“This new series is a chance to change things. But that can only happen if the filmmakers have had enough freedom.”
Would you believe me, my friends, if I told you that Kelly Slater’s craziest and most unlikely dream could come true?
A fight with Joe Rogan followed by a buffet of vet drugs and cutting-edge performance enhancers?
A 12th world title?
Ask me to write his biography? (Provisional title: “Peaks and Trolls: How Kelly Slater Surfed Decades of Waves on Water and Online”)
None of the above.
Kelly’s dream, as we surely know, is worldwide recognition and fame. Being mobbed in supermarkets, appearing on mainstream chat shows, hanging out with the world of real celebrities.
He doesn’t just look sideways, he wants to be slapped.
And maybe, just maybe, this is about to come true.
Apple TV just announced that their (terribly titled) post-WCT docuseries, “Make or Break,” will be released on April 29 with seven full episodes for you to enjoy and enjoy.
Not only that, but they have already ordered the second season which currently follows the 2022 tour.
(Excuse me for a moment while I channel Charlie Smith…)
But on to the press release:
“Make or Break” offers an intimate dive into the aspirations, challenges, accomplishments and personal lives of surfers battling to stay on the elite circuit of the 2021 WSL Men’s and Women’s Championship (CT), and takes the viewers in a breathtaking journey of surfing locations around the world. The series follows the 2021 competition, navigating as the league responds to the global pandemic, while exploring the vibrant culture of surfing as well as current issues including diversity, mental health and the physical impact of the sport.
Each episode of the series’ seven-part first season spotlights world-class surfers and features never-before-seen interviews with:
Kelly Slater, 11-time world champion and 56-time career winner
Stephanie Gilmore, seven-time world champion
Gabriel Medina, triple world champion
Tyler Wright, two-time world champion
Italo Ferreira, world champion and 2019 Olympic gold medalist
2021 Olympian Tatiana Weston-Webb
Other notable surfers featured in “Make or Break” include Morgan Cibilic, Johanne Defay, Leonardo Fioravanti, Jeremy Flores, John John Florence, Filipe Toledo, Kanoa Igarashi, Matt McGillivray, Isabella Nichols, and Jack Robinson.
Big deal, you say?
Well, in my opinion, it’s a fucking big deal, in this case.
If you’ve watched the Netflix series “Drive to Survive” about Formula 1, you might understand a little why.
“Make or Break” is produced by the same people, a UK-based film production company called “Box to Box Films” run by James Gay-Rees and Paul Martin.
I was a latecomer to “Drive to Survive.” People kept recommending it and I kept pushing it away.
Formula 1, the most boring and irrelevant “sport” on earth?
Why the hell should I watch this?
But then I did, and from a cold, upright start, I was immediately captivated.
And I mean cold. I hadn’t watched F1 since I was a kid, and only then because my old man is a fan. It would be accurate to say that I not only had no interest in it, but actively hated it. Couldn’t see the entertainment or value at all.
Now consider, then, having spent all four seasons of “Drive to Survive” on Netflix and find myself checking the qualifying times for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
Being completely addicted to docuseries has become an interest in the sport itself.
I’m not alone.
“Drive to Survive” has ignited a surge in the global popularity of F1 racing. Interest and audience exploded along with revenue.
It doesn’t matter if you have previous knowledge or interest, in a few episodes you will be drawn in. Try it and see.
What the series does so expertly is create a narrative and create human interest in a world for which we have no context. Races are part of it, but they are secondary to people. And it’s not just the drivers, but the agents, managers, wives, bosses, coaches and journalists*, and all the people who contribute to the billion dollar circus that is F1 racing. .
Beyond the amounts of money involved, Formula 1 and professional surfing are not that different.
Both involve a small, select group of elite performers and their entourages traveling the world to compete in something most people can’t comprehend. Both involve long periods of monotony punctuated by random periods of intense action.
To be successful, the main goal of both must be to captivate an audience that can’t understand anything about the environment or play at that level.
The key to this is skillful storytelling. You find characters we can root for and identify big themes we can recognize – vulnerability, pressure, uncertainty, balancing lifestyles, trauma, relationships…
The “Drive to Survive” series found these characters and delved into the themes. In doing so, it forced us to watch a sport that most people thought was dead, boring, or alien.
If Box to Box Films were allowed to apply the same formula to the “Make or Break” series, professional surfing could finally be catapulted into the mainstream consciousness desired and promised since the Tour began.
For that to happen, the filmmakers must have had a free rein and access to everyone they love, and hopefully they have been greeted candidly by their subjects. I would love to hear from everyone involved, surfers, coaches, sponsors, caddies, loved ones, journalists*, even the judges… (Imagine that!)
I hope there is no greenwashing.
The absence of that in “Drive to Survive” was refreshing. They didn’t recognize the thousands of pounds of rubber and fuel that were incinerated by each shift every two hours (as if that wasn’t obvious) but at least they didn’t try to dress it up or to pay lip service to green initiatives. There was no pretension.
I really hope the WSL can reverse its own trend and do the same. You can’t compare the impact of professional surfing to F1, of course, but they’re still flying around the world in droves, often in places with fragile ecosystems, and they’re still churning out foam and fiberglass .
Let’s not pretend we’re saving the world. It’s entertainment, and we’re all trying to make money from it.
The objectivity problem of the WSL is well established. The positive noise wall is large and unscalable, which created both comical and wacky situations. The trust of the core fan base has been eroded and the casual fan finds her unassailable. They are arguably the most Orwellian sports organization in the world.
My faith in the WSL, like yours, is shaken, but I want them to succeed. This new series is a chance to change things. There’s a new audience waiting to be found and an old one waiting to be filled, but that can only happen if the filmmakers have been given enough freedom.
Box to Box Films understands that where there are people under pressure, there is drama. You don’t have to make it, just ask the right questions and be there at the right time. The WSL never understood this.
It’s a little concerning to me that every press release that accompanies news of this series includes “in partnership with the WSL” and mentions Erik Logan as executive producer.
Professional surfing has long needed an outside perspective to spark mainstream interest, but Logan has now proven his perspective wrong. But as much as we criticized his understanding of surf culture, we at least acknowledged his political and media acumen.
There’s no doubt that Erik Logan wants to be the savior of pro surfing. We can only hope that in this case, he understood that sometimes, to save something, you have to let it go.
* As the first professional surfing journalist working in 2022, and surely the friendliest, most handsome and most objective, I would be deeply disappointed if I were not offered a role similar to F1 journalist Will Buxton in “Make or Break” to some indicate.