On the first day of the Pipe Masters, hundreds of surf fans lined the sand in front of the Volcom house, their eyes trained on Backdoor, intently watching what they believed to be the greatest show in surfing. They had no idea what they were missing.
Less than a mile away at Log Cabins, John Florence was putting on a show that made the scene at Pipe look like an after-school special. He was dropping out of the sky into triple-up barrels over a bed-of-nails reef, emerging casually to throw powerful carves and gravity-defying airs. With the crowd transfixed by the circus tents and loudspeakers at Pipe, the only witness was a talented young filmmaker named Blake Kueny.
Such is often the case with Kueny, who travels with Florence most of the year. But the San Diego native wasn’t always entrusted with capturing moments like this and bringing them to the masses. In fact, just a few years ago he was interning at Transworld headquarters, entering data into spreadsheets in a cramped backroom office and suffering from a mild case of existential boredom.
“I just couldn’t keep doing that,” explains Kueny. “So I walked into [online editor] Justin Cote’s office one day and told him I knew how to shoot and edit videos, hoping there was some way I could help out with that instead.”
Cote took a chance on the kid and Kueny proved himself as a talented editor and videographer. Others were quick to take notice, and Kueny found his skill with a camera leading him around the globe with some of the world’s best surfers. While working on a project with Jordy Smith in South Africa, Kueny and Florence crossed paths, gathered some footage, and became fast friends.
“A few months later we were hanging in Mammoth on a snowboard trip and he asked me if I’d be down to film with him full time and just see where it went,” says Kueny. “It was a pretty easy transition. We just went from being friends to having this working friendship, and it’s been awesome ever since.”
Fast forward to a warm night on Oahu last December and a 21-year-old Blake Kueny has his hands full, literally, with SURFER Poll awards for his co-direction of Done as well as for the webclip Begin Again.
“I knew that John’s surfing would be really well received, because his surfing is incredible; it stands on its own,” says Kueny. “But you just hope that all the little decisions you make in the rest of the creative process are well received too. Making a film and getting that kind of recognition was pretty crazy. This is what I had hoped to achieve by the time I was 30, which is kind of mind blowing. I guess I’ve gotta reset and figure out some new goals.”
It was a cold and rainy night in Costa Mesa, Calif., but inside Volcom headquarters it felt something like a Native American sweat lodge. Hundreds of surf-stoked groms and tattoo-laden crusties huddled together inside the steamy warehouse-turned-skate-park-turned-theater, watching the premiere of the brand’s new film, True to This.
About halfway through the feature, perfect Maldivian lefts started tearing across the screen. Mitch Coleborn and Nate Tyler traded freight-train barrels and punchy sections with the flair you might expect, but no one could have predicted the show-stealing appearance of a relatively unknown Brazilian kid named Yago Dora. The stick-thin 17-year-old launched into huge stalefish rotations and straight slobs with style to burn. The wide-eyed crowd turned to one another and whispered a collective “Who the fuck was that?”
“I have never seen someone nail so many different airs in a single session,” says Coleborn about their Maldives trip. “He’s got every rotation, flip, and grab down, both frontside and backside. It’s unbelievable.”
Outside of Brazil, no one had heard of Dora until a little over a year ago, when he stuck a backflip on a blustery offshore day at Rocky Point. The clip dropped shortly after Gabriel Medina’s similarly acrobatic aerial, leading many to wonder what the hell they’re putting in the churrasco down south these days.
Truth be told, even Dora struggles to explain how he arrived on the world surf stage. Although his dad is a lifelong surfer and the current coach for several Brazilians on the ’QS, Dora started surfing only about six years ago.
“I was always more into playing soccer and going skating as a kid,” says Dora. “But because of my dad I was always around surfing, and when I got into it myself, he really helped me progress. Maybe the skating did too.”
Today, it would be tough to overstate Dora’s potential. Inspired by Dane Reynolds, Dora has developed the kind of flair and spontaneity that defines most modern freesurfers. It’s a far cry from the competitively minded, highly regimented approach to surfing many of his countrymen take, but Dora isn’t at all averse to the idea of channeling his approach in a competitive format as well.
“I would love to be on the World Tour one day, but I will never be a competitive machine,” says Dora. “I’m not the kind of guy who obsesses over scores or ratings. The most important thing for me is to keep having fun with my surfing and pushing myself as hard as I can.”
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Surf and travel go hand-in-hand, but the reality of scouring the globe for waves is far from easy. Conditions don’t bend to your itinerary, and at some point you’re bound to get skunked. The Gudauskas brothers are seasoned travelers, and therefore have been skunked more times than you can imagine. But as you can tell from their new web series Down Days, they know how to make the most out of a dry spell abroad.
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