Albee Layer has forged a name as one of the most relevant and exciting surfers on the planet. From his mind blow airs, to jaw dropping big wave paddle in sessions on Maui, Albee has become the yardstick by which global surfing is measured.

On the eve of the 2015/16 El Nino big wave season, Albee and his director friend Dan Norkunas (Attractive Distractions) sat down and mapped an idea for documentary, to follow the coming sessions through the eyes of the tight-knit group of surfers who are redefining not only the big wave genre but the very bounds of surfing possibilities.

Childhood friends Albee Layer, Matt Meola, Dege O’Connell, Billy Kemper, Kai Lenny and Torrey Meister followed each other into the daunting line-up of Jaws on Maui as teenagers. Through peer pressure and rivalries, they have pushed each other to unprecedented performances, challenging the very limits of paddle-in big wave surfing.

The resulting film, Nervous Laughter, takes an inside view of the crew, offering an unflinching look at a season rife with nerves, injury, triumph, pain and friendship. It combines fearless surfing and breathtaking cinematography, resulting in a truly inspiring documentary that explores the heart and soul of big wave charging.

Albee Layer and Dan Norkunas will be presenting the UK premiere of Nervous Laughter in person at this year’s London Surf / Film Festival on Saturday 21st October at Regent Street Cinema. Tickets here:

We caught up with director Dan Norkunas to find out more.

Carve: What was the original concept of the film and did you go into the project with set goals? 

Dan: Our original concept was to capture as much content as possible during the El Nino winter. We didn’t have exact plans but with the idea that there would be big swells during our winter we just dedicated as much time to capturing what happens before during and after big swells. We knew it was going to be a documentary per se, but wanted to get as many stories and moments covered as possible. As the season went on we just honed in on the athletes around Jaws and Albee’s house.

The film is a really honest and open documentary – how did you guys set out what would be included? 

Dan: We didn’t have a set plan, but our style in general is not to over hype athletes or make it unrealistic. We wanted to focus not on one individual, but the friendships and characters that are from Maui and love big waves. We had multiple stories that we tried to include like the Santa Cruz guys, but as editing went on we felt our story was based on this up and coming Maui crew. It was hard to narrow down to the 5 main characters but it was really about which guys communicated throughout the year and built a friendship in pushing each other during the winter. 

Today many films seem to be a vehicle for one particular surfer – yet Nervous Laughter is very inclusive of all the crew – was that the intention from the start? 

Dan: No and Yes. Since Albee and I own a production company and work closely together it would be easier to make a film about him, and Nervous Laughter is focused around who Albee interacts with. We are firm believers however that individual films are too self-fulfilling and become boring/stale with hour long pieces with one character or style of surfing. Our goal was to have multiple layers in the film, develop characters and show their relationships, triumphs and failures as El Nino raged along. It was important to us not to be focused on one character and let the athletes tell their stories. 

What were the highlights of the project – were there any low points?

Dan: The high point was definitely the excitement of weeks worth of big swell. We all thought it was going to be a big year of surf but there was a Jaws swell like every week for almost two months straight. It was exciting to see it all come together like we hoped and watch each athlete push themselves to accomplish something special. Low point was finalizing the film. We are not documentary film makers and really battled narrowing down each segment. Films are so much work from organizing all the interviews, to music rights, to release. You really have to lock yourself in a cave and empty your bank accounts to reach a finish line. It was the biggest project our small crew took on, but at the end of the day it was what we set forth to accomplish from the start. 

One of the things that comes across is the sense of camaraderie between you guys but also the way you want to push one another – do you think that’s part of the reason for the amazing level of surfing you guys have achieved?

Dan: Maui has a crazy talent pool. There is also a great sense of pride in having Jaws in our backyard. I think each of these guys are good friends but also very competitive. They fuel each other to push themselves over the ledge, but also cheer each other on. When one of them accomplished something crazy, I think it gives the other guys a sense of confidence that they can do it too. I also think they want to be the best at the place that means the most to them. It’s like Kai says in the film, Peahi becomes a part of you, you want to protect it and show people what we are capable of doing out there.

What’s next for you guys? 

Enjoy the fact that we made a long form piece and accomplished something that we are not accustomed to making. We want to make another film, but need to reset the creative bank. Our goal for one year is produce more short form pieces to keep the content rolling, with the thought of brainstorming another more action based surf film in the future. 

19 – 21 October London Surf / Film Festival x Reef brings to the UK the best surf films from around the globe. Accompanied by talks with waveriding’s most inspiring heroes and icons, including Hawaiian big wave charger Albee Layer, surfer musician LeeAnn Curren and adventurer Kepa Acero,  plus live music, art, culture, pop up events 22-26 October, good times and more this saline hit of inspiration is an essential cultural happening. For full schedule details head to: