Nathan Oldfield - Filmmaker

When and where did you begin surfing?
I started surfing so long ago, when I was just a little kid, so the memories are pretty blurred really. My Dad and uncles surfed and made their own surfboards, I’d grown up around that, so I always believed in my heart that I was a surfer. The journey of a surfing life for me was probably pretty typical for a lot of kids along the coast. It was this long beautiful transition from sandcastling, playing in the shorebreak, bodysurfing, boogieboarding and finally riding all manner of surfboards. 

What is it that you love about surfing and the ocean?
The sense of freedom and joy just being out there among all of that wide, wild space. And after a lifetime of getting into the sea, the sense of belonging and familiarity and intimacy is significant. The ocean is my heart country and surfing is how I find my place in it.

Do you have any sessions that stand out as your most memorable?
I’ve been surfing for over thirty years so there’s been so many memorable sessions and it’s hard to pick just a few. For sure there are some that are stored away in a special corner of the memorybank. But, really, what I cherish most is the experience of a surfing life, a lifetime journey, rather than specific surfs.

What made you want to get into surf filmmaking? How did you get started once you made the decision to follow that path?
I guess it is part of my nature that I am watchful, I like to observe things, and at the same time, I’m wired to want to make things. At a young age, my Dad gave me his old 1960s Canon SLR and it was almost an innate process for me to look at subjects through the frame of a viewfinder, to structure composition in a way that I found pleasing, to appreciate light play, texture and shape. Of course, at the time I couldn’t have articulated those things, but in retrospect I think that is what was happening.

So I guess that I’ve always looked at the world with a bit of a photographic eye, and that’s definitely informed my filmmaking. I've been in love with surf films ever since I saw The Endless Summer as a little kid. I thought it was incredibly joyful and engaging, and I remember having a vague aspiration to make my own film one day. That dream continued to evolve as I grew as a surfer and experienced the depth of feeling of a committed surfing life. It’s like I knew it would happen, but I kept putting it off, because I was more interested in actually surfing, being in the water. For a long time, I couldn’t think of anything worse than standing on the beach with a camera when the waves were good.

But about thirteen years ago, I began to experiment with filming surfing. Friends and I would swap between surfing and shooting, just mucking about with cameras on the beach really. But I began to take it more seriously, and enjoyed the creativity of the shooting side of things as well as editing. It all kind of grew from there, and I taught myself along the way.

What are some of the challenges involved in being an independent Surf filmmaker?
Perseverance. Desire. Belief. It’s a really big job to make a feature length surf film entirely on your own from beginning to end. It takes a long time and so much creative effort. I’m also a father and a full-time school teacher, so another big challenge for me is time. 

How has the reception of your films by the industry and the public changed your life? In particular the Heart and the Sea.
I can’t really say how filmmaking has changed my life, because I’ve been doing it for a long time and any success I’ve had has taken place gradually. There haven’t been any big breakthroughs financially, but my films have supplemented my teacher’s salary and enabled my wife to be a stay at home mum for our kids, which is very important to us. At the end of the day, making films has been important for me creatively. It has fulfilled the inherent need I have as an artist to make things. Also, making surf films has allowed me to make lot of precious friendships over the years, for which I’m especially grateful. 

What kinds of things do you draw influence and inspiration from when creating your films?
I think a general kind of gratefulness for the gift of being alive underpins my inspiration as a filmmaker. That and a long-held passion for the natural world. I’m also a writer and I’ve always been interested in story telling as a very essential and fundamental human activity. So I’ve always been most moved by surf films that told a story, even if those stories were told in less concrete & abstract ways. My primary influences as far as surf films go were those that had a narrative element, films by Bruce Brown and Jack McCoy’s work. But even other films that were less overtly stories and more like visual poems - movies like Morning Of The Earth, Litmus, The Seedling and Sonny Miller’s The Search films - had a profound impact on me, both as a surfer & as a young filmmaker. Even later, it was the stories in films like Thicker Than Water and Shelter that affected me most, as opposed to other films that were saturating the surf movie market at the time that tended to just be more like nineties skate videos, trick after trick after trick. 

What is it that you love about what you do?
Making things. I always want to make things, beautiful things that remind us how good it is to be alive and breathing. Making surf films has always been about celebrating the gift of a surfing life. If you are blessed enough to be surfing, then you are truly blessed. We are so fortunate to be able to ride waves, you know, and I think the human stories I tell in my surf films always revolve around this sense of thankfulness. I guess that is what I’m trying to communicate most, that gratitude and that joy. 

Are there any new projects on the horizon that you can give us some insight into?
As soon as you finish a surf film, the first question is invariably, ‘Are you going to make another one?’ I haven’t got anything set in concrete yet. I’m at a point in my life personally and creatively where I honestly can’t say what’s exactly on the horizon. I feel that the future is wide open. I’m exploring possibilities, but it’s too early at the moment to say where they will lead. I’m dreaming.

Ideally, where do you see yourself in 10 years time? 
Meaningfully engaged in family life, nurturing healthy relationships with friends, surfing and making things.

Do you have any advice for anyone out there looking to crack it as an independent surf filmmaker?
Mate, it’s hard to answer questions like this. I honestly don’t feel like that I have suddenly arrived as a filmmaker, like I’m suddenly kicking down doors or anything like that, or that I’m qualified to give advice to aspiring artists. All I would say to anyone aspiring to make a surf film is to make something with your heart. Do it from that authentic place, then regardless of how much success you have, you can rest easy in knowing that you made something with pure intentions, and that’s always a beautiful thing that you can be proud of.

Where can we find you online?


Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on January 22, 2014
Categories: Interviews