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.”