Uncharted Waters maps one man’s search for the perfect wave and a life lived within the limits of nature and its rhythms.
Wayne Lynch, hailed by his peers as a “messiah” and the greatest surfer of his generation, is a reluctant icon.
In the Q&A session after this Adelaide Film Festival screening, director Craig Griffin explained that the biggest challenge of the project was to convince Lynch to agree to the film. His persistence paid off, and the result is this feature-length documentary – a film that’s not just a tribute to a legendary surfer but a cultural snapshot of the Australian surf scene of the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Lynch, who was “in the ocean from day one”, seemed to appear with a fully formed talent; a teenaged goofy footer with an amazing natural ability honed during a childhood in the Victorian coastal town of Lorne. Time in the water became more prized than time spent at school and the film covers those early days of sick notes (from a supportive mother) and sneaking around (sometimes with a like-minded teacher) through to the years between 1968 and 1972 when he was unbeatable and when the world’s spotlight – however unwelcome – was on him and his unique style.
While other surfers were moving slowly from the longboard to shorter boards, allowing better response and greater movement, it was Lynch who took surfing from the horizontal plane to a spectacular vertical world of unusual lines and new possibilities. Historic footage from classic early surf films Evolution, Sea of Joy and A Day in the Life capture his brilliance on the waves and his travels around the world; they look back at the days when “every surfer was a shaper”, when Lynch was crafting boards for himself and others in a constant quest for perfection.
Through surfing, Lynch was driven to be consumed, completely present, developing a personal relationship with the ocean and an ability to read waves and weather, “not performing, just experiencing”. His fluid moves were matched by a quiet, reflective personality which, in objection to the Vietnam conscription, led him to disappear to a coastal sanctuary rather than join the war to which he was so strongly opposed.
He resurfaced on the competition circuit in a 1975 comeback, winning the Surfabout contest after a long battle with malaria which left him with permanent hearing loss.
There’s no doubt Lynch’s contemporaries were inspired by the man whose style is now described as being so far ahead of its time it’s as if he’d “fallen out of the sky after a visit to the future”. Interviews with fellow surfers give depth to the backstories behind the archival footage, and the film also hints at the problems that came with the sport’s explosion in popularity and the corporatisation of surfing culture.
These days, Wayne Lynch is still entranced by the open ocean, but it’s sailing rather than surfing that draws him in.
At the South Coast screening in Goolwa on Saturday, it seemed like half the audience had surfed with him “back in the day”, while the other half wished they had. Do you need to be a surfing fan to appreciate this film? No. It will definitely appeal to a wider audience, and offers a reminder that if follow your own heart you won’t necessarily live a perfect life but it will be your life.
Uncharted Waters screened as part of the Adelaide Film Festival, which has now finished. Turkish film Jin won the international award for best feature film at the festival, while Australian documentary Blush of Fruit won the inaugural prize for best documentary.
More Adelaide Film Festival reviews
The Dead Speak Back
Battle of the Sexes
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