Gender equality, ’80s France, and the endless search for the perfect wave: this weekend’s Milan festival celebrates the bond between surf, skate & film.

Gender equality, ’80s France, and the endless search for the perfect wave: this weekend’s Milan festival celebrates the bond between surf, skate & film.

From the teenage innocence of original surf hit Gidget (1959), through to the more testosterone-heavy cult movies like Big Wednesday (1978), Thrashin (1986) and Point Break (1991), the cinematic fascination with surfing and skating has transformed, and endured, across decades.

“Surf and skate movies have become film genres with a big following,” says Luca Merli, a well-known filmmaker and producer who is spearheading projects within the Italian surf community. “Even people who do not practice the sports themselves enjoy watching them, because they’re often very original, in terms of soundtrack and editing style.”

Merli is also the founder and director of the upcoming Skate and Surf Film Festival (SSFF), whose second edition is launching this Friday, May 4, in Milan. Running at the heart of the artsy neighbourhood of Navigli until the end of the weekend, the festival will feature skate and surf short and feature movies from international and homegrown talent, as well as art exhibitions, live music performances and skate contests.

After participating in many surf film festivals around the world, Merli realised there was an interest big enough to build an event in his hometown, too. “But it didn’t make sense to organise a surf-only festival in Milan, a city with no sea, so I brought in my skater friends, as the two worlds are very close [and] Milan is sort of the skateboarding capital of Italy,” he explains.

At a time where technology makes it easier than ever to film, share and watch –  surf and skate movies, too – an event like SSFF is even more crucial to reinforce a sense of community. “In the past, when video distribution was quite limited, you used to look for a VHS and pass it on, watch it together,” Merli recalls. “When you’re at a screening, celebrating a surfer or a skater, looking at waves you’d like to ride or a spot you’d wish to skate, you feel part of a community.”

SSFF aims to give a platform to interesting projects from all over the world, including quite a few local productions; Merli is presenting Nausicaa, his Mediterranean-based surf movie will be out of the competition. Ahead of the opening of the three-day event tomorrow, here is a list of highlights from the screening programme:

VIRGIN BLACKTOP

Director Charlie Samuels has spent 24 years tracking down footage to tell the coming-of-age story of the Wizards, a late 70s New York City skateboarding crew.

BIARRITZ SURF GANG

A documentary going back to the late ’80s and early ’90s, when a group of pioneering surfers in Biarritz helped the sport reach unprecedented heights in Europe.

THE CHURCH OF THE OPEN SKY

A love letter to surfing, filmed across Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka by award-winning filmmaker Nathan Oldfield.

THE ISLAND

Italian director Alessandro Dotti follows surfer Roberto D’Amico in an adventurous search for a great swell, embarking on a journey that goes well beyond chasing perfect waves.

GET USED TO IT

International non-profit organisation Skateistan is on a mission to defy gender-based prejudice in South Africa, opening a skate school in Johannesburg.

The Skate and Surf Film Festival (SSFF) runs at BASE in Milan from May 4 to May 6, powered by VANS Off The Wall.

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