The 28-year-old filmmaker documents the best surfing in the world
About a third of the way into John Florence’s new film, View From A Blue Moon, Florence stands oh-so-stylishly in the mouth of a yawning turquoise barrel. This envy-inducing scene was filmed from the channel at the Box on a state-of-the-art RED camera. The man who sat behind the lens, bobbing in the cold, shark-infested waters of Western Australia, was Erik Knutson.
Knutson, who grew up surfing and competing with Florence on the North Shore, considers himself lucky to capture moments like these. But if good fortune has had anything to do with his success as a filmmaker, his studious mind and consummate desire to learn have been equal drivers.
Roughly three years ago, before he was crisscrossing the globe with camera in tow, Knutson was attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa and working part time sanding and glassing boat hulls under the tutelage of his father, a marine surveyor. After graduating, he figured he’d follow in his father’s footsteps and embrace the maritime industry. The thought of traveling around the world to document the most mind-boggling surfer of this generation hadn’t even occurred to him.
“When I was younger, I would make lo-fi, homemade films just for fun,” says Knutson. “When I was 15, we made a short movie starring Mason Ho and John and we called it The Future [Laughs]. But I definitely stepped away from filming and cinematography when I started college and pursued other things.”
But then one day, while hanging with Florence and his mom, Alex, at the beach, the two suggested Knutson turn his hobby of filmmaking into a career and join Florence’s filmmaking ensemble (which, at the time, consisted only of Florence and Blake Kueny).
“The rest is kind of history,” says Knutson. He swapped lo-fi for hi-fi and started working with film veterans in both the surf and Hollywood film industries to develop his skills as an all-around cinematographer.
“As John [Florence] came in, Ian [Walsh] turned to me and said, ‘Wow, that was the most incredible session I’ve ever witnessed on the North Shore, and you got to film it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I do every single day!’”
Tony Nagy, Knutson’s longtime buddy and a Hollywood cameraman, was able to get Knutson on set and at his side each time a big-time production materialized in Hawaii.
“I figured if I understood the world of Hollywood cinematography, it would only better our production of surfing,” explains Knutson. “So I shadowed Tony when he was working on Godzilla, The Hunger Games, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Sonny Miller and I also got to work on Ride, featuring Helen Hunt and Luke Wilson. That’s when I learned all about filming from the water.”
A few months later, he was following Florence around the world and capturing many of the boosts, barrels, and carves that blew our minds in web clips such as Free to Roam, Again, and Enjoy.
This year, Knutson donned his director’s hat with Being A Surfer Is Fun, a seven-minute montage for the REDirect Surf filmmaking competition featuring Florence jumping off waterfalls, picking his nose, and surfing peaky Australian beachbreaks. It was a playful look at everything we love about surfing and traveling, and the piece resonated with a wide range of surfers, subsequently earning Knutson the Fan Favorite award.
Knutson acknowledges the awesomeness of his current vocation. He feels the same way that we do when watching Florence surf. “When you’re watching him, or in my case filming him, he’s so good that when his session is over, you feel like you were the one surfing,” says Knutson. “Last winter, Ian Walsh showed up at the beach to surf, but didn’t even end up paddling out. He just took his leash off and stood next to me on the beach while I was filming. As John came in, Ian turned to me and said, ‘Wow, that was the most incredible session I’ve ever witnessed on the North Shore, and you got to film it?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I do every single day!’ It still blows me away to get to see that level of surfing firsthand.”