To say that North County resident Taylor Steele changed the face of surfing is an understatement. His surf videos from the early 1990s all the way to present day introduced the world to unknown surfers like Rob Machado, Kelly Slater and Shane Dorian, all of whom became legends of the sport.
I first met Steele in 1989 when he walked into a surf shop where I was working. He asked if we would buy some surf videos that he made. Seeing a kid my age selling a surf movie got me instantly hyped and, while the owner wouldn't buy a copy, I did.
The movie was called "One Step Beyond." It was filmed entirely in San Diego and starred then-unknown Rob Machado. Steele was the glue and the visionary who took the hottest surfers and edited their video to blazing punk rock music, reinventing the genre of the surf movie. So much, in fact, that by 2002 Steele ended up on a list of the most powerful people in the surf industry. For someone so highly regarded, Steele has never lost his humble personality or his love of his hometown, San Diego.
I recently caught up with Steele from his home in Australia.
Q: When did you start making surf movies?
A: I started making surf movies when I was 12. I stole the family video camera for my own movie making. They only got the camera back for birthdays and Christmas.
Q: Who were the first people you filmed?
A: My friends and myself would take turns surfing and videoing each other's waves. It went like this: 30 minutes of filming, then one hour of surfing. Everyone rotated. Then we would film the local Seaside pros in between our waves. Guys like Brad Gerlach, Colin Smith, Todd Martin, and a local kid named Rob Machado.
Q: Music is always a key element in your videos. How did you decide on what bands/music to use?
A: I just used the stuff I liked. For my first film, "Momentum," my friend Greg gave me a bunch of music by Pennywise. I was already listening to Sprung Monkey, Dag Nasty and Bad Religion, so those were the bands I wanted to use.
Q: When did you decide to move away from traditional surf films?
A: Well, I love collaboration and helping future filmmakers/surfers, so my Innersection project sort of evolved out of some ideas that I brainstormed with on with a guy named Nathan Myers. I think the more different projects you do, it all comes back to help filmmaking.
Q: You and your family are based in Australia currently. When did you decide to move out of the USA and live abroad?
A: When my wife, Sybil, became pregnant, we decided to raise our kids around the world. It seemed unfair for them to not have roots in some places, so with a little thought we figured out a plan that works for all of us. Every six years we will move to a new place. When we started it was Bali for when the kids were ages of 1-6. Then we moved to Australia for ages 6-12 (first through sixth grade). Our final stop will be Europe for ages 12-18. So far it has worked for us. We are half way through our Oz stop now.
Q: What are some different projects you are currently working on?
A: I've been working on commercials in L.A. and Sydney. It's a nice change, as I can surf more in between jobs. I'm also making short films and working toward making a feature film right now. I also produce a band called MT WARNING that recently played SXSW .
Q: One last thing: If you could go back and tell that 12-year-old version of yourself some advice, what would it be?
A: I would tell my 12-year-old me that it's OK to make mistakes. I think the younger version of myself was too afraid of failure and that kept me from trying things. Also, find what you love to do as a job and work hard at it. I feel I do this part already, but it would be nice to instill this into a younger version of me.
To learn more about Steele's films, visit sippingjetstreams.com.