Surfer: Cortney Brown

By now, you’ve hopefully seen the visual masterpiece Society Unseen, which features Kerby Brown and friends surfing southwest Australia’s most diabolical ocean folds. Filmmaker Rick Rifici captured the vulgarity of these waves and juxtaposed it perfectly with brilliant camera work and seamless post-production. But the three-minute clip offered several questions and barely any answers. Who were these guys? Where did they get a helicopter? It comes across as a teaser, but to what?

I decided to chat with Mr. Rifici for some much needed answers.

Surfing: I just saw the new Society Unseen teaser, and, wow. Are you behind all of this?

Rick: Yeah, but it’s not just me. It all started as a bunch of friends who would go hunting for waves in the southwest. It just so happened that a couple of our friends were quite wealthy – they had a chopper and big boats – and I ‘ve got all the top tier camera gear, then we had the surfers like Kerby and Brad Norris and we just figured, We might as well be shooting all of this.

So you guys just started to do all this on your own, without any bigger picture ideas?

Yup, we just started to film and collaborate on all these trips, and now we’re sitting on a wealth of clips from the past few years.

Who is funding this whole program?

We are! I already have the camera gear, then our buddies lend us some skis and helis, and the surfers help out with the rest.

Surfer: Kerby Brown
Surfer: Kerby Brown
Surfer: Kerby Brown. Photos: Silas Mountford

You guys just dropped your three-minute teaser clip, but what are you planning on doing with the rest of the footage?

We’re not sure which direction we’d like to take it at the moment – maybe a feature film or a TV series. We’re still focusing on chasing swells and gathering footage at this stage. The teaser video was more of just a vibe clip, just to let people know what we’re doing, the toys we’re working with, etc.

Yeah the production value of this whole thing looks incredibly high. Can you tell me about that?

It’s all shot on Phantom 4k Flex and RED Dragon. We’ve used all different types of helicopter mounts and steady cams. Most of our gear is from a boutique company in Australia called Cinemachine, which I guess you could say is the Australian version of Brain Farm.

Do you have any crazy stories from these trips that you could share?

I remember one time we went down to this wave that was super sucky and shallow, and the boys wanted to have a dig. I was a little bit hesitant about letting them surf because it was so shallow – deadly really. You look at Teahupo’o and you think probably 7/10 waves are makeable, whereas out here it’s maybe 2/10. Most of them just end up on dry reef, and when you’re 25 kilometers out to sea, that’s a bad idea. But anyway I see this massive boat coming towards us, they must have seen the skis on the radar or something, and they started following us around a bit. We were dodging them, as we weren’t meant to be out so far on skis, but then I thought, Let’s head back to that wave and start surfing it. If they keep following us, then we’ll have backup in case anyone happens to get hurt. So we ended up surfing it for 2 or 3 hours and got some of the best waves from the clip, and then the fishermen called us over to tell us how stoked they were to watch us surf. We thought we were in big trouble, but they were all legends!

Surfer: Bradley Norris
Surfer: Kerby Brown
Surfer: Bradley Norris

Wow, I didn’t realize these waves were so far out to sea. How are you finding out about them?

One of the other guys in our group, Chris White, comes from a professional bodyboarding background. Those boys seem to find everything, and they do a good job of keeping quiet. Most of the slabs we surf today are thanks to bodyboarders. Everytime we go out there we’re on the lookout for new setups too, and we’ve found several waves by just sniffing around.

How did you get inspired to shoot these types of waves, as opposed to the more-normal, but still exceptionally good waves of West Oz?

I was just good friends with Kerby, and he was always going to surf these waves that no one had ever surfed before, and I figured why not film it. It’s exciting every time we go out. I think the footage speaks for itself.

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