Wax On, Wax Off: “The Drifter,” Starring Rob Machado

The Drifter tells the story of a period of time Rob Machado spent in Indonesia. Directed by surf film favorite Taylor Steele, the movie explores the wanderings of an introspective, soulful athlete on some kind of a search for solitude or meaning or communion with nature . . . the movie isn't exactly clear about this. But one thing is very clear–the surfing footage is incredible. Machado rides glassy Indonesian barrels backlit with warm, tropical light, often by himself. Choosing, as he often does, to ride one of his signature fishes most of the time, he surfs with his unique style that makes surfing look so easy and fun.

The great surfing footage is punctuated by periods of travel through Indonesian streets and countrysides. At one point, Machado even adopts a rickety little motorcycle as his primary mode of transportation. Lots of these moments are obviously staged, like the ones where you've got Rob riding the bike next to some “secluded” rice patties. Or the scene where he spends lots of time reading alone by the beach. Nevermind the presence of the camera crew that's capturing all this.

And some of the exchanges with Indonesians, as well as the frequent voiceovers, are stereotypical and painfully over-acted. The filmmakers couldn't help but take a page from the playbook of Into the Wild, dubbing in sappy journal entries and meditations on solitude over effects-ridden montages of Rob staring depressingly out of car windows. The two major differences are that the writing isn't as good or thoughtful as it was in Into the Wild, and surfing, of course, remains the main topic at hand.

But what the film lacks in philosophy, acting and literary prowess, it makes up for with some of the best surf footage that's come out in awhile. It also posseses a fairly seemless editing style that indeed takes you on a journey through Indonesia. Bad acting and cheesy voiceovers aside, any surfer who looks at the lonely beaches and empty barrels Machado rides gets it. The idea of surfing in these conditions, and of a guy like Rob leaving the troubles of professional surfing behind for awhile, speaks for itself loudly.

The Drifter is currently touring the U.S. and will be stopping in Orange County on Nov. 19, when it screens at South Coast Cinemas in Laguna Beach. Get tickets early, because this movie is already turning out to be very popular with the new generation of soul-searching, nature-loving bohemian surfers. The DVD is available, too, at http://store.robmachado.com/.

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