Hang 50: Life isn’t a beach for two Aussie surf-film makers | AspenTimes.com

Hang 50: Life isn’t a beach for two Aussie surf-film makers

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesAustralians Stefan Hunt, top, and Jonno Durant catch the surf in Aspen's Whitaker Park on Friday morning. The two quasi-filmmakers and quasi-surfers have their debut movie, "Surfing 50 States," showing Saturday in the MountainSummit festival.

ASPEN – To say that Jonno Durrant and Stefan Hunt were unprepared for the task they made for themselves – to make a documentary of themselves surfing in every one of America’s states – is inaccurate. True, neither of the two Australians had a whit of training in filmmaking. While both the 27-year-old Durrant and the 21-year-old Hunt had been to the U.S., neither had seen Iowa, West Virginia or Oklahoma. They didn’t have a vehicle, much money or a plan. And the truth, which they freely admit, is that neither one of them is a particularly good surfer.

But back home, on days with no waves, Durrant and Hunt would concoct “flat-day fun” – surfing alternatives that generally included boards, water and movement. There were sand dunes to slide down and rain-drenched golf courses to devastate.

So let’s call them monumentally underprepared for the project.

“We wanted to travel the 50 states. But we couldn’t just travel the 50 states,” said Hunt, who became friends with Durrant through church (despite the fact that the two live some 500 miles apart). “We thought about 50 dates in 50 states, but we weren’t good at that either. And it’s hard to find a date when you’re in a state for three hours.

“Then a friend said we should surf all 50 states. We said the same thing everyone has said to us: ‘You can’t surf in all 50 states.'”

The key to “Surfing 50 States,” the pair’s debut film – showing tonight at the MountainSummit festival – was to broaden the concept of surfing. Which turned out to be a fairly simple thing for two 20-somethings with that distinctively Aussie knack for adventure and goofiness. Reflecting back on flat-day fun activities, they adopted the credo: “If we were on a surfboard with momentum, we’d consider that surfing,” said Hunt.

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So “Surfing 50 States” has Durrant and Hunt descending a mountain of sugar beets in Idaho, gliding across a curling rink in North Dakota, and flying across a “Wizard of Oz” stage in Kansas. Much of the activity that hews closer to genuine surfing is of the offbeat variety: braving a 29-degree waterfall in Massachusetts, being pulled along irrigation ditches in Utah. The adventure isn’t limited to the boards-with-momentum variety: A creaky ice cream truck – which represents the bulk of their corporate sponsorship booty – assures unexpected shenanigans like being stranded for two weeks on the Great Plains.

“This really is just a stupid idea we followed through with,” said Hunt. “We never expected to be traveling to film festivals.”

“Surfing 50 States” had its premiere in October in Sydney, where Hunt and Durrant – who completed the editing two hours before the screening – were amazed to find a crowd of 700 people in attendance. As they have brought the movie from Telluride to Adelaide, the filmmakers have been astonished that they are being treated like filmmakers.

“It’s not like we made this with the idea we’ll be renowned filmmakers,” said Durrant, who has a degree in environmental science. “But people ask us questions about the techniques of filmmaking, and sometimes we just have to say we have no idea what they’re talking about.”

Somewhere along their ride, the two began seeing themselves as something close to genuine filmmakers. Their current project, “Somewhere Near Tapachula,” is about introducing surfing to children living in a Mexican orphanage. There’s nothing goofy about this effort, due for release in January. It helps that Durrant and Hunt keep themselves behind the camera.

“It’s a tear-jerker. They’ve got some really heavy issues,” Hunt said of the orphans. “And the freedom they get from surfing has been huge for them.”

That project, at least, has allowed them to truly work on their surfing. Which can’t necessarily be said of “Surfing 50 States.”

“It’s not like you improve your surfing in Iowa,” said Hunt. “We didn’t do a lot of real wave surfing. But that movie was made three years ago. We like to think we’re better surfers now.”

“We’re slightly better,” answered Durrant.

stewart@aspentimes.com