TPHS alum Taylor Steele riding high on esteemed, far-reaching career in surf film

Taylor Steele Photo courtesy of Kuni Takanami and Taylor Steele
Taylor Steele Photo courtesy of Kuni Takanami and Taylor Steele

When Taylor Steele was attending Torrey Pines High School in Carmel Valley, he was turned onto a career in film by teacher Jon Robertson.

“I took two years of video production with Jon,” Steele explains from his current home in New York City. “That’s really where I got my start. He had a great video production class, and during my second year with him we got to work on independent video projects.”

Little did Steele know at the time, but that class would change the trajectory of the rest of his life by propelling him into a far-reaching and esteemed career in the world of surf film, a career that has given him national recognition (Fast Company magazine named him one of the “Most Creative People in Business” for 2014) and later led him to launch his own production company, Sipping Jetstreams, which shares a moniker with one of his most successful films.

When Steele was growing up in the North County, he spent most of his time either surfing in Solana Beach or honing his filmmaking craft. “Personal video cameras were pretty new back then, the technology was just starting,” Steele explains of the early days of production.

It was shortly after graduating from Torrey Pines when Steele released “Momentum,” a project he completed when he was just 19 and became a more successful endeavor than he cold have ever imagined. “I worked on every part of the process, from filming, to the directing and editing,” said Steele of his first glimmer of success. “When it came out, I rode around in my car with all of these VHS copies and drove south from San Francisco, stopping at every surf shop.”

At the same time the culture of extreme sports was changing the face of the North County, the area’s music boom was already in full swing.

“The surfers and skaters were coming into their own just as the punk scene was starting in California,” he says. “There was a great synergy.” As a result, starting with “Momentum” and continuing with subsequent films, Steele would scour record shops around the area finding tracks to include during key scenes by then-obscure acts such as Blink 182 and Jack Johnson. From there, a symbiotic relationship developed where Steele boosted the popularity of area bands by putting them in his immensely popular surf films, and he benefited by having a hip soundtrack.

For the next 11 years, Steele worked on an array of influential surf flicks (including “Loose Change” featuring renowned surfer Rob Machado), but soon shifted gears when the bottom fell out of the surf film industry.

“The market for surf movies started to change drastically,” he explains of the change. “Since everything was on YouTube, DVD sales weren’t there. So I needed a fresh new way of feeding my family.” As a result, Steele and his family (he has a wife and two kids) moved to Bali and he accepted a job working for the Australian branch of Corona.

After six years working on video projects for Corona, the Steele brood then packed up and moved to New York City. “I didn’t want to give up that traveling lifestyle, so I came up with something that was good for the whole family,” notes Steele. “New York has many influences from everywhere. I want my kids to take that energy and learn from it. I feed off that as well.”

Today, Steele is busy surfing on Long Island and working with his production company Sipping Jetstreams on a variety of new projects. Teases Steele, “I’m working on a surf movie that’s going to be my biggest one yet. I can’t really talk about it just yet.”

If one thing’s for certain, whatever Steele has up his sleeve it’s built on the bedrock of knowledge he picked up during his early days in the North County.

“A lot of the foundations I learned at Torrey Pines that Jon Robertson taught me are ingrained in me, I still use them today,” he explains. “It was a huge turning point. I was in the right place at the right time.”