With unprecedented access SURF NATION is a feature-length observational documentary that tells a story beginning in Hainan, China’s southernmost province where hundreds of athletes as young as 9-years-old train as part of the Chinese National Surf team. These young recruits have left their families around the country and are paid to become surfers with Olympic aspirations.
Shot in a tropical paradise with miles of empty beaches, aspiring athletes and their international coaches live in an old hotel that has become the hub of surfing in China. The kids surf and take classes six days a week. The pressure of failure looms over them as weak performance means dismissal. Their Australian coaches teach technique and surfing’s central attribute: individuality, in a culture that demands conformity. Over a period of two years, we follow two of China’s top surfers, Alex and Lolo, as they train with the team, compete and discover what they want their lives to be.
Producer Diane Quon is from Lake Forest and is an Academy Award-nominated producer who worked as a marketing executive for 17 years at NBC and at Paramount Pictures. Jessica Q. Chen is one of the directors and producers of the documentary, she is a Chinese American filmmaker and video producer at the Los Angeles Times. Jeremiah M. Bogert Jr is another of the directors and producers of Surf Nation, he is currently a photo editor at The New York Times and has more than 25 years of experience producing award-winning visual stories. Nevo Shinaar is a creative producer based in Chicago. His award-winning films have played at film festivals including Sundance, SXSW, AFI Docs and Palm Springs, acquired by Disney+, HBO Max, The Criterion Channel, POV/PBS, and The New York Times,
Lolo, Chinese National Surf team member, 22
Lolo doesn’t want a traditional life for a Chinese woman and makes some unconventional choices despite her parents’ disapproval. Once she learned to surf at age 19, Lolo decided not to attend university or work in an office. She also decides not to marry her controlling fiancé. Instead, she joins the surf team for the housing and monthly stipend, but the rigorous training soon smothers her joy of surfing. Dreaming of a ‘surfing life,’ something as yet undefined in China, she eventually leaves the team to pursue this goal.
Alex, Chinese National Surf team member, 17.
Alex is the best surfer in China and his dream is to compete among the world’s top surfers. While he’s China’s best chance for winning an Olympic medal, his rebellious nature is displayed by his contempt for the strict training program and the leaders who run it. Raised by his single father, Alex dropped out of school at age six and is used to living a life without many rules. His heroes include Kelly Slater, and his natural talent has caught the attention of Western sponsors who see him as a gateway to sell their products to the world’s largest consumer market.
As the pressure of competing mounts, Alex walks away from the team only to have a change of heart. He eventually returns to the team to reclaim his place at the top.
The Chinese National Surf Team
Shortly after surfing became an official Olympic sport in 2016, the Chinese Olympic Committee established an official training program in a country with no widespread surfing culture. Most of the best kids were recruited from Hainan, a tropical island in the South China Sea. Other provinces recruited kids from swimming and gymnastics programs. After a year, a couple hundred athletes from around the country had arrived to train at the academy. In their first appearance at the International Surfing Association world championships the Chinese team finished last. The next year they finished in the middle of nearly 50 other teams. The emphasis is on consistent progress and close monitoring of individual development. The stakes for the 4surfers are high, and those who do not show consistent progress lose their salaries and are sent home.
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