FREE AS A DOG – AND FUNNIER
Veteran surf movie maker Jack McCoy premiered his latest film, Free As A Dog
– A True Dog’s Tale, at Sydney’s State Theatre on January 2, 2006 to kick off
the fifth annual Billabong Jack McCoy Surf Film Festival. Starring champion
Australian surfer Joel Parkinson, it’s possibly not McCoy’s best film, but it is
probably his funniest, reports Bruce Andrews.
As surf movies go, Free As A Dog, starring champion Gold Coast surfer Joel
Parkinson, is a stand-out comedy. While the packed audience at the premiere
expected to see great surfing on great waves at great locations - the magic
formula that anyone who knows his audience as well as McCoy does isn’t going to
deny them - they probably didn’t expect to laugh so much. You see, in a
departure for McCoy, who usually narrates his own films, Free As A Dog is
‘narrated’ by Joel’s pure-bred boxer dog Trey.
WC Fields once cautioned, “Never work with children or animals”, but McCoy and
Parkinson don’t seem to have any regrets. When Trey came on stage with his
master at the premiere, and was interviewed by Master of Ceremonies Mark
Occhilupo, himself a champion surfer who has a comic role in the film, he stole
the show. Trey’s responses, ventriloquised from off-stage, had the audience in
stitches both then and during the movie as his narrative role within it
"none of these champion surfers take themselves too
While the ‘A’ story - often the only story - in any surf movie is the quest
for waves, Joel Parkinson (‘Parko’) and his ‘grommet’ (kid surfer) co-stars,
Ellis Ericson and James Wood, willingly play to a contrived and somewhat
traditional ‘B’ story about a competitive juvenile love-interest; beach-babe
Ashley Cheadle. This signals that none of these champion surfers take themselves
Early in the movie Parko’s development as a surfer is contextualized through a
potted history of the development of his home town of Coolangatta on the Gold
Coast since the late 1940s – a neat reminder of paradise lost. Then Trey the dog
provides a comic snap-shot of young Joel growing up in an intensely spirited
surfing town, amid many talented and inspiring surfers.
This leads to the theme of the film - the powerful and important role within
surfing of mentoring. This is a theme that is occasionally alluded to in surf
films but is rarely explored; recent exceptions are Stacy Peralta’s surf and
skateboard documentary ‘Dogtown and Z Boys’ (2001) and his ‘Riding Giants’
(2004). Parko now believes in assisting other young surfers to better their
performance and competition chances, although, at twenty four, he is not that
much older than Ericson and Wood who feature throughout the film with him as
they travel Australia’s east coast, then to remote north west Western Australia
and to Argentina.
Hawaiian-born McCoy has made about twenty five surf movies since ‘Tubular
Swells’ (1975), his first film, with friend Dick Hoole, which McCoy still cites
as his personal favourite. Many of his fans might choose the extraordinary ‘To’
– Day of Days’ (2001), featuring remarkable Hawaiian big wave rider Laird
Hamilton, or the more recent ‘Blue Horizon’ (2004), which contrasts the surfing
lifestyles of two-time world champion Andy Irons and free-surfer Dave Rastovich.
While McCoy has chronicled the evolution of modern surfing during the last three
decades, he is not just a film maker but a showman. He personally attends and
presents each screening of the touring film festival, here and overseas. In 2004
McCoy and his team showed ‘Blue Horizon’ to 55,000 people at 151 screenings at
73 venues in 10 countries. That’s showmanship.
McCoy also hosts a surf short film competition, Surfshorts, now in its third
year, sponsored by Panasonic. The winning entry collects $10,000 cash, a new
Panasonic digital video camera and is screened with the festival. Victorian Tony
Mason won the 2005 competition with his film ‘131.9’ (the cost per litre of
petrol to get to the beach from his home an hour and a quarter drive away).
"entertaining and fun"
Although packed with wave-charging action, ‘Free As A Dog’ is not just for
surfers. This film is entertaining and fun, and fans that spark of recognition
of what it’s like to be a young talented surfer and, well, free as a dog.
The Billabong Jack McCoy Surf Film Festival 2006 tours nationally until February
19th then heads overseas for screenings in ten countries. Details on http://www.jackmccoy.com
Published January 19, 2006
Email this article