Surfbeat: The Fish That Revolutionised Surfing

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Surfbeat: The Fish That Revolutionised Surfing

An Aussie surf documentary titled FISH was one of the highlights at the 2016 Bells Beach Surf Film Festival last summer. Written and directed by Joseph Ryan the award winning film looks at the origin and impact of the fish surfboard design and how it would influence mainstream surf design 30 years later.

FISH features interviews with the original Fish designer shaper Steve Lis and surfers Mark Richards, Dave Rastovich, Dan Malloy, Derek Hynd and others. Filmmaker Joseph Ryan started surfing at the age of five: “ I grew up in the Northern Territory and it was a very cheap flight to get to Bali so we went there a lot. It was also better surfing in Indonesia as you didn’t have to deal with the Saltwater Crocodiles, Sharks, Box Jelly Fish, Stonefish like you did at home. There were very few surfers where I grew up. Surfing was a really individual thing for me, I still surf most of the time by myself.”

Ryan started making films in 2007. “I was doing some work with Bob McTavish and the idea of a surf film came up. Without hesitation I said ‘I’ll do it.’ I had done a few surf films (what is referred to as surf porn now days, wave after wave) and I stuck on an extra of one of the guys riding a Fish. He caught 32 waves in 45mins, 4 barrels, 8 airs, lots of hacks, floater, cuties, turns and so on – it was amazing how many waves he caught and what he could do on average waves on that board. That got me thinking of doing something on the Fish board. A few years later I was having a chat to Bob McTavish and told him I was thinking of doing a film on the Fish. He liked the idea and said I should do something on the end just short about the history of the design. Well after getting into it the purely surf film went out the window and it turned into a documentary because of how interesting the story I was uncovering became.”

Music is a big part of the film making process for Ryan: “Music is critical to set the feel of a section or the whole film. Most surf films go for recognised music (hits) to help with marketing and having a great song everyone is familiar with. My film is a documentary so having singing on the music can interfere with what is being said in the voiceover. Nearly all the music in FISH has no vocals. I listen to a lot of music and I knew as soon as I heard most tracks which section they would go in. There was no weighing up one against another, they just all seem to click, but that does not mean it didn’t take a hell of a long time to find each song (probably nine months of listening to find all the music).”

FISH recently won the BEST FILM award at the Bells Beach Surf Film Festival and was nominated as one of the three must watch surf films this summer by The Inertia. You can find out more about FISH at, order a DVD copy on-line or purchase via VOD (Video On Demand, iTunes, Vimeo etc) platforms. A great film about the surfboard design that changed surfing forever.

Written by John Foss