There are some films whose impact fades with the closing credits, others that become recommendations until the next headline movie comes around. And then there are those special slices of cinematic magic like 1977 cult classic Free Ride that become indelibly etched into your subconscious, a memory that defines a moment, a movement.

Thursday 29th February LS/FF x Kinomor is bringing a very special, one-off screening of remastered Free Ride to Cornwall. Hosted at Lighthouse Cinema, Newquay, this is the first southwest screening of this iconic movie in 45 years. TICKETS HERE.

Ahead of the film night, LS/FF’s Demi Taylor caught up with Free Ride Producer Tori Delaney about the iconic film she produced alongside her husband, Director Bill Delaney chatting all things ultra slow motion tube rides, soundtracking, motorbikes, Dengue Fever, Hollywood miracles, Pipeline and everything in between.

As the film’s associate producer, can you tell me a little about how the film came about?

“Bill & I met in late 1974 in Ventura, California while he was working for Cycle Magazine shooting motorcycles. We started working together on short film projects on 16mm. Bill was an avid surfer and really wanted to make a full-length film for theatrical release, so we took out a business loan in 1975 for $75,000 – which we didn’t have payments on until the film was released in 1977. It’s hard to believe that we traveled for 2 years, lived and paid all the expenses of a full length film for that amount of money, but a meal in Bali was only 25c, a room was $2/week and we were very thrifty!

Free Ride has become possibly the most iconic surf film of all time – in fact ‘76-78 is now known as the ‘Free Ride era’. I read that the name was your idea…

Filming a surfing movie involves many hours on the sand, waiting for the perfect wave. I entertained myself one day in 1976 on the beach at Pipeline writing a list of 20 possible titles. Free Ride was at the top of the list because the surfers often expressed how they valued the freedom and simplicity of their lifestyle. All they needed was a surfboard “and the waves are free”. They would obtain sponsorship for travel and would “crash” at the homes of the generous families of local surfers, always happy to sleep on the floor.

Another title we considered was “360 Degrees”, because during that period surfers were experimenting with doing a ‘360’ on a wave… At that time, we were also thinking of putting equal focus on skateboarding and hang-gliding in which they were also doing ‘360’s. As we were half way around the globe in Bali at the time, we booked travel back to California going west instead of east, so that our travel would have taken us 360 degrees around the globe… but I became very sick with Dengue Fever in Singapore and we had to fly directly back to LA.

In any case we decided to keep the focus on surfing and went with Free Ride.

Free Ride has a somewhat iconic score – can you tell about how you decided on the songs in the sound track?

During filming, Bill was cinematographer and I did sound recording. Back in California, while Bill was editing the footage, he asked me to come up with some music and it “had to be legal”. I went to the local record store and picked out albums by lesser-known artists at the time who I felt had a sensitivity for the ocean and a positive energy.

When I put on Zero to Sixty in Five & Ocean Breeze by Pablo Cruise, I knew we had our perfect theme songs for Free Ride. Stay Young and Breakaway by Gallagher & Lyle were the film’s secondary theme songs. I’ve always felt that music can make or break a film, The music of these artists and Andy Fairweather Low, Joan Armatrading, Billy Preston, Hummingbird and Bill Cuomo lifted the film to another level.

But how were we going to get the rights to use the music and how much would it cost? Almost all our selected artists were on the A&M label, so we drove to A&M Records off Sunset in Hollywood with the edited film in our VW bus. We stopped at the gate asking to speak with someone about using music in a surf film. Of course the guard just laughed and showed us where to turn around to exit. The car behind us at the gate happened to be driven by Joel Sill, Music Producer for Easy Rider & The Last Picture Show and he asked the guard what we wanted. When he learned that we made a surfing film he said, “I’ve got time, let ‘em in!” Joel loved the film and the music and he arranged everything for us. What a miracle!

At what point during the making of the film did you realize that this was going to be something quite special?

When we received the A&M music on tape for editing with the visual film, Bill meticulously synchronized the footage with the music and we both grew excited about how it was coming together. But editing on a simple Moviola doesn’t allow you to see what it will look like projected. When we had our ‘sound mix’ on a big screen with the technician adjusting the volumes and various tracks, it became real. We loved it, but we couldn’t know how the audience would react.

We showed it to Surfing & Surfer magazines prior to release and received rave reviews praising the ultra slow motion tube rides which were innovative, shot with a military camera shooting 200 frames per second. A film critic at the LA Times, Charles Edison, described the film as “beautifully crafted, combining gorgeous in-and-under-the-water photography with a powerful song by Pablo Cruise”. That was exciting, but it wasn’t until the first shows before a live audience that we knew it was going to be a hit. The amazing thing was to feel the audience responding the same way that we did to our favorite scenes, then we knew they liked it too.

The film first came out in 1977 with re-release in 1978. Part of the mythology of Free Ride was the fact it was officially unavailable for decades. What inspired the re-mastering and re-release of the film now?

Bill felt strongly that the film should be updated & re-edited for the 1978 release, so we returned to Hawaii in Nov-Dec of 1977 and focused on interviews with other surfers in addition to Rabbit, Mark & Shaun and new surf scenes.

When Bill updated, he would cut scenes out of the previous version to save money which made it very difficult to go back and reassemble the original 1977 version. It was a complicated process and required a lot of investigative work to re-create this remastered Free Ride.

After several updates of Free Ride and then a new film Surfers the Movie, Bill moved on to new projects. It wasn’t until 2007 that he decided he wanted to release Free Ride on DVD/VHS, but only after entirely remastering the original film digitally frame by frame, polishing the visuals, titles and sound track to really make it shine. It was a very slow process and wasn’t completed when his health failed and he passed away in 2019.

This motivated me and our daughter, Devon (named for Devon England!) to attempt to accomplish what he had hoped to do with the film, to make it available for anyone who might be interested in watching…just amazing to see the packed house in London! Very satisfying, somewhat unbelievable!

Free Ride is showing Thursday 29th February at Lighthouse Cinema, Newquay. Accompanied by ‘Let Me Live’, Keith Malloy’s award winning portrait of Tom Lowe.

Tickets include a free beer (over 18’s only!) courtesy of the good folk at Sharp’s Brewery – hit the link to book.

Yeti and Foundation Roasters are sending across some goodies to stave off the cold. This is what dark winter nights were made for – gathering together with a crew of like-minded individuals for the finest cinematic surf session to salute the season ahead.