Blue Water High: articles

Kate, Mara and Sophie

Sand dudes: Kate Bell, Mara Scherzinger and Sophie Luck.

Roller coasters

Budding teen stars line up for the ride of their lives in an ABC surf soap. Sacha Molitorisz reports.

With the sun bouncing off the perfect sets at Bilgola Beach, two familiar faces are giving a bunch of young actors a pep talk. "OK, guys, listen up," Martin Lynes from All Saints tells an audience of teenagers dressed in boardies and bikinis. "It's business as usual." Lochie Daddo adds: "Don't hold back. Whoever pulls this off walks away from here a champion."

Lynes and Daddo aren't giving career advice. Instead, they're co-starring in the climactic scene from the final episode of Blue Water High, a new drama series for teens that aims to blend Heartbreak High and Home and Away.

A German-Australian co-production, it's the tale of seven 15-year-olds given the opportunity to spend 12 months at a surfing school, where their education is supplemented by intensive sports coaching. A lot is at stake. After 12 months—that is, after 26 half-hour episodes—one boy and one girl will be selected to compete on the pro-surfing tour.

It's a good idea that makes you wonder why no one has done it before. "I think they have, and I think it was called Baywatch," jokes Nadine Garner, who rounds out the cast's trio of grown-ups. "But this is about the kids as athletes rather than sex symbols. Sure, they're good-looking and they're healthy, but they're not there to be ogled. They're there in the context of the surf academy, where the sport comes first. It's about young people excelling and fulfilling their potential and working hard. There's a very positive message in it for kids."

Unlike Baywatch with its slo-mo jogging and heaving cleavage, Blue Water High is aimed at 11- to 14-year-olds. A lot is at stake also for the seven young actors filling the lead roles. Aged 15 to 21, these newcomers all have showbiz aspirations. Blue Water High might just be the perfect launching pad.

Ralph Strasser, director of the opening and closing episodes (among others), is expecting big things. "I'd be very surprised if they all didn't go on to something big," says Strasser, a veteran director of children's TV who loves to surf. "A lot of them are 18 to 20 years old and have made a decision to pursue that life. That means they're a great age to work with. They still have the enthusiasm and naivety and will get up there and try anything, but they have a skill base and drama background, so they come really well-equipped to do the job."

Some of the cast members made a splash even before diving into the breakers at Blue Water Beach, the show's fictional location. One is Tahyna Tozzi, the model and gossip mag regular often spotted on the arm of the swimmer Ian Thorpe. "Growing up in Cronulla, I lived on the beach," says Tozzi, who hopes to build a career as an actor or musician, or both. "I did a little bit of surfing. But we all did two weeks' training [in the surf] for the show."

Tahyna Tozzi on the set. Photo: Lee Besford

Kate Bell, 21, is even less at home in the breakers. After growing up in Hong Kong and Armidale, Bell studied drama and journalism at Wollongong University, then landed several theatre roles and a part as Susie in Home and Away. "We've had plenty of wipe-outs," she says. "We've had a couple of injuries and been tossed around a bit. It was a little confronting at first to be working in the water, especially when you're not that familiar with it, and I've had a couple of big scenes about five kilometres from the shore."

It's just after midday. The cast and crew trudge up from the sand to the shade of a marquee for lunch. For one extra, sadly, her behind has already eaten her undersized bikini. Clearly, this is not a shoot for anyone insecure about their body. That's especially true for girls—each of the boys' board shorts contains enough fabric for about five of the girls' swimmers.

"I'd never done any modelling so this is a big change," Bell says. "Having to wear swimmers all the time, it was like, 'Can I have some pants? Or how about a big bag?' " Even Tozzi, an experienced model, found the wardrobe confronting. "When I'm on my own I'm fine, or down the beach, and then all of a sudden here it's like, 'Oh my God, I just noticed there are 30 people watching me.' "

The cast also includes Sophie Luck, a talented 15-year-old who had a role on Home and Away, promising Sydneysiders Adam Saunders and Christopher Foy, and Khan Chittenden, a Kiwi who learned to surf after moving to Perth at age 11.

The final star is Mara Scherzinger, a 15-year-old from Cologne. "I've done quite a bit of acting in Germany," she says. "But this is the first international thing I've done, and the longest shoot."

There's a lot at stake for the ABC, too. It's gambling that Australian 11- to 14-year-olds will go for a show aimed directly at them.

In Australia and internationally, the ABC has notched up child-friendly successes, including Bananas in Pyjamas, The Wiggles and the Aussie-Canadian co-production The Saddle Club. These, however, were all aimed at pre-teens.

Blue Water High—like Heartbreak High—is shooting for an older audience. "The ABC is filling a gap that has long been waiting to be filled," says Claire Henderson, head of children's TV at the ABC. "Quality Australian drama created for the teen audience." If it's a success, of course, more series will follow.

A co-production with Southern Star, the Film Finance Corporation and the NSW Film and TV Office, Blue Water High has also attracted finance from German broadcaster Norddeutscher Rundfunk. That explains the German cast member. "They'll love it," Scherzinger says of a German audience. "Because we don't have surf. Also, I think

it's a very interesting storyline."

Apart from Germany, the series has been sold to France, Belgium, New Zealand and South Africa. It was shot up and down the northern beaches, in part to avoid irritating residents. "We've come into Bilgola with the best will in the world," Strasser says. "But after six months I'm sure most of the locals will probably be pretty happy to see the back of us, because it does disrupt their day-to-day lives."

If keeping the residents happy was one challenge, another was making the cast members look like surfers. As Strasser admits, too many surfing dramas look fake. One minute a character is sitting on a gently lapping ocean, the next he or she is hurtling down a 10-metre face. From '60s comedies to Point Break, verisimilitude is usually a wipe-out. For Blue Water High, young pros from the northern beaches were hired as doubles. Sometimes these stand-ins have a tough job—Luck's double, for instance, is a boy. Mostly, they manage admirably.

Shot over six months from spring until mid-March, Blue Water High had luck on its side. Not only was there an unlikely number of sunny days, there were also several big swells this summer.

As an occasional visitor to the set, Daddo says he had a lot of fun. "For it to look like this," he says, pointing out over the orange sand and clear blue sea of Bilgola, "to sell Australia, it's just fantastic. This is the ultimate Australian drama. It's everything Australia is and everything Europeans love about Australia. Everyone looks great, the girls look fantastic, the guys look so fit, and they're good actors. I've loved being a part of it."

Blue Water High premieres on the ABC on Wednesday at 5.25pm.

By Sacha Molitorisz
May 11, 2005
Sydney Morning Herald