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Steele, Taylor


Reticent and industrious surf video producer-distributor from Solana Beach, California; creator of the genre-changing Momentum in 1992, and by far the best-selling surf video entrepreneur of the '90s and '00s. "Basically, we don't know what we like," young pro surfer Kalani Robb said in 1998, when asked to comment on the popularity of Steele's videos. "Taylor knows what we like, puts it in the video, and goes, Hey, this is cool. He makes it cool."

Steele was born (1972) and raised in north San Diego County, and began stand-up surfing at age 12, one year after his parents bought him a video camera. He received a C in a video production class during his junior year of high school, but in a similar class the following year he made Seaside and Beyond, starring classmate and future world title contender Rob Machado, and got an A.

In 1991, a few months after graduation, Machado introduced Steele to Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian, Ross Williams, and a number of other teenage surfers who would soon collectively be known as the New School. Steele filmed them in Hawaii, California, and Mexico, edited the footage into brief segments, and scored the footage with loud, fast, raucous songs from his favorite punk bands, including Bad Religion, Pennywise, and Sprung Monkey. Momentum cost about $5,000, and had no plot, narration, slow-motion photography, or water shots. Australian surf journalist Tim Baker described it as a "loud, no-frills production," while the Surfer's Journal called it "a 40-minute shot of adrenaline," and Momentum did in fact make other releases from that year seem slow and stodgy. Steele sold about 15,000 copies of his movie; few video titles, up to that time, had sold more than 5,000 copies.

Steele produced a long string of successful if formulaic videos, including Focus (1994), Good Times (1996), Drifting (1997), All for One (1997), The Show (1998; winner of Surfer magazine's Video of the Year), Loose Change (2000), Hit and Run (2000; the first independent surfing DVD), and Momentum: Under the Influence (2001). Steele's videos became a measuring stick for professional surfers. "If you don't rate a segment in a Taylor Steele flick," Surfer magazine noted, "there's not much to talk about."

Videomakers throughout the '90s meanwhile copied Steel's method, and flooded the market with similar rough, hard- driving product. Steele also proved an adept businessman, setting up a production company (Poor Specimen) and a distribution company (Steelehouse), and overseeing dozens of other video projects, including early works by Kai Neville. He was a cofounder in 1996 for On a Mission, a surf accessories line.

In a stylistic departure, Steele worked with Chris Malloy and Jack Johnson to make the fluid and easygoing Shelter (2001). He continued in this vein with his later, more sophisticated and travel-heavy films like Sipping Jetstreams (2006), The Drifter (2009), and Castles in the Sky (2010).

In 2010 Steele teamed with Surfing magazine editor Nathan Myers to create Innersection, a web-based video competition in which surfers film their own short segments and compete for fan votes. Steele and Myers then spun the Innersection material into other Steele-produced projects. Innersection has been a success, and has helped launch the careers of small-market pros like Matt Meola and Albee Layer. 

Steele was profiled in 50 Years of Surfing on Film (1997), an Outdoor Life Network cable TV series. His music video for Unwritten Law's "Teenage Suicide" was nominated for Billboard's Alternative Music Video of the Year in 1999. In 2001 Steele was cited in an issue of Australia's Surfing Life magazine as one of "Ten Surfing Millionaires"; the following year Surfer magazine named him as one of the "25 Most Powerful People in Surfing." Hallowed Ground, Steele's skateboard video, was named as the 2002 EXPN Sports Video of the Year.

Steele has won awards for Best Cinematography at the 2010 Surfer Poll Awards and the 2010 X-Dance Awards for Castles in the Sky, and the X-Dance Award for Best Director in 2009 for The Drifter. Steele's Here and Now, a film shot entirely in one day, won Best Feature Film at the 2012 New York Surf Film Festival. 

Starting in 2010, Steele has directed the surf-flavored and wildly successful "From Where You'd Rather Be" ad campaign for Corona Beer.