A Quick Look Back: Dear Suburbia Five Years On

We didn’t know it at the time, but it was the end of an era.

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Three blockbuster surf films in as many years. That’s what was happening. It was around the US Open at the beginning of August in 2012 that Kai Neville premiered his third major film, and the biggest in his career at that point – Dear Suburbia. Which makes nowish the five year anniversary of the final in a canonical trilogy of Kai Neville movies that defined the era.

And because some of us are millennials, and us millennials need everything now all the time, even nostalgia, five years marks a perfect anniversary to pause for a moment and reflect on how much the world has changed, on how the surfing world looked so different waaaaay back to a bit earlier in the same decade.

Anyway, so Dear Suburbia came out. And it was a triumph.

There’s a grandness to it that Neville’s Modern Collective and Lost Atlas didn’t and couldn’t have. While the others could be your personal favourite – Modern Collective for defining a new generation, Lost Atlas for the rough and raw in the prime of your life youthful energy (my fave) – the achievement of Dear Suburbia‘s drama just by the gravity of its existence wins out; its quality and its goals as a big movie are there right from the outset with that intro shot of Dane Reynolds draped in an American Flag, shot on film, while Brian Eno’s “The Big Ship” plays (also quite a tearjerker soundtrack to the end of that movie, Me, Earl & The Dying Girl). This was an introduction to something special. An introduction to an outro…duction, of sorts. This felt big. And it was.

When you play that song now (please do) and think back to 2012, it’s clear today in a way that it never could have been back then that surfing was closing on one brightly burning little era and would be moving on quickly to another by the time the credits rolled – after the incredible Japanese-reverse-Teahupo’o section at the film’s end.

This was a time before Gabriel Medina had won a World Title and you could still argue the best surfing in the world was being done on screen here, edited to music, and not on the CT. A time right in the middle of Dane Reynolds’ walk away from competition surfing. And a time when John John Florence was walking on to centre stage to replace him in its spotlight. And a time where Kai, with two huge movies behind him, had reached the top of his game, while still having the world’s best freesurfers on screen together having the world’s most fun, at his disposal. In a sense it was the last time he had the band together like this.

Neville pivoted by the time Cluster would come out in 2015. His work no longer so much about the world’s most dynamic surfers logging surfing’s most exciting footage, and more about capturing the energy of good friends having a good time.

That’s not to say that that Cluster wouldn’t be good, great even, it’s just that it doesn’t belong in the same canon as the trilogy of Modern Collective, Lost Atlas, and Dear Suburbia , which were undisputed as the best films in the years they were released in, and by some way (can you believe he made those three films back to back to back?!). In those three years he and his crew captured something that’s hard to see being repeated for a long, long time. And we had no idea at the time of how momentous a little moment it was.

Now, for fun, let’s have a quick glance at some of the major and minor players to see what’s happened in the half decade between then and now.

The Director, Kai Neville: In conjunction with the release of Dear Suburbia, Neville started counter-culture surf print and digital title What Youth with an editorial team/creative powerhouse that had jumped ship from Surfing Magazine to do so. Five years on, it’s as healthy as ever while other titles like Surfing and Waves, have been sunk forever. He’s also carved out a strong entrepreneurial game with his sunglasses company, Epokhe, and released his fourth film Cluster in 2015. In 2017 he’s still the undisputed number one surf filmmaker in the game, despite that game’s constant evolving.

The Superstar, John John Florence: Well, we all know this story, don’t we? After establishing himself as true contender for best freesurfer in the world with his shared part in Japan for Dear Suburbia, he finished his first full year on tour with a solid top four finish, fluctuated for two or three years with injury and trying to work out how to win surfing competitions, before everything fell perfectly together – he released the biggest surf movie in history with View From A Blue Moon, won arguably the most revered surfing comp in the world with the Eddie, produced an excellent YouTube series, and then won the World Title, all within 12 months. The only thing that really alludes him now might be the one thing he was born to become: a Pipe Master. 

The Other Superstar, Dane Reynolds: 2012 was Dane’s first official year off tour, and he slam dunked that by winning best performance at the Surfer Poll for his surfing in Dear Suburbia. He followed up by directing the Craig Anderson movie, Slow Dance. Lost the  last section duties in Cluster to Noa Deane, despite putting in a timeless rail surfing performance in his section, which got nominated for best of the year, became a dad, left Quiksilver to start a brand called Former with Craig Anderson and others, and ultimatelt proved his eternal and evolving relevance by making the film Chapter 11, which is nothing short of a surf-masterpiece. 

The Future-star, Jack Robinson: While not a main player, Jack Robinson’s cameo (that huuuuge alley-oop) in Dear Suburbia as a teenager was exciting at the prospect of what was to come. He moved from his career sponsor Quiksilver to Billabong in early 2014, which was a good fit in that they’d be able to get him in waves where he shows his ridiculously high ceiling potential to be one of the greats, the Pipeline Masters and the Billabong Pro Teahupo’o, and he’s shown glimpses of that glittering star potential – an inspired highline in the Pipe Masters, a stand out web edit from Teahupo’o, a section with John John Florence’s View From A Blue Moon, and a QS1,000 win. But with every passing QS, it feels more and more likely that Jack, despite his high ceiling, may never make the CT. He just finished 97th at the US Open QS10,000 and currently sits at 96th on the QS.

The Donut Eating Topless Girl: Remember donut eating topless girl? Eating a donut from a samurai sword? I sure do. Can hardly forget her, not that I, you know, got it. She is a model and her name is Helena Vestergard and she and Nathan Webster are having a baby pretty soon. Awww, surfing.

Mike Jennings