Film Review: The Story of Casper Steinfath’s Unorthodox Life in ‘Standing On Water’
Dark water, gale force winds, big surf, and three excited kids in thick wetsuits paddling out in stormy seas. The opening scenes from “Standing On Water,” Casper Steinfath’s new SUP movie that premieres in the U.S. this week, set the stage for a fascinating, hour-long journey into the life of stand up paddling’s most unlikely champion.
Casper is a familiar name within the paddling community these days; he’s a two-time ISA gold medalist, regular podium-getter on the World Series, runner-up (and oh so nearly champion) at the Pacific Paddle Games, and is currently ranked #6 in the world. He counts Naish, Quickblade and Red Bull among his sponsors. He’s an honourary vice-president of the ISA, and is leading Denmark’s bid to host the 2017 Worlds.
In other words: Casper Steinfath, or “The Viking,” needs no introduction. But while his exploits on the water are common knowledge, the unusual series of events that have landed him on the international stage are anything but. To say Casper has had an unorthodox life would be an understatement. And that’s precisely the theme Standing On Water explores.
Casper’s baby photos include climbing mountains (and snowboarding down them) strapped to the chest of his nomadic father, Mike, who himself becomes a central character in the film along with the rest of the family — mother Sus and brother Peter. From growing up in the character-shaping village of Klitmøller (better known as “Cold Hawaii”), to traveling to exotic, faraway lands as a young boy, to annual pilgrimages to a testing land called “Danger Island,” and on to the SUP adventures that have taken Casper right around the world, it quickly becomes apparent that Standing On Water is not a movie about stand up paddling; it’s a story about life itself.
Casper didn’t grow up in a surfing nation. He doesn’t hail from a warm place like Hawaii, California or Australia, where young men paddling out into big, stormy seas get treated like rockstars. Instead, he comes from a cold-water nation where people comment “I won’t be sorry if they drown, idiots” on a news story about Casper, Peter and their good friend Oliver surfing a storm swell. The majority of the population in Casper’s home country of Denmark simply doesn’t understand surfing, or surfers. Throw in the truly Danish tradition of going swimming with a rope around your waist (for fear of suddenly being pulled under) and you can appreciate why, as unlikely as it sounds today, a young Casper Steinfath was actually worried about putting his head under water.
Overcoming a fear of water to become a champion waterman is not the only hurdle Casper has cleared in his 22 years on this planet. Indeed, how to overcome challenges in life becomes the defining message of this film. It also becomes a metaphor for overcoming setbacks as an athlete, culminating in a trip to the 2014 Battle of the Paddle at Salt Creek; a race that will live long in the collective memory of the paddling community but not so much on Casper’s resumé of top results.
Although Casper has enjoyed an amazing, adventure-filled life that most people could only dream of, it certainly hasn’t been straightforward. The way he’s handled challenges, and the unique family & environment that raised him, help explain why Casper has turned out to be such a mature, humble yet fiercely competitive young man.
When I met the “Danish Viking” in 2011, while I was living next door in Sweden (and when he was one of the only other guys in all of Scandinavia as obsessed with paddling as myself), I immediately saw a kid who was wise beyond his years. Since then he’s gone on to reach great heights in our sport, and will surely keep rising in the years to come.
This interesting mix of unorthodox upbringing and subsequent career as an international athlete prompted Danish film maker Peter Alsted to follow Casper around the world in 2014, with Standing On Water the end result. And although it’s premiering in the States two years after the project began (it’s already been shown in Europe), the message it conveys is timeless.
Don’t go see this movie expecting non-stop sporting action; this isn’t your standard surfing/paddleboarding movie. In fact I suspect this movie will appeal just as much to non-paddlers.
Standing On Water is an autobiographical documentary film that’s equal parts comedy, drama and adventure. But regardless of which label you give it, one thing is clear: This project tells an entertaining and inspiring story about a young man from an unlikely surfing nation who overcomes setbacks and challenges, all while enjoying and appreciating the amazing adventure that is life.
Standing On Water will have its U.S. premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this week; 7:00pm on Thursday 4th and 4:00pm on Friday 5th @ the Fiesta 1 cinema. Peter Alsted and Casper will introduce each screening. Click here for the full program guide and then go here to pre-order tickets for one of the best SUP movies you’ll ever see. Trailer below…