• Men of Wood and Foam

    Released By: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released On: June 12, 2017.
    Director: Shaun Cairns
    Cast: Gordon Woods, Bill Wallace, Scott Dillon, Barry Bennett, Greg McDonagh, Denny Keogh, Nat Young, Midget Farrelly
    Year: 2016

    *Note: This is a PAL format DVD. It will not play in NTSC-locked players.

    The Movie:

    There is certainly no shortage of surfing documentaries in the world. Stacy Peralta's RIDING GIANTS, Dana Brown's STEP INTO LIQUID, and the granddaddy of them all, Bruce Brown's ENDLESS SUMMER set a high bar of pretty thorough information when it comes to wave riding. Shaun Cairns' 2016 television documentary, Men of Wood and Foam doesn't try to better the genre, but instead, narrows things down to focus on one particular area of Australian surfing; the suburb of Brookvale.

    The Brookvale Six; original surf shapers who helped to pioneer and evolve board design and surfing in Sydney; were made up of Greg McDonagh, Denny Keogh, Bill Wallace, Barry Bennett, Gordon Woods, and Scott Dillon, and the boards that their small, independent "shops" kicked out in the early days are legendary. Men of Wood and Foam gives us a bit of background on the sport in Australia, starting with Duke Kahanamoku's visit to the Land Down Under in 1915, then carries on to the situation in World War II, when brave (or idiotic) ocean fiends slipped through barbed wire barricades to get their hair wet.

    With new workplace regulations coming into play in the 50's, beach life in Sydney ramped up and got a lot more crowded, as locals took advantage of the sand and surf, with some venturing out on "toothpicks"; surfboard-shaped, well, hollow surfboards, that were impossibly long and heavy, made of plywood. The opposite of maneuverable, surfers riding these massive monsters had to be content with strictly riding straight down the face of the wave, straight towards the beach. With the arrival of the 1956 Olympics, however, a contingent of Hawaiian surfers decided to check out the Sydney scene, blowing everyone's minds with their balsa wood, "Malibu" boards. The Brookvale Six were quick to adapt, finding a balsa wood importer, and struggling to keep up with the demands for these space-age vehicles. With the arrival of lighter boards also came the girls, who could now carry a surfboard with their flimsy little girly arms, a development met with scorn and disgust from the men.

    The increase in popularity was still far from over, evidenced by another boom when local boy Midget Farrelly took the gold at the Makaha World Championships, and surf groups popped up left and right to dominate the airwaves while even more teens headed to the beach. Leading the way in experimentation with chemicals, foam, and resins, the Brookvale Six kept business rolling right along with the introduction of the fiberglass short board to the Sydney surfers, and the arrival of 60's counterculture kept surfing's popularity alive with a psychedelic tinge.

    Featuring interviews with all of the Brookvale Six, as well as surfing legends Nat Young and (the late) Midget Farrelly, Men of Wood and Foam keeps its very short (just over 50 minutes) running time moving along at a fantastic pace by utilizing a ton of vintage photos and amazing video footage that helps illustrate the individual time periods. The interview subjects are all real characters with a dry humour that keeps things lively, and it's a hoot see and hear some of the things that were acceptable back in the early days that certainly wouldn't fly now.

    For under an hour, Men of Wood and Foam is remarkably thorough and informative; though it would be great to have had more time allotted to the subject. The only drawback to the television documentary format is the obvious break for commercial placement, and the look forward/recaps that sit on either side. Still, Men of Wood and Foam is a fun ride, one well worth the price of admission.


    Men of Wood And Foam comes to PAL DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that looks pretty good, considering it was produced for television. Detail is good, no interlacing or compression artifacts were visible, and the picture remained bright and colourful for most of the running time. There are some vintage sources contained within, so don't be too surprised if some of the screen shots show dirt and debris.

    The Dolby Digital English 2.0 track carries the program audio nicely, with dialogue clear and coherent, balanced nicely with the soundtrack. There are no drops, pops, hisses, or distortion evident, though as mentioned above, some of the older sources will change in quality, not a problem with the disc.

    Where this release of Men of Wood and Foam perhaps falters in the feature length, it more than makes up for it in the supplements.

    First up on the first disc is Midget: The Early Years (12:02), featuring surfing legend Midget Farrelly being interviewed by Mark Warren, which can also be seen in the film in truncated form. Using clips and photos, this supplement also features Farrelly shortly before his death, discussing his life-long career as a surfer.

    Next up is the Making of the Original Soundtrack (12:15), which shows off Band of Frequencies creating the soundtrack for the film, most notably the title song, in the Tanuki Lounge recording studio. Original Soundtrack (5:06) is essentially the video for the title song, which can be seen in the Making of featurette.

    On the second disc, we get The History of Australian Surfing, with optional introduction by surfing celebrity Nat Young (1:29:09). Expect a lot of overlap with the main feature, as Nat uses interviews, vintage news reals, and some fantastic surfing footage from the 50's, courtesy of Bob Evans, to tell the story of the history of Australian surfing; from Duke Kahanamoku's board exhibition in 1915, to the formation of the Surf Life-Saving Association, the first headstand on a board, all the way up to the invasion of the Malibu board craze and beyond. Gordon Woods of the Brookvale Six is on hand to talk about his boards, and clips from surf bands and other water-related wackiness also make an appearance. The quality is not fantastic, here, coming from what is most likely a video source, with the audio and video both showing their age (early 80's) and low-budget origins, but it's a nifty scrapbook for those interested, especially the footage of legendary Bells Beach.

    Next up is Fall Line, again with optional intro by Nat Young (46:34), a mid-70's era Nat Young production that again shows the limitations of budget and the passage of time in its transfer. Still, it's got some nice footage of pretty hairy surf spots, as well as a segment on skiing, windsurfing, hang gliding, skateboarding, and other strange sports that may have qualified as "extreme" back then.

    If you don't feel like sitting through 46 minutes of Fall Line, look for a hidden Easter Egg that condenses the highlights down to just over 16 minutes.

    Umbrella Propaganda is a collection of four Umbrella Entertainment trailers.

    The Final Word:

    A two-disc set that features some swell footage of surfing in Australia and beyond, Men of Wood and Foam will most likely satisfy enthusiasts and those with a passing interest in the history of surfing and Australian beach culture.