Blue Water High: articles

Fun in sun not too deep

A TEEN drama about surfing was nothing new.

In fact, plenty of scripts pitching the idea had crossed the desk of ABC's head of children's television Claire Henderson.

But something about Noel Price's Blue Water High struck a chord.

"This one was really good. It had a great group of characters and the dialogue rang true for me," she says.

"(The ABC) are really, really strong on pre-school programming. Then we have shows like The Saddle Club, for the 6 to 10-year-old demographic.

"But it's really hard to get material for that 11-years and older group because they are so sophisticated. You have to bring all the savvy and production values of an adult drama to it."

Enter Blue Water High, a 26-part weekly series that follows the lives of a group of teenagers who have made it into an elite, live-in surfing academy on Sydney's northern beaches. It looks very much like paradise but, in true teen drama style, the kids all have issues to deal with and growing up to do.

It might look like a beachside soap, says one of the series' few grown-ups, Nadine Garner, but it is much richer than that.

"I know people are going to say 'Oh, but it's just like Home And Away, it's set on a beach,"' says Garner, who plays the sports psychologist, Deb Callum, who helps run the academy.

"But it's not a soap. I have to say in all honesty that I hadn't even thought about those soaps in the same mental breath as this. The formula isn't soap. I mean the storyline's not even about people dating each other and love affairs and all that. It's very different from that."

Indeed, Garner sees the series much more in the tradition of quality youth drama like The Henderson Kids the series which she starred in as a 14-year-old two decades ago.

"It was 20 years ago to the year that I started off in The Henderson Kids as a child in a child series. And here I was being an adult in a child's series," she laughs.

"So for me personally it was a moment of reckoning, of going 'OK, I've done 20 years in the business and now I'm playing the older roles.' And I kind of enjoyed that insight. And it was good for me to watch the kids and watch how they were coping with the whole thing."

For 19-year-old Tahyna Tozzi, who has graced numerous magazine covers with sister Cheyenne, taking on the role of Perri Lawe was her own moment of reckoning.

"When I first got offered the role I was like, 'You know what, I don't want to be the token girl like that," the ex-model says.

"She's a spoilt little rich girl and you know, the introduction to my character is me pashing the boyfriend. But that's just how the other characters are seeing her.

"In the first couple of episodes she's very much in the eyes of others who think they know who she is and I know a lot of teenage girls live with that. I certainly have.

"(But) she develops her sense of self throughout the show ... you change the way you see her, and she changes the way she sees herself."

Tozzi and co-star Khan Chittenden were the only members of the seven-strong lead cast with surf experience, but even they found it a struggle to get to the point where they looked like they might really be champions on their way to a professional career.

"I remember turning to Kate Bell (who plays Bec) and saying 'Oh my God, are you as scared as I am?'. Because it was big surf. We did two weeks of intensive training to get us just looking comfortable on the board but we definitely have professional surfers as doubles for the main stuff."

International buyers were certainly convinced of their surfing prowess.

Before a single episode of Blue Water High had aired in Australia, the show had been sold to Germany, France, Belgium, New Zealand and South Africa.

But although Australian children's television has become one of our most profitable cultural exports, Henderson says they try to avoid catering for overseas viewers.

"Will this work for an Australian audience is my first and foremost consideration," she says.

"Oddly enough, I think if you get it right for your primary audience, you're far more likely to get it right for an international audience."

Blue Water High, ABC, Wednesday 5.25pm

By Erica Thompson and Eleanor Sprawson
May 12, 2005
The Coureir Mail