Blue Water High: articles

series two cast

The bronzed, beautiful cast of Blue Water High.

Good, clean tween fun

Sun, surf, teens in bikinis and safe storylines have made Blue Water High a hit.

THE archetypal boarding school has sustained storytellers and audiences for generations. From the jolly lacrosse sticks and midnight feasts of Enid Blyton's many boarding-school books through the magic of Harry Potter's time at Hogwarts, children have lapped up the notions of freedom implicit in an adolescent home away from home.

Funnily enough, the successful Australian tween series Blue Water High is also structured around this very English notion. Creator Noel Price's stylish and contemporary drama has captivated teens from around the world by echoing elements of tales that entertained their parents and grandparents since the 1940s.

With the second series now screening on the ABC, Price happily reflects on the elements that have made Blue Water such a hit among child and tween viewers in Australia and Europe. The program has also sold into Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

As Price sees it, the show, made as a joint production between the ABC and Southern Star, works because it appeals to the aspirations of its audience.

As with the first series, the second revolves around a group of six teenagers - three girls, three boys - who have been selected to spend a year living on the NSW coast at a surf academy. They live in what must be Australia's coolest share house, a beautiful pad on the beach in the care of Simmo (Martin Lynes) a former professional surfer turned mentor and mother-figure Jilly (Liz Burch).

Each episode stands alone but, like the first series, the stories build to the final-episode crescendo where a surf competition determines which girl and boy will be selected as a wildcard entrant for the international professional surfing circuit. The action unfolds to a hip soundtrack of independent Australian music.

"Fundamentally it is an innocent program and quite aspirational as it deals with relationships and friendships and kids growing up," Price says from his home on Sydney's northern beaches. "It doesn't deal with drugs, it doesn't deal with sex and it's not about people who are deeply in a situation of angst where they're grinding out their frustrations and anger and some kind of social realism."

The show has been a winner for the ABC, attracting the lion's share of the target audience aged 10 to 13 when it screened last year, as well as a big chunk of viewers aged 6 to 12 and those aged 14 to 16. Sunday morning repeats of the first series pulled a similar-sized audience.

Australian viewers no doubt understand the fiction of such an idyllic life on the coast but one imagines European kids watching and getting an utterly false sense of life here. Price, who has lived in European cities such as Paris for several years, thinks Blue Water's appeal runs deeper than eternally sunny days.

Childhood lasts longer in Australia than it does in much of Europe, he says, making it interesting that the innocence of the show's characters resonates so strongly with foreign viewers.

"I was always aware even 10 years ago that if (in Paris) a girl had reached 13 and she hadn't had a boyfriend then she was socially dead. Whereas here, having two daughters, it was uncommon for most of them and their friends to have boyfriends even at the age of 17," Price says. "Childhood does exist for longer in Australia and we do have a more innocent upbringing than Europeans kids."

While there is definitely a safeness to the show - the characters are more likely to be concerned about how to find a decent wave than a pash - there is nevertheless a strong sexual undercurrent. The cast, who all look fabulous in bikinis and board shorts, spend the bulk of their screen time in said attire.

One can't help feeling that although the girls are always depicted as athletic and as able as the boys, such messages are undermined by the itsy-bitsy bathers they always seem to wear. Surely real surfers would be more inclined to throw on a one-piece costume before they hit the waves?

Price says not. Whenever the kids are filmed competing, the girls wear competition tank tops, he says. And on the first shoot, members of the production crew, themselves hailing from the beach suburbs the show is set in, spoke up with authenticity concerns on the basis the kids were too "dressed" because they were wearing shorts and T-shirts during the inside scenes.

"If you live the life up here, people are just in their bikinis and their bathers all the time and they do live in them," Price says. "After the crew spoke up, I went and looked at a whole lot of surfing films, and it's quite apparent that the surfing world lives in board shorts and bikinis, and in practically every film I've ever seen of (former Australian world champion surfer) Layne Beachley, she's always in a bikini."

And yes, Price agrees, the cast members are good looking. But hey, this is television.

Coming into the new season, the show is handling the transition from the first by retaining some of the original cast. Fly (Sophie Luck) returns to the surf school for a second year but this time as the group leader, Heath (Adam Saunders) acts as a supervisor while house mother Jilly is temporarily in Europe and Bec (Kate Bell) has stayed in town.

Promoting some of the originals into positions of responsibility fits neatly into the show's aim of helping to guide viewers through the tricky teenage wilderness.

Each wrestles with his or her new role, struggling to step up from the carefree days of yesteryear. It's one of the elements Price is particularly proud of.

"The (idea) is that while the kids are in a fabulously lucky situation, they're fundamentally just ordinary kids who are trying to stumble their way through, both on their own and with the help of their group, to deal with growing up and at the same time finding a goal and doing their best to pursue it," he says. "The message, subliminally, is: you dig into your own resources, you get out and you give it a go, you make mistakes, you keep pushing forward, you get a few knocks but just keep going. If you do that and keep your feet on the ground, you can have a lot of fun."

By Nicole Brady
June 29, 2006
The Age