From surviving to thriving: Joanna Werner and co step it up for season two of ‘Surviving Summer’

September 14 2023

It’s a question that’s been on the minds of Joanna Werner and Josh Mapleston for the better part of a decade – how do you tell drama out in the surf?

They have again sought to provide answers via the second season of Netflix and ZDF Studios young adult series Surviving Summer, which debuts tomorrow.

While the first season centred on the titular Brooklyn teen, played by Sky Katz, acclimatising to life in a tiny coastal town on the Great Ocean Road where she has been sent to live with family friends, the next chapter in the story shows her taking her surfing to the next level and competing for a national championship, while facing some new competition in and out of the water.

Werner, who co-created the series with Mapleston, said Summer’s surfing journey mirrored that of some of the cast, which features a mix of actors making their first foray as surfers and vice versa, noting their “confidence and ownership” of their roles made for a more streamlined production this time around.

“Some of our actors just exceeded our expectations in terms of how good they were at surfing,” she said.

Sky Katz and Kai Lewins. (Image: Netflix)
“Their ability really increased from season one to season two, so we were able to challenge ourselves more.”

Those working behind the scenes were also able to find their feet quicker this time around, according to Mapleston.

Having collaborated with Werner on Dance Academy, he began working with the producer on Surviving Summer in 2016, prior to which she had been playing the concept in a different form.

It would be almost another four years before the series was greenlit by Netflix, during which time they took a deep dive into Australian surfing culture to fine-tune the concept, speaking to young wave riders who had already begun to plan out their careers from a young age.

The COVID lockdown meant Mapleston was isolated from his writing team for long stretches in shaping the scripts, and at the same faced the predicament of penning a story about the great outdoors and surfing from within a “locked bedroom”.

He stepped up to co-executive producer alongside Werner and Stuart Menzies for the second season, in addition to writing four episodes and working with returning scribe Keir Wilkins, as well as Huna Amweero, Alix Beane and Libby Butler.

Mapleston said it had been amazing to work side-by-side with Werner throughout each step of production, including getting to collaborate with directors Sian Davies and Christiaan Van Vuuren and be in every edit and sound meeting.

“I only wish every producer put as much trust in their writers as Jo did because I think we are both delighted with the results of season two,” he said.

Season two of Netflix teen drama ‘Surviving Summer’.
“I think that’s partly because we were able to collaborate so closely.”

Mapleston and Werner will be hoping to build on the global footprint of the first season, which was released in 60 languages to over 190 countries in June 2022, landing in Netflix’s Top 10 in 43 countries.

Werner, who only pitched the concept to Netflix, believed the quintessential Australian elements also had an aspirational appeal to international audiences.

“I remember talking to our partners at ZDF in Germany about this show, and they just said, ‘You had me at surfing, you had me at Australia, and you had me at summer in Australia’,” she said.

“Every teenager that they could think of would love to go and spend a summer in Australia learning to surf and so the show was an entry point for them to wish they were in the same position.”

The second season of the program comes as debate rages about representations of Australian culture on screen, particularly in children’s and young adult content.

Last month’s inaugural Children’s Content Summit in Coffs Harbour was held on the back of a damning report from the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which reported that locally-made children’s content decreased by more than 84 per cent between 2019 and 2022.

Prior to the summit, Australians Children’s Television Foundation CEO Jenny Buckland described the children’s content as “especially vulnerable” within the broader landscape, given there is no current regulation to ensure its existence.

While Surviving Summer was Werner Film Productions first young adult drama since Dance Academy, which screened in 165 countries, the company has since produced Nicholas Verso’s Crazy Fun Park for the ABC, with the series beating Bluey to claim Most Outstanding Children’s Program at this year’s Logie awards.

Werner said while she would like to see more Australian YA content being made, she believed the country had made strides in the genre across the past few years.

“I do think we’re making more of it now than we used to be and the success of shows like Surviving Summer and Heartbreak High… are showing that we can do it really well and in a way that international audiences connect with.

“Also, really importantly, our Australian audiences are connecting with it.”

The second season of Surviving Summer will be available on Netflix from tomorrow.