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First Love poster

An interview with First Love stars Nikki Van Dijk, Jess Laing, & India Paine


Portrayals of Generation Y have been less than flattering, with many labelling them as tech obsessed, quasi-literate, and directionless.

Yet the surfing documentary First Love is set to change that depiction. Set in Phillips Bay, Victoria, the film focuses on upcoming surf stars Nikki van Dijk, India Payne and Jess Laing, who for a year and a half were followed by local documentarian Claire Gorman.

Throughout First Love we find passion defined, as the three teens chase their dreams to the from the winter chill of Phillips Island to the sunny climes of Hawaii, until a severe injury saw Jess sidelined while Nikki and India took on the infamous North Shore.

Now together again and promoting First Love to the masses, Nikki, Jess, and India took time out of their busy schedule to talk to Matt’s Movie Reviews.


You watched the film for the first time on Sunday. How did it feel watching over a year of your lives condensed to 70 min and played out on the big screen?

Nikki: Can of crazy, when you say it like that! 60 min is a short amount of time. It’s just weird, seeing us on screen. We were all thinking “Did we really say that?” (Laughs) It was embarrassing, but really good.

India: The first time we watched it was kind of daunting. Seeing yourself on the big screen, with all of these strangers sitting there watching you. There are scenes where I am eating my breakfast, or waking me up in the morning, and I’m thinking “Did all of the strangers just see that?”

Nikki: ...wondering what they’re thinking...

India: ...yeah.

Let’s go back to the beginning. How and when were you three approached to be a part of this documentary?

India: We knew Claire (Gorman, director), who was six years above us in school. Originally she approached Nikki, and began filming her. Then she got Jess into it all, and then could me one day and asked to come surfing with them, and it just went on from there.

How long was filming? 12 months?

India: About a year and a half.

Was it hard getting used to a camera following you everywhere you went?

Jess: It was weird at the start having someone follow you around. But Claire is really good with the camera. It was ok because we were friends with her, and we felt totally comfortable around her.

Any camera withdraws afterwards?

All: No! (laughter)

Jess: Some of the things she did film was embarrassing (laughs). And of course she did put it all in the film.

First Love image
"The feeling you get from surfing is so hard to describe. When you go out there, everything else that is worrying you pretty much just goes. You focus on just you and the ocean. I don’t know where else I could get that feeling from." - Jess Laing

Phillip Island seems like a very tight nit community. Is your passion for surfing encouraged? Or does school work come first?

Nikki: Well, for me my mum is a teacher, so she is pretty into the school work. She’s like I’ve got to do good at school, just so I can have a back up when I’m not surfing. But the whole community is encouraging with it all. They all want to know how we are all doing, and we are always in the papers, so...

India: It is such a surfing community, so they are always backing us, they are always asking how are things going...

Jess: It’s important to have that, as well.   

Many people compare surfing to an almost religious experience. Is that something you would agree with?

Jess: Yeah. The feeling you get from surfing is so hard to describe. When you go out there, everything else that is worrying you pretty much just goes. You focus on just you and the ocean. I don’t know where else I could get that feeling from.

Do you guys feel the same way?

India: When I’m upset or angry, the best way I find to calm myself is go for a surf. You just forget everything out there, you have so much fun, you’re a lot just makes you a better person. 

If the competition aspect doesn’t work out, can you still see yourselves surfing regardless?

Nikki: Yeah. Surfing is such a big part of our lives. We’ve done it since we were so young, it is something we all love and have such a great passion for, and I don’t think any of us will be giving that up soon.

Jess, explain what type of emotions were you battling with during your recovery.

Jess: It was really hard, because it was winter at home and they are going over the Hawaii where it’s summer. I wasn’t allowed to do any stuff at home, let alone surfing, so I became even more determined to get better, and had in my head that I was going to go over there, which I think was my way of getting through it. But when they  came back it was summer, so it was good to go surfing together.

Did not surfing for so long increase your love for it?

Jess: It made me appreciate it so much more. I think...I’m not saying that these guys take it for granted, but when you are kept out of the water for a long period of time, you realise how much surfing helps you.

First Love image
"There are still people in our generation out there, fighting to get whatever they want, and hopefully people will be able to see that." - Nikki Van Dyke

Nikki & India, what were your goals and expectations from Hawaii?

Nikki: Just to experience the whole atmosphere over there, the big waves, and all of the was good seeing them in competitions. But the big waves...we don’t get big and powerful waves in Phillip Island.

India, it seems that you were especially intimated by the big waves in Hawaii.

India: Yeah, because the first day we got there it was ridiculously big, like 40 ft. And I was intimated by that and sort of mesmerised looking at it, because it was an amazing thing to see. But the next day it didn’t drop off much, maybe by like a foot or something, and I really wanted to go out so bad, but it was so big and so intimidating. But it was something I conquered, and I was so glad I did because it was so much fun.     

First Love also looks into the current environment of women’s surfing. Speaking as a complete novice looking from the outside in, it seems that the media focuses more on the male surfers than the females. Is it the hope that First Love changes that?

Jess: That is exactly what we want to happen with this movie. Surfing is so male dominated at the moment but the girls are definitely pushing it, so the professionals like Stephanie Gilmore and all of those girls are pushing it, so happily people will see the movie and see what’s going on, that there are amazing girl surfers out there who are doing just as well as the guys.  

You met many of your idols, like Stephanie Gilmore and Alana Blanchard. Did they match up to expectations?

Nikki: Yeah, well Steph and I surf for the same company, so I went on camps with her, and she is the perfect role model. I don’t think you could get any better, seriously. She is so amazing....

Jess: ...and not only in surfing, but everything.

India: She is so appreciative of everything she has achieved. You get some people who are like, “Oh yeah, I won. Big deal”, but Stephanie seems to appreciate everything she has accomplished in life.

Your generation is severely under represented. Is it your hope that First Love will provide proof that Gen Y are filled with as many ambitious and talented individuals as previous generations?

Nikki: I guess there are people who are tech obsessed, and all that. But there are still people in our generation out there, fighting to get whatever they want, and hopefully people will be able to see that.  

First Love is currently playing in selected Australian cinemas through Liquid Pictures

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