Rewatchable Surf Film: Sprout
In the first couple years of Almond's little shop on Old Newport Blvd, if a customer started a sentence with "Well, have you seen the movie...?" it was a slam dunk that the next word out of their mouth was going to be "Sprout".
In my Thicker Than Water retrospective, I presented my case for the importance surf films play in shaping the culture—and that the lack of the classic surf film has contributed to the erosion of unity and cultural milestones in surfing.
Surf films—especially this one—take a sport that is done in little pockets all over the globe and capture the shared experience for 30 to 90 minutes; connecting dots that otherwise exist in silos. We're given a snapshot of all of these different lives, quivers, and approaches, with the through-line of the thankfulness of the experience and the diversity of equipment available.
Sprout came out in 2005 when I was a freshman in college. I was a sponge and Thomas Campbell's cup of creative output was brimming over. I loved everything about Sprout—the jazz soundtrack, the art and typography, the lens flares between 16mm scenes, and of course the surfboards.
I shaped my very first surfboard in 2005, inspired primarily by the green single fin in TTW. But Sprout cemented the "ride everything" ethos, not just for me but for multiple generations of surfers who were consuming surf films in the early 2000's. The folks coming into Almond in 2009/2010 referencing Sprout in a statement or question weren't necessarily all my peers, whether you were 16 or 44, there was a draw to this version of surfing. Which should be no surprise, the cast of characters in this film ranges from 20-year-old Knost to Tom Wegener to Gerry Lopez.
I found the DVD in my collection, but of course also found the full length film posted on YouTube. Upon a rewatch, I was transported in many ways to the innocence and joy of what drew me to surfing when I was young. There is a levity and purity in this film that harkens back to the Bruce Brown era where surfing felt new and exciting and didn't need anything more than a simple celebration of the activity.
The shared experience of films like this play out both in the tying together of the pockets of likeminded folks from different pockets of surfing, but also in the shared experience of a film that everyone you encounter has seen and adored. Seth Moniz doing a backflip at BSR Cable Park will go viral and get talked about for a week or so, but for all the amazement of that single instagram clip, it can't match the staying-power of a film of this scope that enters the zeitgeist and whose affects last years. Take this quote from Surfer Magazine in 2018:
"For many surfers around the world, Campbell’s films were a catalyst, causing them to look hard at their own quivers and wonder what they’d been missing out on. The aesthetic of Campbell’s movies also helped change the way those same surfers thought about their culture, offering an alternative to the bro-centric version of surfing being peddled by most surf brands, and reaffirming that the pursuit of waves could be an artistic one."
For all the gushing I've done thus far, it should be no surprise that this is a 10/10 must-rewatch for me. For as much as I knew I loved this film, it has been enough years since I've watched it where it actually surprised me how much I enjoyed it again.
Thomas Campbell's trifecta of Seedling, Sprout, and the Present are an undeniable turning point in the way many of us experience surfing—the invitation to and affirmation of—the ability to ride all sorts of wonky or refined surf equipment. It's a worthy rewatch and an 80-minute vacation for the viewer in the quarantine of 2020.