For those late to the party, WEB is the latest short feature from our beloved Yentl Touboul featuring our dear friend Erwin Bliss.
You may remember us throwing a post-Covid social distancing premiere several weeks back for it.
Over a year in the making the pair have been quietly grafting away with the support of RVCA Europe, chasing waves across Europe, Erwin’s halfway home in Australia, as well as returning to their childhood Caribbean coastline for added nostalgia.
The result is a refreshingly honest portrayal of Erwin by someone who knows him best. Cut to a soundtrack of punk fuelled angst, WEB acts as a candid insight into Erwin’s world, expertly shot & edited across multiple mediums by our very own Yeezy.
To coincide we decided to sit Yentl down to discuss the making of WEB as well as cast an insight into his journey from island roots to dropping 10 minute surf bangers.
WT: What was life like growing up in the Caribbean?
Yentl Touboul: Growing up in Caribbean was amazing. There’s warm weather and fun waves pretty much all the time which is basically all you can dream of as a kid. I feel like from the age of 14, I spent every single weekend hanging out outdoors with my friends, so I can’t help but feel really lucky.
As you get older however you can easily feel trapped: at the end of the day it’s a 80 km long island, and you soon get to know every corner and group of people pretty quick. By the time I was in high school, I was ready to move on and discover somewhere new, which I did as soon as I graduated.
You and Erwin have been lifelong friends. How did you first meet? And how has your friendship evolved over the years?
Erwin and I met when I was around 11 years old—he’s a year younger than me so he was 10 at the time. His Uncle taught me how to surf and one day he mentioned that his nephew had just moved from the North of France to Guadeloupe and that I should meet him. Erwin didn’t even surf at the time. He would cruise on a bodyboard at first but he quickly picked up a surfboard and within a few years he was already landing punts and surfing better than our entire crew of friends.
Around that age I got a pretty nasty leg injury and got hold of a Mini-DV camera so I could still hang at the beach and spend the weekends with my friends. I got super into it and we carried on filming each other, and I’d then put all the footage together in little videos. This was 2011 and surf blogs were the new big things: everybody was doing web edits which got us hyped to do our own thing, and we started uploading our edits on a Vimeo channel every month or so. My mom worked in a screen printing company at the time, so we made t-shirts with our crew’s logo & stickers… we were fully doing it!
Erwin then moved to Hossegor when he was 16 and I followed a few years later. By then he had signed with Globe, so we put the band back together so to speak and started to film again. RVCA then followed 3 years ago and they’ve been really supportive, allowing us to get on the road and film projects such as this one.
photo: Max Zappas
How would you describe Erwin for those who haven’t heard from him?
Erwin is just a unique specimen on so many levels. He has a unique personality and his influences are miles away from what you’re used to meeting in the surf world. I swear he barely watches surf videos at all. He mainly feeds from Die Antwoord music videos, Rage Against the Machine and old car tuning magazines. I think he sees himself more like a street-skater or a rapper from Queens than a surfer. He surfs his own shapes (he used to work for Stretch in Australia and now has his own label bLISS) and doesn’t care much about what people think of him, which is really refreshing coming from Europe, as most people here (apart from a few exceptions) are contest-focused and don’t really do anything original. I’m proud to count him as one of my best friends.
You started filming in Australia but then came back to Europe and even returned to the Caribbean. Was that the original plan or did it happen by chance?
Erwin spends half of his life in Australia working as a shaper, so it was just a question of time for me to go and pay him a visit.
We first connected in Indonesia last August, and then spent 2 weeks cruising on the South Coast of NSW riding with ‘Milky’, his white Mercedes van. We then connected again in France in September, filmed a bit there and carried on in Portugal where we spent 10 days. Erwin then had to fly back to Australia, and sadly I couldn’t make it this time as I had some jobs lined up in Europe. We got super lucky though as he managed to link up with Jason Yeoman, Wes Grant, Todd Barnes and Max Zappas—four filmmakers who did a killer job and really helped the last sequence come together.
Erwin’s Australian visa then ended in March and we decided to meet in Guadeloupe to shoot the last sequence. At this point Covid-19 hadn’t really hit Europe. It felt so distant and it didn’t worry us when heading to Caribbean… weird to see how wrong we were. We’d been there for a week and had two days of really fun waves when things started to escalate very quickly. Cases started popping and the French government declared a full lockdown with police check-points and helicopters flying over the coast of the island, so we quickly understood it was game over. Erwin flew back to stay with his family in France and I decided to stay with my parents. When restrictions started being lifted two months later (it was June by then) I flew back to Hossegor where the hard drives with all the footage were. We bagged a few more clips and started working on the edit, as it was pretty clear we weren’t gonna be able to go back on the road anytime soon.
In terms of choosing places to shoot, was there a particular trip that stood out?
Australia definitely stood out for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it was my first time ever out there. I was always drawn by the landscapes of Australia. The variety of climates, raw untouched spaces and the rich wildlife always felt so iconic to me. Growing up in Caribbean, Australia is pretty much the furthest place on earth you can go to (not to mention the price of the ticket…), so finally getting to check it out was memorable. The fact that Erwin and Tito Lavole, two of my best friends now call Australia home and showed me around made things even better. Scoring uncrowded waves with them there felt extra-special.
Any standout moments or weird situations you guys experienced whilst shooting?
Weird situations… We went to Indonesia for two weeks and only bagged four clips. That alone is weird. We went to Portugal (which is Erwin and I’s favorite place to shoot in Europe) and got only one clip in 10 days. That was probably the biggest skunk of all. When thinking about it, filming for WEB was definitely a succession of unbelievable skunks. It was pretty much filming and getting absolutely nothing for one month, then everything would click and we’d get enough for a sequence in a day. It was nerve-wracking at times but also really gratifying when everything would click.
What’s it like filming with one of your best friends? Was there a clear concept to begin with? How did you guys liaise about the visual style in portraying Erwin’s surfing and personality?
Erwin and I share a lot of common influences, whether it’s about music, clothing, visual arts, and being really good friends it was just super easy to discuss the concept of the video beforehand. I feel like we also both trust each other’s abilities so it makes things so much more natural. Erwin and I both agreed on the mood we wanted from the start: Caribbean and Australia both have a certain eeriness behind the ‘blue sky and palm trees’ looks and Erwin liked the idea of trying to capture this.
Overall Erwin is one of my favourite persons to be on the road with; he’s always super keen to spend hours in the water until we get the clips & is always down for beers and a game of pool (or 10) once the day is over. Some of our skunk missions weirdly ended up being some of the best memories from the project.
Editing-wise, Erwin fully trusted me on this one. Once I came back to France in June after spending two months away from my hard drives, I pretty much locked myself in the cave for 4 weeks and luckily he liked what came out of it… We tweaked a few details and filmed a few more things (the skating & glassing sequences) but overall not much changed from the first cut.
The process felt pretty similar for both of them actually. Erwin was with Tito and I when we filmed for Paarkesine and Tito joined us on the Indo and Australia trips when we filmed for WEB, so the vibes felt familiar.
The biggest change was having RVCA Europe supporting us financially on this project: Paarkesine was fully independent, which can become super expensive especially if you want to shoot a bit of super 8 and 16mm. Having RVCA involved really enabled us to shoot the things we wanted to shoot the way we wanted to shoot them.
You’ve built up a solid body of work in a short space of time ranging from surf, skate and documentary. Is there one you prefer over others?
I love shooting short documentaries. Getting to meet new people from all origins, and learning about their story, their experiences and their vision of life is always super inspiring. Filming for these projects also puts you in a lot of unplanned situations, and despite it being scary as you’re never in full control, it leaves room for a lot of randomness and candid moments to happen.
I have to say that there’s something about putting together surf and skate videos that excites me more than anything though. I just love the intensity that comes with traveling to film bangers, whether it’s scoring amazing waves on the other side of the globe or witnessing someone grind a rail after the 50th try. Skaters and surfers put so much work in these moments that it really motivates you to do the best job you can behind the lens to do them justice. Traveling to the other side of the globe, dragging mountains of gear and spending all this money can be nerve-wrecking at times (especially when you get skunked) but being part of such a common effort and witnessing the stars align once in a while feels extra-special.
Who do you take inspiration from when approaching your visual work?
Growing up in Guadeloupe, we didn’t have much of a scene, so currently counting so many talented people as my friends is super inspiring. Robin Pailler is probably one of the most gifted filmmakers & editor I know of, on top of being a top class human. Being able to learn the ropes and team with him on so many projects the past four years has been a blessing. Seeing Pierre David & Doug Guillot coming from the surf and skate documentary world and transition to fashion films, music videos and bigger productions has been super inspiring too. Guillem Cruells & Kylian Castells are also two super talented filmmakers from Spain that I’m proud to call my friends. Working on these surf films together these past few years have been some of my favorite moments on the road.
Other than that, I got to mention the work of Pontus Alv—all of his full length films are masterpieces. The name Frank Ockenfels also comes to mind straight away when thinking of photography. His portrait work, and unconventional use of gear is mind blowing. Then of course, Kubrick and Lynch. Both geniuses at building mystical worlds and atmospheres.
What’s next for you? Are there any more projects in the work?
I’d be lying if I said that the pandemic isn’t a hard hit. Several projects I was preparing for were canned and not being able to travel is a bummer, but that’s how it goes.
There’s a few bits here and there though; I’ve been filming for a new Wasted Talent & Vans short film around Biarritz… you should be seeing glimpses of that pretty soon.
I’ve also been working on another independent surf film since more than a year, whilst visiting friends around the globe: I spent a few weeks with Tito Lavole and Jai Walsh in Australia after filming for WEB, went to Benny Howard’s in Port Macquarie. I was meant to be in Australia at this point to finish the project but Covid-19 had other plans… everything is still up in the air, but I’m somehow sure things will align in the near future though.