Evolution


Raw, influential 1969 Australian-made surf movie made by Paul Witzig of Sydney; cherished as a document of the opening year of the shortboard revolution, as well as a showcase for teenage sensation Wayne Lynch and 1966 world champion Nat Young.

Evolution was Witzig's second feature-length movie, following The Hot Generation, which bridged the longboard and shortboard eras. All aspects of the surfing life were changing, along with the boards themselves, and Evolution captured the shift. Where Hot Generation was narrated and featured a straight-forward rock soundtrack, Evolution used only terse subtitles—usually just to identify a surfer or surf break—and a druggy free-flowing jazz-acid-rock score by underground bands Tamam Shud and Tully. "For music," one surf magazine reviewer noted, "an Aussie group got stoned out of their minds and made it up as they watched the film."

Evolution, as with virtually all surf films, is a barely-organized montage of surf clips. But its impact was felt across the surf world, mostly in response Lynch, just 16 during most of the filming, who pushed his new sub-seven-foot board up and down the wave face, bounced off the crest, and tucked himself inside the tube; a mere 18 months earlier the focus in surfing had been on trimming and noseriding. "We couldn't get a seat in the theater, so we had to lay on the floor," world champion Peter Townend said years later, recalling his first viewing of Evolution. "And suddenly here's Wayne Lynch doing stuff that we never even thought was possible, coming off the bottom and going vertical through the lip." About one-third of the 65-minute-long Evolution follows Lynch, Young, and 1968 New South Wales champion Ted Spencer as they surf through France, Spain, and Morocco. Another notable section covers the 1968 World Championships, held in Puerto Rico.

Evolution works well as a time capsule for one of surfing's most robust eras. But Witzig's camerawork and editing are flat, the music often drones, and the action gets repetitive. The principals understand this as well as anybody. Lynch once said he'd never actually managed to sit through an entire screening of Evolution, and Witzig himself admitted in 1997 that he'd watched the film recently and "it gave me a headache." Nat Young recalled the moviemaking process: "We were all just hanging out and smoking dope, then going surfing, then coming back and Paul would do some editing. It's a miracle the thing came out as well as it did."

Four song on the Evolution soundtrack are from surf-band-turned-psychedelic-rockers Tamam Shud, who in 1969 released their debut LP, also called Evolution, which includes all their music from the movie.

In 1999, Surfer named Evolution the second-most influential surf movie ever made, behind The Endless Summer.

In 2010, Witzig re-released Evolution as a beautifully remixed, remastered DVD, along with Hot Generation and 1971's Sea of Joy; all three films looked and sounded better than when they toured the surf movie circuit some 40 years earlier.