Even for those who have never stood on a surfboard, it’s not hard to imagine the exhilaration of the sport – the immediacy of fear-tinged thrills, the might and weight of the seawater, the wonder of moving with and across waves. And when surfers describe the feeling of freedom, the connection with nature and the camaraderie that they find in their pursuit, most of us can probably come up with our own analogous experiences, even if they’re less obviously adventurous or skilful. The short documentary Live to Sea offers a rich sense of these and other aspects of surfing, but another theme also pulses through the film and transforms its story into one that resonates in unexpected ways.
Freddie Meadows, the Swedish surfer at the centre of this saga, speaks frequently of his dreams, not just in the sense of aspirations and objectives, but also as something akin to visions. To be sure, this more mystical strand of dream is inseparable from his primary goal, which is to find the rare and elusive waves in the Baltic Sea that can challenge and excite a professional surfer. But he has a curious turn of phrase – ‘dreaming myself into all these places’ – that he tends to use to describe a kind of imagining that lets him see what he has not yet found. That something so intuitive and internal is central to how he seeks those waves gives his striving the shape and valence of the classic hero’s journey.
The film follows the archetypal quest narrative described by Joseph Campbell in 1949, from ‘The Call to Adventure’ to the eventual ‘Return’, via a period of training in Portugal, international surfing competitions and a period of illness. But it’s the emotional journey of Meadows in relation to substantial physical and psychological obstacles that ties his story to the grander narratives that are so familiar in literature and mythology. This is not to say that the story itself reaches the heights or profundity of epics such as Gilgamesh, The Odyssey or Parzival, but there is compelling psychological grist swirling within this extreme sports documentary. While the imagery of Sweden’s rugged coastline and the mysterious swells of the Baltic have a palpable power on screen, it’s the internal undertow of Meadows’s dream-questing that can move us to consider our own paths to self-development and self-knowledge.
A film by Maceo Frost, Henning Sandström & Freddie Meadows
Produced by Freddie Meadows, Sand Film & Nuet Film in collaboration with New-Land
Director of Photography: Henning Sandström