BASK Vol. III: A Deep Dive into Ōtepotiís Newest Creative Community

BASK Vol. III: A Deep Dive into Ōtepotiís Newest Creative Community

There’s something about this city. Something that made Chris Knox pick up a guitar, Taika Waititi envision a film set in his dingy student flat, and Steven Malkmus refer to us ‘home-baking Kiwis’ in Pavement’s recently blown-up TikTok hit Harness your Hopes. We come here and we stay here for a reason: Dunedin is like nowhere else. Your neighbours are your mates, and your mates are your neighbours; there’s always day drinks when the sun is out, and there’s always gigs when there’s somewhere to hold them. There are beaches everywhere, and it's the best student culture in the world. 

A similar tale is told by Isaac ‘Chaddy’ Chadwick, Sam Charlesworth, and Rocket O’Leary, a group of young musicians and filmmakers whose latest creative project BASK III highlights the unique Dunedin student culture. The three St. Clair local legends migrated south to capitalise on Dunedin’s culture and pursue their various passions. Perhaps it’s sheer luck that they met, but more likely it’s the extreme concentration of students and subsequent everyone-knows-everyone-ness of Ōtepoti life.  

The BASK series is the creative love child of Dunedin resources and student ambition. Over the past three years, Chaddy has been producing a film a year - recounts of his student life and experiences. The films are raw, real, well-made and creative, focusing primarily on the surfing culture of Ōtepoti. The films aren't limited to surfing, though; what makes them so outstanding is the glimpse they offer into the world of Ōtepoti student surfers: the house parties, dusty sunrise surfs, couch burnings, skate competitions and gigs. This year Chaddy premieres his final film of the three, shot and edited over the past 12 months. 

“The films came about really organically,” said Chaddy, “I had been taking some photos and videos of the boys surfing when we met in 2020, and then one day we were just driving out to the beach and it came up that we could throw a clip together.” Chaddy explained that what had started as a lighthearted, spur of the moment idea quickly grew to be a major project, driven by his passion and surroundings: “I thought: wait, I love filmmaking. I love surfing,” he said. “In Dunedin, you're free. You’re away from home, away from parents. You can do whatever you want here. From there, BASK just kind of kept growing and growing.”

Two BASK films (aptly BASK: VOLUME I and BASK: VOLUME II) are currently available on YouTube. Each is a carefully curated, easy-viewing portrait of Dunedin student life. The second film shows some clear advances from the first, in terms of gear and technology, experience behind the camera and confidence to take risks from the film’s director, Chaddy. The quality of both films and Chaddy’s quick improvement has meant the BASK series has turned a lot of heads in the New Zealand film and journalism industries; he has even been approached by New Zealand Surf Journal and was taken on as a writer due to his films. Chaddy is determined to make this third film of the series his best yet, and has enlisted the help of other talented and passionate locals to make BASK III as powerful and representative of Dunedin in 2022 as it can be. 

With the first film, Chaddy “just wanted to capture everything I was experiencing as I was experiencing it, and put it all into this really raw, grommy film”. The young director feels like he took the second film of the series a little too seriously at times, trying to make an intense, refined, cinematically correct piece. “This third one is an exhibition of everything I've learned”, explained Chaddy, “as well as taking that naivety and innocence from Volume I and putting it in there with the skill, knowledge, and gear I have gained since I started.”

Part of creating something grommy is to get a bunch of groms on board. Sam Charlesworth is not only one of the main surfers in BASK III; he’s also the mastermind behind the film’s soundtrack. Frontman of the band The Beatniks, with a handful of albums under his belt, Sam is another example of the self-perpetuating cycle of Dunedin creativity: the city attracts people due to its culture, and the people who come here make the culture stronger. “The city definitely inspires a lot of what I do now,” explained Sam. “I still create music how I always have, but when you’re creating, it’s your body and mind channelling everything around you into one thing. So, whether you acknowledge it or not, everything is an influence - the weather, the city, the people.”

The BASK series is often complimented for its rawness and realness. Chaddy says his favourite reaction to the films is when “Old Scarfies” tell him the film reminds them of their grom days. Chaddy felt that a natural step for the third and final film, in order to really offer a representative picture of the surf scene, was to involve as many people in the filmmaking process as possible. “I feel like it creates a more accurate and truthful representation of what I'm capturing,” he said. Sam explained that the third film would still be “grungy and kind of hectic” like the past two, but with music to match: “some of the tracks are kind of lo-fi; raw, but still high quality. A lot of it is super, super grungy, gritty rock music.”

Taylor ‘Rocket’ O’Leary thinks the success of the films is based on a combination of the quality and quantity of surf in Dunedin, as well as the unmistakably Dunedin student experience captured throughout the series, as the surfers move from Castle Street out to St. Clair and St. Kilda. Rocket explained that what made BASK stand out alongside commercial surf films was that the latter are “real serious and pretty uptight. [Commercial filmmakers] have been given a budget, and they're trying to make the film so that they make money, whereas, for us, with the original music and surf wipeouts and crook shit, it’s just students filming and surfing and partying. We're just expressing our lifestyle down here, which I think is a lot more entertaining than any professional stuff.” Despite the homegrown scarfie vibe, the BASK films have high production values, and are only enriched by the raw, rough and ready content.

For everyone involved behind the scenes of BASK: VOLUME III, it has been a tumultuous filming period. “This year has been an incredibly heavy one,” explained Chaddy; “We nearly lost Sam, Gracey and Fi in a horrific car crash at the start of the year, and then later Jamie Civil - a local, who featured in the previous BASK films, and was someone all of us looked up to and idolised - tragically passed away. It's been a massive struggle to push through at times, but at the end of the day, we've pretty much made it. This film is first and foremost dedicated to the memory of Civil, as well as living life to the absolute fullest you possibly can at the bottom of the world, here in Ōtepoti.”

On Dunedin life and creativity, Chaddy said “you enter a bit of a different mindset down here, and it makes you think outside the box. When you arrive here, it’s so unmediated. There aren't any constraining factors because everything here is outside the box; for instance, everyone’s image of surfing is nice and sunny, but down here it’s ragged and grungy and wild. You come down here, hearing about everyone that has done crazy, creative things, and you can really feel it. It’s just like, bam. Do whatever you want. It's weird. It's crazy. It's radical.” 

If you need some Dunedin-style weird, crazy, radical-ness pumped straight into your veins, BASK III Premiers at the St. Kilda Surf Club on the 14th of October. There will be a couple of films screening, as well as a set by Sam Charlesworth’s band The Beatniks, who’ve been on a short hiatus recently and no doubt have some pent-up rock chaos to unleash. It’s free entry, and free bragging rights for when Sam, Chaddy and Rocket end up in the weird, crazy, radical Dunedin hall of fame. 

This article first appeared in Issue 24, 2022.
Posted 1:50pm Saturday 24th September 2022 by Kaia Kahurangi Jamieson.