Netflix made a show for teens. Surfing dads can’t get enough of it

September 16 2023

Afew days ago, Mark Watkins was standing on the front doorstep of his Dundas Street milk bar overlooking the back beach at Rye, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. ‘‘And some of the local kids had a day off school, they’re all around 15 or 16 and some of them compete in surfing at state level,’’ he says. ‘‘And I looked down and I thought, ‘Wow, that is that TV show right there.A good looking bunch of young kids, fit, healthy, surfing – that is exactly it’.’’ The show was Surviving Summer, the second season of which dropped this week on Netflix. It follows aspiring pro surfers in their mid-teens as they battle ambitions, emotions, raging hormones and, of course, rival surfers while striving to be the best they can be. But it’s their battles with the surf that have helped win over an audience well beyond the young adults the show’s makers had in mind – middle aged surfing dads. ‘‘Most surfing shows, you’ll have some good-looking person standing on some beach, and then they’ll go to some random beach hundreds of kilometres away and show them pretend to be surfing, and it just doesn’t look authentic,’’ says Watkins, a 60-yearold grandfather who has been surfing since he was about 10. ‘‘Whereas what they’ve done in this show seems to be pretty good. You go, ‘Oh, I know that spot’. And it looks like all the actors can surf a little bit too, which helps, it makes it seem a bit more seamless.’’ Leading man Kai Lewins does a lot of his own board work, and Liliana Bowrey does all of hers, while young Brazilian actor Joao Gabriel Marinho is convincing as a representative of the brash and talented crop of South Americans who have put their own mark on the sport over the past decade. ‘‘Obviously, they get some pros to do some of the surfing,’’ says Watkins, and he’s correct, ‘‘but it’s pretty authentic. That’s our local beach, that’s some locals surfing, and it’s the local surf break.’’ Surviving Summer centres on the kids of Shorehaven, a fictional town on the coast. To eagle-eyed habitue´s of the Great Ocean Road west of Melbourne, some of the locations might be recognisable: Fairhaven, Anglesea, Torquay, Bells Beach, Aireys Inlet, Lorne. But in season two, the action takes the young cast further afield, as far north as Byron Bay, as the competition steps up. The show was created by producer Jo Werner – who counts The Newsreader, among her credits – and writer Joshua Mapleston. ‘‘We had worked together on Dance Academy and another tween show, Ready for This,’’ says Mapleston. ‘‘We were looking for another project to work on together and Jo had the initial germ of an idea of an American girl (played by Sky Katz) landing in a small Aussie surfing town.’’ By late 2019, Mapleston had the bones of a pilot, and Netflix had expressed interest. From the outset, he was determined that the show have the ring of authenticity. Before he began writing in earnest, he started talking ‘‘to a lot of young, up-and-coming surfers, professional surfers who’d kind of been through the wringer, and started collecting those stories. And the more we talked to people, the more I was really conscious of honouring surf culture, and getting it right.’’ For Russ Logan, a bricklayer from Flinders who has surfed around Australia and in Indonesia, the series represents a welcome recasting of surf culture in contrast to screen versions such as Puberty Blues and Barons. ‘‘I just think, in general, surfing is a pretty good lifestyle,’’ he says. ‘‘The cliched side of it is the drugs, girls, partying sort of thing.’’ It can be that too, of course. But, he adds, ‘‘if you want to stay away from all that sort of ‘bad’ stuff and just lead a good healthy lifestyle, getting out in the water, it’s good, it’s healthy for you.’’ That’s the version of surf culture Surviving Summer presents. Its young protagonists all have ambitions to turn pro, tomakea living or develop a social media following out of the thing they love and have grown up doing. Sure, they like to party too, but that has to fit around the training, the diet, the early morning rides, the long drives to competitions. ‘‘It has a good mixture of drama and surfing in it,’’ Logan says. ‘‘But I think the surfing side of it is really good.’’ About a third of each 30-minute episode is spent in the water. As for the surf dads, Mapleston knows it’s struck a chord because of the way they seek him out to talk about it. ‘‘They can’t help but comment on the surf conditions. They’ll say, ‘Why did you shoot those crap waves in episode six?’ And I’m going, ‘Look, we had six weeks to do the show; sorry, but we couldn’t wait six months for the perfect break’. Surviving Summer season two is on Netflix now.