WHY I: INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR OF THE LONDON SURF FILM FESTIVAL DEMI TAYLOR
Cornish born and bred lady-slider, the London Surf Film Festival Director, author and screen writer Demi Taylor has been a stalwart of the surf-ciné world and the global creative surf movement. Co-author of numerous surf and travel books with her partner Chris Nelson, 7 years ago Demi & Chris gave birth to a vision to celebrate the unique and iconic British surf industry. Years down the line, The London Surf Film Festival is a beating heart not just of the UK surf scene, but the global waters, hosting international film-makers, surfers, ocean lovers, dreamers and thinkers.
Demi’s honest love for the water and surfing is a testament to what chasing and pursuing your passions can lead to. I have been lucky to work with and enjoy spending time with Demi at numerous London Surf Film Festivals, and thought it about time I pinned down the doyen of all that is surf cinema down for a natter. Kick back for the next in the WHY I series of interviews with inspiring women, with author, surfer, purveyor of good vibes, and co-founder of the London Surf Film Festival, Demelza Taylor.
With a child-hood routed in travel and a connection to the ocean and all its rich, rewarding treasures, Demi Taylor is a name quietly synonymous in the surf industry with fostering and promoting creativity and the celebration of surf-culture. Growing up in Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and California, it was only when returning to the “wild-west shores of Cornwall, “– Penwith – (“where the world falls into the sea” according to Demi), in the last decade that Demi began to “really know and feel that I’m from here. Before, that sense of place wasn’t really important.”
A life-long lover of the ocean, whether that was in Saudi Arabia or during “relentless” day trips to Sennen, surfing and travel, and all the rewarding creative endeavours that can come from enjoying the fruits of mother nature’s waters, Demi ruminates that
“I think the sea always meant freedom to me. “
A bonafide water-baby if there ever was one, the sun-kissed, smiling face of Demi can often be seen exploring both British or international waters, surfing “but anything (within reason) goes – I bodysurf, bellyboard, ride a surf mat – always underinflated, I have quite a few boards but am madly in love with my Bing…”.
An honest passion for surfing led Demi to score her “dream gig" working on the PR (team) for Quiksilver and converse at Exposure after graduating. A baptism of fire into the high-energy and high-fun world of action sports, like many of us who have lived, loved, worked and breathed in the action sports industry, it is those unforgettable moments that this awesome industry of ours can proffer that are so memorable. Demi laughs that “I certainly got a real education at the Quikcup – that over night party train from Biarritz to Les Arcs is the stuff of legend…50 of the world’s best surfers, skaters, snowboarders plus all the boardsports press… beers, pizzas and… well, what happened on the train stays on the train !”
But where in this story did the foundation of the London Surf Film Festival, the iconic UK-based celebration of surf culture and cinema that has fast become the nucleas and beating heart of creative celebration and the bringing together of our patchwork of awesome souls in the surf industry, find it’s place?
“It was born where all the best ideas come to life, round the kitchen table” Demi begins. In “2010 Chris Nelson (my boyfriend and writing partner) and I were talking about the UK surf community and the creativity that exists on our shores. We realised there wasn’t really an event that celebrated what we have here in the UK. We’re both writers who have been writing about surfing and travel for the last 20 years really – books & articles.
We were already in touch with a lot of great filmmakers, photographers, makers & doers about their projects so it just seemed like a natural progression to bring those creatives together and create a platform for them… about 6 months later in 2011, LS/FF was born. We had Keith Malloy bring his beautiful film Come Hell or High Water to the first event and we were off!”.
The amount of time, love and passion that is clearly poured into the LSFF, the curation of its program and its bringing together of some of the industry’s most stoked, influential, colourful and brilliant souls is apparent if you have ever connected with or been to the festival. I will never forget some of my favourite moments of the festival having been a long-term attendee myself. Getting goosebumps on my arm watching North Of The Sun by Norwiegen film-makers Inge Wegge and Jorn Ranum, and seeing them surf beneath the Northern lights. Celebrating UK based surfer Oli Adams’ success with him as he took home British film of the year for his one-man creation The Hunt For Hipmasama in 2014. Sitting through 5 hours of film and forgetting my bottom complaining as I was blown away by some of the most raw and beautiful film-making I've seen full stop, that projects and epitomises what I love about surfing.
Demi shares the thought process of what goes into the formulation of LSFF, in that “every year we try to curate a festival that resonates with us and what’s going on both in the UK and in the wider surfing world so that it’s an authentic slice of surfing right here and now. "
"We wanted it to be a community event for everyone and to bring together and celebrate the creativity that exists in surfing as well as the sheer level of talent both in and out of the water through art, music, photography, makers, doers….”.
I love LSFF it for its intoxicatingly authentic and happy bringing together of those passionate about the water in its many creative and active guises. If you haven’t explored surf-cinema, there are so many highly talented souls creating incredible works of art that effectively portray that hard-to-pinpoint energy and raw appeal that surfing proffers. I wonder if Demi had always been surf a cinéphile in her life, as she is now synonymous with being a huge catalyst for the celebration for surf cinema now? “I was a member of the Bradbury Junior School film club so I went to school on a Saturday morning to watch movies in the school hall… does that count??” she laughs. Adding that
"I’ve always loved the multi-dimensional way of telling a story through film bringing together sound and vision to create a narrative. “
A story-teller herself, Demi adds that “story telling has always been a big part of surf culture – telling tales of waves ridden, points discovered, places been. It’s an important aspect of any community, that oral tradition, it binds people together and creates the folklore that is the bedrock of a culture. “I too see the importance and of chronicalling the mystical nature of surf culture. As Demi attests,
“You realize as heroes, pioneers and friends are lost, that if those stories aren’t recorded they’re gone forever.”
This year saw the passing of one of the most iconic founding-fathers of the international surf world, Jack O’Neill, founder of surf-brand O’Neill, creator of the modern wetsuit, and instantly recognizable pirate-patched wonder of the water. With so many global paddle-outs held in Jack’s honour following his passing, Demi shares that “. This year we were honoured to be asked to write the tribute film celebrating the life of Jack O’Neill. In doing so we were given the opportunity to talk to those who knew Jack the best and really explore the impact of this incredible surfing pioneer….”.
THE LSFF’s 7th inception finds Demi “STOKED! We’re lucky to work with some pretty epic people and we have some very talented people coming to the event to present their work, so yeah, I feel pretty stoked.” With her highlights of this time including the “1st night at LS/FF 2011 full house, …beers with friends, Steph Gilmore, Chasing Zero live AV set last year … I still have tingles, The Shorties – creating a platform for homegrown filmmakers, the shaping booth year 3, introducing UK creatives to each other…Then of course that time the boys from Reef played, and Colin Macleod, Auction for the Promise Club… it’s been pretty fun.”
With her partner Chris Nelson, Demi is also busy weaving stories and creations within the industry.. Co-writers of “The Ripple Effect” for Redbull TV, Demi and Chris spent last year writing this documentary series that explores the lives and achievements of some of youth cultures “most exciting entrepreneurs – from the founders of Atari, Moog Music, Wired Magazine to the likes of GoPro and Hurley… it’s been great putting all that film watching to good use.”
Demi is a driving force especially within the UK surf scene, a tireless champion of bringing together like-minded souls, of fostering talent and creativity and of the radical, different patchwork that makes up the UK surf scene, an unfamiliar playground for many global surfers who may even date the existence of waves on these small isles. I enquire as to what it is about our funny little industry here in Britain that Demi loves?
I love the way we all pull together and we get stoked on what other people are achieving. There’s plenty of room for everyone! There are all the big events and comps but what really stokes my fires are the events on the fringes meaning there’s something for everyone – whether you ride a surf mat or a vintage single fin – you can find your crew….what we have in the UK is pretty special.”
At the heart of Demi Taylor’s talented and multi-armed creative is that genuine love for surf and travel. A particular trip in 2001 appears to have really served as a catalyst and ignited change, when Demi “quit my job in PR in 2001, bought a camper van and Chris and I headed off on a year-long odyssey along the Atlantic Coast of Europe travelling from the Orkney Isles to Morocco. We spent a year surfing, road ripping, writing, researching, interviewing, exploring and photographing came home, got a publishing deal and it set us off on a new path. We’ve written I think 7 surf and travel books together…”.
This formidable force is unstoppable and with more “surfing, writing, travels and films” on the horizon, the future is sure to be an exciting place for Demi Taylor.