off, and a sympathetic Benji Weatherly invited Taylor to stay with him in what was at the time, the only house that mattered on the North Shore–the epicenter for the “new school” movement.

The house sat directly in front of Pipeline and was the hangout of an amazingly talented crew of frothing up-and-comers. In the front yard of Benji’s house, Taylor’s bond with the world’s best surfers formed. Kelly, Shane, Ross, Conan, Kalani, Todd, Benji, and Rob Machado were all part of Taylor’s morning, noon, and night filming missions. Every day after the sun set, the surfers gathered together in Benji’s cramped bedroom and watched the footage from the day.

“We would all be sitting there, and like a full peanut gallery, the guys would just rip on each other’s waves and laugh,” remembers Taylor. “Greg Browning would be playing music over the footage. I think he had Pennywise’s first tape or something. From those nights, the Momentum concept just seemed to evolve. The guys would tell me which waves they liked, and we pretty much made their parts together.”

The friendships formed in Hawai‘i followed Taylor home, and suddenly filming became as important to these surfers as shootg photos for magazines or doing well in contests. Rob Machado remembers those days: “Back then filming was tied with competing, as far as importance. We all wanted our part to be the best. We’d try to steal Taylor and get sneaky sessions in to outdo each other. Everybody was pushing each other and pushing surfing at the same time.”

The groundbreaking movie Momentum was born in the winter of 1992. Shane Dorian recalls the early days: “We could tell something different was happening. Even though we were just groms, we knew what we were doing hadn’t been done before as a group. Benji’s house was the catalyst for that–we all hung together every day and surfed our brains out. We just wanted to outdo each other and have the best part.”

But, while finishing up the final Momentum edit in a cramped workspace in his parents’ attic, Taylor ran out of money and began having second thoughts: “I was telling myself, ‘If this movie doesn’t work–I’m quitting.’”

Momentum was released in December of 1992, and initially it received a lukewarm reception. “Most shop owners weren’t interested. They said it wouldn’t sell because most videos at the time were sixteen millimeter, sunny, and beautiful with slow motion,” Taylor remembers, “but about the time it was released, Kelly was going for his first world title, so people started to take notice. Like, ‘Let’s see what this kid’s all about.’ And he was on the cover of the movie, so magazines started to recognize as well.”

By February of 1993, Momentum became a must-have. Lightning had struck the world of surfing, and it was obvious at any break in California, Hawai‘i, or Florida. Young surfers took notice and started emulating the young surfers they saw in Momentum. Surfing went from forward and drawn-out to backward, upside down, sideways, and every other way Kelly and the boys could throw their fins.

With his tight crew and some newfound credibility, Taylor set out to duplicate his first film’s success with a follow-up, aptly titled Momentum 2. The difference between Momentum and Momentum 2 was surfer participation. The same editing, filming, and music formula was used, but instead of Taylor following the pros and seeking them out–this time they’d called him. They fought for screen time, knowing that the recognition they’d received from Taylor’s first movie represented a new wave in marketing themselves to the world.

People would look at a great shot in the magazines maybe twice, but Momentum became ritualistic daily viewing for most surfers under the age of 30. Taylor recalls, “Shane told me that in the beginning of his career, more kids came up to him telling him they liked his movie part than they ever said they liked a shot in the magazine. I think a video section shows more of the whole package.”

In August of 1993, eight months after the release of Momentum, Momentum 2 became an instant hit with no advertising. Taylor had established himself as a leader in the surf-video market. But in the film world, longevity is a hard road to follow. Use Quentin Tarantino as an example, and say that Momentum was Reservoir Dogs–an amazing movie, ahead of its time and an underground sensation. Continuing this analogy, Momentum 2 would be Pulp Fiction–a megahit. After two different types of success, you have to ask–what’s next? In Taylor’s case, turning his hobby into a full-time business: “I used to have super-bad allergies, so my dad started calling me a poor specimen. We started calling our little crew that as a joke. But after Momentum 2, it became a real business.”

Poor Specimen grew into a virtual hit factory. Taylor’s next big project, Focus, took a year and a half to film and featured a much broader range of locations than just Hawai‘i and California. Taylor and company traveled to South Africa, Reunion Island, and Australia to gather footage. Taylor’s formula also changed: “I used to watch the Plan B videos, so in Focus, I incorporated skits and more personality stuff before the guys’ sections.”

Focus also introduced two new Taylor Steele crew members, Kalani Robb and Tim Curran, who literally alley-ooped his way out of relative obscurity to bona fide superstardom. “Filming for the first time for Taylor was insane. I was so amped. One wave in Taylor’s movie could do so much for your career,” says Tim. “My life before being in Taylor’s movies was really mellow–not a lot going on. After being in his movies, I felt like I found true happiness. Next thing you know, I was flown around the world to surf the best waves. He’s done a lot for me.”

Good Times, Poor Specimen’s next project in ’96, took half as long to make as Focus but sold about twice as many copies with the help of nationwide tours featuring buzz bands like Blink 182 and Pennywise. Around this time, Taylor’s star subject, Kelly Slater, was working on his fifth world title, dating Pam Anderson, modeling, getting harassed by paparazzi, traveling the world, and still finding time to complete yet another amazing video part for Taylor. “Back then, says Kelly, “filming was a super-high priority. Not necessarily for the good of the film, but because all of us wanted bragging rights for having the best part.”

Video sales hit at an all-time high, and real money was finally being made. Taylor decided it to reinvest some of that money into another surf video. Completed in early 1997, The Show took the skit concept to the next level, and it was time to get some professional help. Taylor enlisted the help of recent film-school graduate Jack Johnson and music-video director Darren Doanne to make The Show’s skits bigger and crazier than they’d ever been in an action-sports movie. The surfers brainstormed with Taylor to figure out the roles they’d play in their skits: Rob Machado–the Godfather, Greg Browning–a spaceman, Shane Dorian and Taylor Knox–mafia thugs. Production was expensive and time-consuming, but by giving the surfers directed roles for their characters, Taylor once again proved why he is the chosen videographer of surfing’s elite.

“For The Show,” says Shane Dorian, “he had a writer do a lot of it. We’d come up with ideas, and the writer would tighten it up. Doing the skits for Taylor’s movies is always a blast. We’d just act stupid and have fun. We all suck at acting, so it makes it twice as funny.”

A handful of hardcore surfers felt the skits had gone too far, saying that explosions and shoot-outs had no place in surf movies, but sales didn’t reflect this negative opinion, and The Show went on to surpass Good Times as Taylor’s most successful movie to date.

Two years later in 1999, Taylor moved on to his most ambitious movie project yet. While The Show’s plot flew all over the place and its quality proved fairly inconsistent, Loose Change had one plot. Again Taylor enlisted some of Hollywood’s rising stars for help. Emmett and Brendan Malloy (who have since directed the motion picture Out Cold as well as music videos for Metallica and the Foo Fighters) came in as cinematographers and consultants for the skits. Loose Change took a sarcastic and comedic approach to surf stars, as the cast mocked themselves. Four years later, Tim Curran jokingly says, “Acting in Taylor’s movies is just a stepping-stone to Hollywood.”

Focus, took a year and a half to film and featured a much broader range of locations than just Hawai‘i and California. Taylor and company traveled to South Africa, Reunion Island, and Australia to gather footage. Taylor’s formula also changed: “I used to watch the Plan B videos, so in Focus, I incorporated skits and more personality stuff before the guys’ sections.”

Focus also introduced two new Taylor Steele crew members, Kalani Robb and Tim Curran, who literally alley-ooped his way out of relative obscurity to bona fide superstardom. “Filming for the first time for Taylor was insane. I was so amped. One wave in Taylor’s movie could do so much for your career,” says Tim. “My life before being in Taylor’s movies was really mellow–not a lot going on. After being in his movies, I felt like I found true happiness. Next thing you know, I was flown around the world to surf the best waves. He’s done a lot for me.”

Good Times, Poor Specimen’s next project in ’96, took half as long to make as Focus but sold about twice as many copies with the help of nationwide tours featuring buzz bands like Blink 182 and Pennywise. Around this time, Taylor’s star subject, Kelly Slater, was working on his fifth world title, dating Pam Anderson, modeling, getting harassed by paparazzi, traveling the world, and still finding time to complete yet another amazing video part for Taylor. “Back then, says Kelly, “filming was a super-high priority. Not necessarily for the good of the film, but because all of us wanted bragging rights for having the best part.”

Video sales hit at an all-time high, and real money was finally being made. Taylor decided it to reinvest some of that money into another surf video. Completed in early 1997, The Show took the skit concept to the next level, and it was time to get some professional help. Taylor enlisted the help of recent film-school graduate Jack Johnson and music-video director Darren Doanne to make The Show’s skits bigger and crazier than they’d ever been in an action-sports movie. The surfers brainstormed with Taylor to figure out the roles they’d play in their skits: Rob Machado–the Godfather, Greg Browning–a spaceman, Shane Dorian and Taylor Knox–mafia thugs. Production was expensive and time-consuming, but by giving the surfers directed roles for their characters, Taylor once again proved why he is the chosen videographer of surfing’s elite.

“For The Show,” says Shane Dorian, “he had a writer do a lot of it. We’d come up with ideas, and the writer would tighten it up. Doing the skits for Taylor’s movies is always a blast. We’d just act stupid and have fun. We all suck at acting, so it makes it twice as funny.”

A handful of hardcore surfers felt the skits had gone too far, saying that explosions and shoot-outs had no place in surf movies, but sales didn’t reflect this negative opinion, and The Show went on to surpass Good Times as Taylor’s most successful movie to date.

Two years later in 1999, Taylor moved on to his most ambitious movie project yet. While The Show’s plot flew all over the place and its quality proved fairly inconsistent, Loose Change had one plot. Again Taylor enlisted some of Hollywood’s rising stars for help. Emmett and Brendan Malloy (who have since directed the motion picture Out Cold as well as music videos for Metallica and the Foo Fighters) came in as cinematographers and consultants for the skits. Loose Change took a sarcastic and comedic approach to surf stars, as the cast mocked themselves. Four years later, Tim Curran jokingly says, “Acting in Taylor’s movies is just a stepping-stone to Hollywood.”

Most critics agreed that the acting was forgettable, but seeing your favorite surf stars playing parodies of themselves was good enough for video fans, and Loose Change became yet another hit. While some surfers felt comfortable acting, others felt stupid. “I don’t like watching myself act,” laughs Rob Machado. “It’s hard to look back at my acting in Loose Change and not feel stupid.”

It seemed like Taylor had the Midas touch. For his next big project, his crew got busy and hustled for waves. Filmed in a new and costly high-definition format and slotted to show in AMC movie theaters across the country, Hit And Run was set to be a huge mainstream surf movie. But with deadlines looming and Taylor’s crew’s ties weakening, creativity was compromised. “We had three months to make a movie that was better than Loose Change, which we spent a year and a half on. Basically, we got the waves we wanted, we got an okay soundtrack, but we just sort of digressed in creativity to get something out there and on time,” said Taylor. When asked if he felt the movie failed, he simply stated, “No, I wouldn’t say it was a failure, but definitely a digression.”

In early 2000, with a bad taste still in his mouth and jaded on the creative process, Taylor escaped behind his desk at Poor Specimen and concentrated more on the business side of things. “After Hit and Run I just went more internal into the company and was trying to grow the company distribution-wise and production-wise into a better place. We had people in-house doing other movies instead of me doing all of them. Our guys would get 90 percent of the movie, then I would come in and get it where it needed to be.”

In the years after Hit And Run, Poor Specimen produced and or distributed a slew of successful films including Thicker Than Water, Shelter, Arc, Drive Thru, Untitled, and the immensely popular Momentum: Under The Influence, which starred Bruce and Andy Irons, Taj Burrow, the Hobgoods, Parko, Mick Fanning, and Dean Morrison. “I called it that because I felt this new generation is very similar to the original Momentum guys, but they’re also different,” says Taylor. “They have what those guys had, but they’re bringing their own level to it. They had the influence of the original crew, but they definitely take it to the next level.” While the new generation basked in the glow of video stardom, the first Momentum generation was left asking, “What now?”

“Since Hit and Run, there hasn’t been an avenue for a lot of the guys. Tim Curran, Ross, Benji, and all the way up to Shane Dorian are like, ‘We’re filming. What are we supposed to do with it?’ It felt like it was time to do something big,” Taylor says, and his face begins to light up. In mid 2002, Taylor realized the time had come for the new breed of stars to combine powers with his original Momentum squad. This realization gave birth to Taylor’s new baby–Campaign.

“I guess, for me,” says Taylor, “It starts with coming up with a concept for the movie. Once I have a concept, then I say let’s get everybody going.” Everybody, meaning all of the best but busiest surfers on the planet. It’s like getting The Beatles back together–if there were 30 people in the band.

“You sort of have to sell the movie to the guys,” continues Taylor, “because they’re so busy with the tour. They all have only a couple months off, and it’s hard asking for a month of that from some guys. I have to get them fired up. Plus, they have families, they have their sponsors asking them for promos, and they have other videos. They sort of have to pick out of all that what they want to spend their time doing.”

When asked how high a new Taylor Steele movie rates on Rob Machado’s list, he replies, “We don’t get to film as much now as opposed to then, so we became a lot smarter about it. We used to go out and film all the time in the worst conditions, and it would be a waste of time. For Taylor’s new movie, I went on a boat trip and got a lot of waves. Mix that with some good sessions in California, and your section’s looking good.”

Now, sitting in a small office and visibly happy, Taylor calmly fields call after call and question after question. You have to wonder how involved can he can be in a new movie while running a multimillion-dollar production house? How can he be filming Shane Dorian while he’s producing the X-Games television show for ESPN and negotiating broadband movie deals with a nationwide hotel chain? “When I’m making a movie, that’s when I feel most comfortable. That’s where I feel I’m at my best,” says Taylor. “I do a lot of day-in and day-out stuff, a lot of meetings, managing, and phone calls. But when I’m making a movie, I’m in the zone. I’m just really excited to be in the driver’s seat again.”

The question has to be asked–can Campaign live up to the precedent set by the original Momentum? Can lightning strike twice?

“I think surfing needs a big movie right now,” Taylor muses. “That’s what I’m going to do. I want to show where surfing is today.”

Just as Taylor finishes his sentence, the phone rings for the tenth time in two minutes. He picks up and responds to the caller: “Yeah, Mick needs lefts and a few more airs.”

In the months to come, a few more boat trips and film sessions will go down to gather what is needed to complete the final touches on what Taylor is guaranteeing will be his most successful movie ever: “The concept is sort of taking a lighthearted look at how surfing is being portrayed to the masses. I think it’s the right time for the concept, too. I think surfing needs a reality check.”

st critics agreed that the acting was forgettable, but seeing your favorite surf stars playing parodies of themselves was good enough for video fans, and Loose Change became yet another hit. While some surfers felt comfortable acting, others felt stupid. “I don’t like watching myself act,” laughs Rob Machado. “It’s hard to look back at my acting in Loose Change and not feel stupid.”

It seemed like Taylor had the Midas touch. For his next big project, his crew got busy and hustled for waves. Filmed in a new and costly high-definition format and slotted to show in AMC movie theaters across the country, Hit And Run was set to be a huge mainstream surf movie. But with deadlines looming and Taylor’s crew’s ties weakening, creativity was compromised. “We had three months to make a movie that was better than Loose Change, which we spent a year and a half on. Basically, we got the waves we wanted, we got an okay soundtrack, but we just sort of digressed in creativity to get something out there and on time,” said Taylor. When asked if he felt the movie failed, he simply stated, “No, I wouldn’t say it was a failure, but definitely a digression.”

In early 2000, with a bad taste still in his mouth and jaded on the creative process, Taylor escaped behind his desk at Poor Specimen and concentrated more on the business side of things. “After Hit and Run I just went more internal into the company and was trying to grow the company distribution-wise and production-wise into a better place. We had people in-house doing other movies instead of me doing all of them. Our guys would get 90 percent of the movie, then I would come in and get it where it needed to be.”

In the years after Hit And Run, Poor Specimen produced and or distributed a slew of successful films including Thicker Than Water, Shelter, Arc, Drive Thru, Untitled, and the immensely popular Momentum: Under The Influence, which starred Bruce and Andy Irons, Taj Burrow, the Hobgoods, Parko, Mick Fanning, and Dean Morrison. “I called it that because I felt this new generation is very similar to the original Momentum guys, but they’re also different,” says Taylor. “They have what those guys had, but they’re bringing their own level to it. They had the influence of the original crew, but they definitely take it to the next level.” While the new generation basked in the glow of video stardom, the first Momentum generation was left asking, “What now?”

“Since Hit and Run, there hasn’t been an avenue for a lot of the guys. Tim Curran, Ross, Benji, and all the way up to Shane Dorian are like, ‘We’re filming. What are we supposed to do with it?’ It felt like it was time to do something big,” Taylor says, and his face begins to light up. In mid 2002, Taylor realized the time had come for the new breed of stars to combine powers with his original Momentum squad. This realization gave birth to Taylor’s new baby–Campaign.

“I guess, for me,” says Taylor, “It starts with coming up with a concept for the movie. Once I have a concept, then I say let’s get everybody going.” Everybody, meaning all of the best but busiest surfers on the planet. It’s like getting The Beatles back together–if there were 30 people in the band.

“You sort of have to sell the movie to the guys,” continues Taylor, “because they’re so busy with the tour. They all have only a couple months off, and it’s hard asking for a month of that from some guys. I have to get them fired up. Plus, they have families, they have their sponsors asking them for promos, and they have other videos. They sort of have to pick out of all that what they want to spend their time doing.”

When asked how high a new Taylor Steele movie rates on Rob Machado’s list, he replies, “We don’t get to film as much now as opposed to then, so we became a lot smarter about it. We used to go out and film all the time in the worst conditions, and it would be a waste of time. For Taylor’s new movie, I went on a boat trip and got a lot of waves. Mix that with some good sessions in California, and your section’s looking good.”

Now, sitting in a small office and visibly happy, Taylor calmly fields call after call and question after question. You have to wonder how involved can he can be in a new movie while running a multimillion-dollar production house? How can he be filming Shane Dorian while he’s producing the X-Games television show for ESPN and negotiating broadband movie deals with a nationwide hotel chain? “When I’m making a movie, that’s when I feel most comfortable. That’s where I feel I’m at my best,” says Taylor. “I do a lot of day-in and day-out stuff, a lot of meetings, managing, and phone calls. But when I’m making a movie, I’m in the zone. I’m just really excited to be in the driver’s seat again.”

The question has to be asked–can Campaign live up to the precedent set by the original Momentum? Can lightning strike twice?

“I think surfing needs a big movie right now,” Taylor muses. “That’s what I’m going to do. I want to show where surfing is today.”

Just as Taylor finishes his sentence, the phone rings for the tenth time in two minutes. He picks up and responds to the caller: “Yeah, Mick needs lefts and a few more airs.”

In the months to come, a few more boat trips and film sessions will go down to gather what is needed to complete the final touches on what Taylor is guaranteeing will be his most successful movie ever: “The concept is sort of taking a lighthearted look at how surfing is being portrayed to the masses. I think it’s the right time for the concept, too. I think surfing needs a reality check.”

nd their time doing.”

When asked how high a new Taylor Steele movie rates on Rob Machado’s list, he replies, “We don’t get to film as much now as opposed to then, so we became a lot smarter about it. We used to go out and film all the time in the worst conditions, and it would be a waste of time. For Taylor’s new movie, I went on a boat trip and got a lot of waves. Mix that with some good sessions in California, and your section’s looking good.”

Now, sitting in a small office and visibly happy, Taylor calmly fields call after call and question after question. You have to wonder how involved can he can be in a new movie while running a multimillion-dollar production house? How can he be filming Shane Dorian while he’s producing the X-Games television show for ESPN and negotiating broadband movie deals with a nationwide hotel chain? “When I’m making a movie, that’s when I feel most comfortable. That’s where I feel I’m at my best,” says Taylor. “I do a lot of day-in and day-out stuff, a lot of meetings, managing, and phone calls. But when I’m making a movie, I’m in the zone. I’m just really excited to be in the driver’s seat again.”

The question has to be asked–can Campaign live up to the precedent set by the original Momentum? Can lightning strike twice?

“I think surfing needs a big movie right now,” Taylor muses. “That’s what I’m going to do. I want to show where surfing is today.”

Just as Taylor finishes his sentence, the phone rings for the tenth time in two minutes. He picks up and responds to the caller: “Yeah, Mick needs lefts and a few more airs.”

In the months to come, a few more boat trips and film sessions will go down to gather what is needed to complete the final touches on what Taylor is guaranteeing will be his most successful movie ever: “The concept is sort of taking a lighthearted look at how surfing is being portrayed to the masses. I think it’s the right time for the concept, too. I think surfing needs a reality check.”