The Search For Freedom | An Interview With Filmmaker Jon Long

Esteemed Filmmaker Jon Long Talks New Documentary, SUP and the future of Action Sports



Tonight across America, The Search For Freedom—a new documentary about the living in the moment by engaging in the wide world of action sports—will be showing in more than 75 major cities. It features breathtaking footage and personal interviews with some of the world’s best athletes from all sectors of sport—including Kai Lenny and Robby Naish as representatives of standup paddle. It's the blood, sweat and tears of filmmaker Jon Long, who's long list of successful documentaries includes Sacred Planet and Extreme, an Imax film about life on the edge. We caught up with Mr. Long to get his take on the film, SUP, and SUP's role in the future of action sports. Mini-spoiler: Long predicts SUP will rise, rise, rise, all the way to the top.

SUP: Tell us about your inspiration for the theme "The Search for Freedom."

JL: The initial intention was to tell the story of the evolution and cultural phenomenon of action sports. I started doing interviews with people who were pioneers early on, as well as with people who are currently pushing the boundaries. The concept of freedom kept coming up with so many different people. I decided to focus on that as the central theme of the movie.

In telling the story of the evolution of action sports, what remains constant is the aspect of freedom in the moment. When you're dropping into a wave airing off a massive jump or bouncing down a rapid, you're not thinking about anything else. You're free of all your other thoughts, caught up in that very instant. The reason why most people do these sports is for that experience of living in the moment and doing the things they love to do.

What did you hope people would take away from this film?

These sports are accessible to everyone. In this film, rather than try to show the barriers or differences between the different action sports, I wanted to show how they are actually a reflection of one another and of the audience. For most people, the very first time they try one of these sport, they get that feeling and it's what they chase from then on. Like for Robby Naish; every day, at one time or another, he has to get in the water. He lives for that feeling. Most people who do these sports are just trying to connect with that feeling all the time.

Even if you don't do these sports, the film is still something you can relate to. The imagery is mind-blowing, and the athletes in it are so good at conveying the feelings it gives us. It makes the subject more accessible and approachable to people who aren't familiar. Hopefully it inspires some people to give these sports a try.

What was the experience like working with Kai and Robby?

I've worked with Robby Naish before for an Imax film I made. I've been saying this since making that film: he's so talented with what he does, but at the same time he's so humble. He would be the guy phoning the film crew in the morning and telling them where the surf was going to be good, when we should get on it. He loves it so much. It's such an honor for us to be able to collaborate with Robby.

Kai's very close to Robby and kinda considers him his mentor. We did a lot of shots of them together—both wind surfing and standup paddleboarding. They were both great to work with—cool, down to earth guys and very open in their conversations. I think they're going to inspire a lot of people.

Why did you include SUP in the film and how does it fit in among the other action sports?

Relative to other action sports, SUP is fairly new. I think SUP is really relevant to the action sports community because it's so new. And this film is about accessibility, not exclusivity. SUP is so accessible. It's one of those things that you don't need to be an expert to have fun with. Pretty much anyone can get on that board, and it's totally up to them how far or extreme they want to take it.

I think the experience of being able to connect with the natural environment in so many ways—whether it's the river or the lakes or the ocean—gives SUP the potential to surpass a lot of these sports. I've noticed its growth in my hometown and everywhere else with water. There are standup paddleboards everywhere. I can't wait to see where it's going to go, but I have a feeling it will be far.