Skip to content

This Is Northern New South Wales


Damn, I’m in a quandary, I mean a real pickle. I have spent many years writing for the surf industry, favouring the sport’s history and back-stories over the interviews with contemporary masters.

So when I nestled myself in front of Drift, I both didn’t know what I would make of it or how I would review it. So I’ll just make it honest and concise…

Jimmy and Andy Kelly are surf-obsessed grommets living in the urban sprawl of 1960s Sydney. Sick of the beatings and abuse, Mum Kat packs them into their EH and drives them off to Perth.

An inconvenient breakdown lands them in Margaret River and the family of three is destined to stay.

Fast-forward to 1972 and the kids are all grow’d up. Older brother Andy is toiling in a lumberyard to try and keep both ends met, while young Jimmy is spending most of his days on the other side of the tracks.


The pair band together, align their efforts, surf big waves, fall for the same girl, lose money, win money and come up smelling of roses after a near-death experience.

Yaddah-yaddah, blah, blah…

Now here’s where it gets tricky for me: I walked out of that theatre totally stoked! I was itching for a surf and about ready to rip up my tenancy form, grab my twin-fin and take off into the wide-blue.

That’s what my adrenal gland told me. But when Mr. Mind calmed it down and spoke out, I couldn’t hold back the anti-climax. In so many ways, Drift fell flat on its face without even making it out of the starting blocks.

So, it’s 1972-73. This is a time when our fair little town of Byron Bay had barely even seen its first surfers. The community was just starting to build, living on an entirely self-sustaining wing and a prayer. But the brothers Kelly somehow managed to have a thriving surf shop, an international surf contest and global renown from the surfing backwater of Margaret River.

Added to that slightly enthusiastic outlook, the pair seem to get their surfboard manufacturing supplies on overnight freight, perform maneouvres more than a decade earlier than reality and tow in to waves, a concept not thought about until twenty years later.

There is a myriad of historical errs and foibles in a film that so vehemently promotes itself as based in factual events, and from that perspective, an unripe lemon would have sweetened the bitter taste left in my mouth.

But somehow, it came good. A mass of nostalgic Australiana, such as kombis, cardigans, and weatherboard shacks, to tips to surfing’s forbears – with numerous obscure characters with names like Richards, Townsend, Mark and Pat and a cover of the Morning Of The Earth tune Delightful Rain heard on the soundtrack – all add up to saving this movie from the gutter.

Surfing celebrities, such as Ross Clarke-Jones, Dave Delroy-Carr and Craig Anderson, lend their talents to the water footage and the producers have done their best to hold integrity, but Drift unfortunately doesn’t muster more than a clichéd, Aussie spin on Point Break with a bit of history thrown in.


But let’s look at its predecessors: the aforementioned Point Break, North Shore, Blue Crush, even Frankie Avalon’s ’64 classic, Muscle Beach Party. They are as true to surfing as a hydrophobic giraffe, but that doesn’t make we with salt in our veins absolutely stoked.

Despite itself, Drift is a great film, and for us, what makes it even more enjoyable is that it is (loosely) based on our history in our back yard.

It isn’t without a touch of nausea that I say it (and fear of a flaming brown bag on my doorstep tomorrow morning), but if you enjoy surf films, Australian history or Australian surfing history films, pay the piper, go watch and I defy you to emerge without the slightest grin and elevated heart rate.

Review by: Tommy Leitch – | courtesy of Palace Cinemas. Byron Bay