A cinematically arresting portrait, Peter Alsted’s film gets up close and personal with the world’s most unlikely salt water hero: Denmark’s world champion stand-up paddle surfer Casper Steinfath and his anything but traditional childhood and family life.
What was the biggest challenge in making this film?
I want to say funding the film as this was a huge challenge, but, moreover, it was being available and dependent on the right conditions. Planning the shooting happened on a day-to-day basis and a lot of times we didn’t know what was to happen on any given day or hour until that day or hour was upon us. So there was lots of waiting and then important decisions to be made in the moments before the light ran out as the winter here is very dark. And very cold.
What surprised you the most?
How open Casper was to my idea of making a film from the very beginning. Often it takes time to get close to your character and get their complete trust. But, more or less from the moment we met, I was welcomed in as if part of Casper’s family. Their openness to me and my film project was such a huge help. Not only did it make a lot of things in the process easier but I also made friends for life.
How did you find this story?
I met Casper Steinfath when he was 19 and had just won a world title in SUP. To be honest, I’d never even heard his name mentioned but I immediately felt an urge to find out more about this kid when I saw his skills on the water. When I got a chance to talk to him, I felt his unique personality to be very inspiring. So very little time then passed before I felt a film was in the making. However, I didn’t want to make another surf porn just because I know how to shoot slow-motion. I wanted to make a documentary film, not a 5-10-minute youtube clip but a feature-length cinematic experience. Anybody can shoot some waves and put music on it. And a lot of the sports films and specifically surf films you see are basically just music videos displaying the same trick and wave or competition over and over again, stating the obvious and repeating cliches about traveling and ‘living the dream’. And I think a lot of filmmakers believe it’s all about having the right gear and technology and then you’re all set. To me, all that comes second. The real story comes first. As a filmmaker, I believe that’s the only way to truly inspire other people. By being real, even when it’s ugly. But, at the beginning, I had no idea what the story would be about. Everyone has a story. It’s only a matter of digging it out. Spending time with character(s) is the only way to do it – and hence what filmmaking is all about: Time, patience, and attention. So I spent a lot of time with Casper and it soon became clear to me that he’s had a very special upbringing and lives a very special life. The story I wanted to tell was not specifically about surfing; surfing was just the arena. I wanted to make a film about Casper’s life, a story about life.
Is Casper well known in Denmark?
Surfing is getting more and more popular in Denmark and within that community he is well known. Also, in the isolated fishing village where he grew up, everyone knows him. But generally, he’s not as known as, for example, soccer stars. In time though, I think that will change. Given his special upbringing, the modern dream and urge for authentic stories nowadays, and the rising popularity of water sports in general, it’s a matter of time before everyone knows him.
Does Casper struggle between being a surfer or being a SUPer? Or is it all the same to him?
To Casper, being on the water is all that matters. There are a lot of attitudes from one branch of surfing to the other but Casper embodies both worlds. He has very broad shoulders and is generally a very selfless person in an otherwise ego-dominated community. That’s very rare and even more rare when you consider the level he is on. Again, to Casper, it’s all about having fun on the water, being with friends, and contributing to each other in any way where everyone grows and learns. Whatever board or ‘medium’ you then use in that process, it doesn’t matter.
It is clear that Casper and his family are in love with life and with the ocean. The cinematography in the film also seems to be in love with life and the ocean. Explain this. It is a very visually arresting film…and I watch way too many surf films. Are you a surfer?
I’m a surfer, yes. I’ve always wanted to make some sort of surf or snowboard documentary since I was plowing my first powder, chasing friends in the French Alps with a camera in my hands (pre-GoPro and Internet-era). So finding a story and character like Casper was a dream of mine. And I wanted to portray this passion with the elements as my muse. The changing and often unpredictable conditions of nature came to set the stage for the framework of the film. And in a sense, I wanted- through filmmaking- to better understand my own passion and love for the ocean and for life.
Describe the special bond between Casper and his brother and their parents. It sure seems that they feed each other in life.
Casper and his brother had a very unique upbringing, traveling the world and being home-schooled most of the time. That lifestyle takes courage and sacrifices but the gift they’ve gained in the process is that special bond and playfulness that you see on screen. It’s very admirable and inspiring. Being on the road as kids, Casper and his brother became best friends and have stayed that way ever since. Different as they are, they push and help each other in all situations and when you’re around them you feel they know each other on the deepest level not only because they share a passion, but also because they’ve experienced so many things together that have paved the way for their strong brotherly bond. Also, their parents included them in their lifestyle. They didn’t treat them as fragile children or overprotect them. They were included in all aspects of their parents’ life, weren’t sent to bed when there was a party or friends came over. In general, they weren’t viewed as children but as equal humans. Small humans who just needed a little guidance from the bigger humans.