The Greatest Surfing Story Ever Told: A Movie Review

Deeper Shade_200X295I often feel like I need to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming – my life is that good. And were it not just a metaphor, I’d have pinched myself black and blue last week when I was suddenly hopping a plane to L.A. to attend the premier of Jack McCoy’s 25th movie, A Deeper Shade of Blue, the most comprehensive movie on surf history, culture, and the evolution of surfboard design produced to date. The promotional materials cheekily assert that “this is not a surf movie.” However, it is that and yet so much more. It is an homage to the surfers who changed the way we surf, to the Hawaiian spirit of aloha, and to innovations in surfboard design that support the pursuit’s continued evolution.

hom·age |ˈ(h)ämij|
noun
special honor or respect shown publicly

The point is, however, that you don’t need to be a surfer to enjoy this movie. Watching it is the kind of experience during which you become part of the incredible vistas captured, giving even the most ocean-reticent land lubber a chance to experience what it feels like to be in, on, and under the water. Scenes like the massive waves at Teahupo’o breaking seemingly over the viewer’s head got my heart racing and made my breath catch in my throat. By combining cutting edge filming techniques with the skill of a true waterman, McCoy puts the viewer right there in the heart of the action.

McCoy is at heart an artist and this is his magnum opus. The soundtrack selections for each scene compliment the visuals so well that in several instances the melding of beauty pushed my emotional buttons to the point of eliciting serious eye misting. The underwater footage shot in crystal clear waters depicting surfboards slicing through waves rolling overhead, the reef below, and ocean life dancing in unseen currents was awe-inducing.

It contains little known historical facts, like that of the Hawaiian who dared defy the missionaries’ law forbidding surfing. I’m thinking you’ll be as surprised as I was to learn who induced Hawaiians territory-wide to return en mass to the waves. You’ll see mind-blowing footage of surfers doing what surfers do, but using radically different surfboards that seem the stuff of science fiction. Aussie Derek Hynd free-friction surfing to the sound of The BPA’s He’s Frank (featuring Iggy Pop) is inspiring, breath-catching stuff for sure. Yes, what would have happened in the evolution of surfing if the fin had never been invented? You may remember Derek from my blog post “Crossing Paths: Surf Legend Derek Hynd.”

The visuals, the story, and the way in which the director’s love for the subject matter and the community of surfers with whom he worked to produce this epic movie created an unparalleled surf movie experience for this viewer. It’s showing in theaters all over the U.S. this Thursday, March 28th for one night only. But don’t take my word for it. In one of those serendipitous events, much like those that brought me to the movie premier, Sir Paul McCartney was introduced to Jack’s work by a mutual acquaintance and the two ended up working on a video clip together called Blue Sway that includes additional footage taken for the movie and a previously unreleased song by Sir Paul. McCartney has said of Jack’s work:

I was blown away by the stunning spectacle of Jack’s work. Now that I’ve gotten to know him, I enjoy what he does even more and value greatly his contribution to the world of surfing.

 Watch A Deeper Shade of Blue right this instant by clicking on this link. How cool is that? (And in case you’re wondering, aside from the pleasure of knowing that I’m sharing a great experience with my fellow man, I stand to gain NOTHING from the sale of this movie).

Book Review – Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation

By Paul Holmes
Published by Pintail Publishers, 192 pages
Topic Relative Score (Surf History, Surfboard Design): 5 out of 5 stars

When I arrived on the East Cape in 2002, following my dream to learn to surf, I was virtually clueless about surf culture and surfing history. I knew even less about the evolution of surfboard design. Growing up in Ontario, Canada meant that, unlike a California kid, I wasn’t exposed to anything related to surf, unless flip flops count. I knew who Guy Lafleur and Rocket Richard were, not the seminal figures in the history of surfing. 

So when I met my neighbor Bing Copeland, I had no idea that I was meeting such a man, one who exerted a huge influence on surfing and surfboard manufacturing and design. When he generously offered to take me surfing because my surf buddy refused to go out in conditions that were anything short of perfect, I was completely ignorant of the fact that I was making the drive down the coast and sharing the waves with a surfing legend.

Ten years later, I read Holmes’s book in amazement and received the education I so thoroughly lacked. Thanks Bing! 

Bing Copeland mid-1960s Waimea Bay. Photo by John Bass.

The first thing you’ll notice about Paul Holmes’s book “Bing Surfboards: Fifty Years of Craftsmanship and Innovation” is the quality of its production. It comes packaged in a groovy reusable cardboard case that will protect it against sun damage and carelessly spilled coffee. Inside you’ll find a beautiful hardcover book in coffee-table format (9.5″ by 12.25″) that contains 192 pages of text and high-quality, historic and contemporary photographs, printed in their original black and white or full color format.

Holmes did a great job of chronicling the various aspects of Bing’s personal life, professional life and his role in the evolution of surfing and surfboard design with a narrative style that is easy to read and flows from one topic to the next and back again. But the book is more than a history lesson, it also contains a treasure trove of archival materials including handwritten pages out of order books and every Bing advertisement ever published, all meticulously preserved by Bing himself. Anecdotes by the guys working on the factory floor sprinkled throughout give the reader an insider’s view of what it might have been like to work for Bing and with the sometimes oddball cast of characters drawn to the surfboard shaping industry.

Bing was an innovative designer of surfboards, but he was also a natural graphic designer and marketer, making the middle third, where ads and archival materials are displayed, perhaps my favorite part of the book. The ads are a reflection of Bing himself, as Holmes puts it “creative, funny, informative and graphically compelling.”

Shapers will undoubtedly be stoked to find a complete review of all Bing Surfboards models and the contributions they made to surfboard design evolution, as well as three pages dedicated specifically to improvements in fin design. Beautiful detailed shots of over 60 classic Bing surfboards are provided along with each board’s serial number, dimensions and significant elements of design and construction.

Whether you’ve ever owned a Bing surfboard or not, if you are a surfer and especially if you are a shaper, you owe it to yourself to add this book to your quiver of surf literature.

Do you own a Bing? If so, tell us about it, or even better post a photo of you riding it here. And what about my Bing board? Well, my financial circumstances since moving to Baja (always broke) mean that I haven’t had the wherewithal to buy a Bing. In 2004, in his classic understated way, Bing handed me a single-fin longboard he was no longer riding and said, “Just make sure it gets ridden.” The fin alone on that board is worth a pretty penny. Up until that time, I’d focused on working towards riding shorter boards, so that board introduced me to the “other” side of surfing, one that is unquestionably more soulful. Riding that longboard on days when the smaller conditions would have normally kept me out of the water induced in me a greater playfulness and definitely improved my surfing. I’ve since begged and borrowed (never stolen) several other longboards, but the dream remains to one day own a performance Bing longboard and at least one of his shorter boards – the retro Karma single-fin or perhaps the fishy Dharma. And to that end, I must get back to work!

Bing in Baja on the board he ultimately gave me. Photo by Gary Swanson

Small Town Big Heart

I’m spending Christmas and New Years with my family in eastern Canada. In the snow and ice of a typical Canadian winter. The beauty of a Canadian winter is something to behold, particularly in the countryside where time is being spent. Snow and ice on tree boughs twinkle like diamonds and farmers’ fields lay quiet and expansive under their white shroud. Christmas lights on trees and homes are reflected on the glistening snow and ice. It all makes quite an impression.
Something else that is making an impression on me is the tiny town of Vankleek Hill, Ontario – the same town where I spent my childhood. It is apparent that this town’s people have a kindness and generosity of spirit not experienced elsewhere. Certainly, the expression about not being able to go home again wasn’t penned by anyone who grew up here.
Take for example the woman, the friend of my cousin, whom I just met while visiting at her lovely home: upon hearing that my winter parka had gone missing, she offered her daughter’s long and cozy winter coat. Her daughter, she explained, only needed it when she visited (much like in the current circumstance). At first I thought this too generous an offer to accept, but it was clear that she was genuine in her desire to be helpful. The coat is much appreciated and makes long walks on cold and snowy days possible and quite enjoyable.
A community member died recently. While at a gathering, I heard that one of the women was busy all morning making sandwiches for the mourners. When I said, “I didn’t know you were related to that family,” she clarified that she is not, but that a group of community members had done this beautiful thing as a matter of course, regardless of their relationship to the deceased.
Before this all starts to sound idyllic, it bears stating that there are misunderstandings and petty grievances here like there are anywhere. And in a town with less than 2000 residents, one also must get used to their business being a matter of public scrutiny more often than it would be in a larger community. But it certainly seems, as one travels from place to place in town, that the simple life being led by the majority of Vankleek Hillians, makes them a happier, more compassionate group.
Why might this be? Is there something that they are doing that makes them this way? Is it peculiar to this area, the province or this country?
Most of the people in this area are Scottish descendents who came here in the late 18th century when the land they had farmed for generations was “cleared” of its long-term resident farmers so that the presumed owners could practice increasingly profitable sheep farming.
Displaced from their homes, often without notice and violently, they made the long and arduous journey by ship to the growing colonies in the US and Canada in the hope of finding a better life. Upon their arrival, many discovered that there was land available, for free, from the fledgling Canadian government, on which they could settle and farm. Moreover, they could own the land – something that in Scotland had been denied them and their fore bearers.
For over 200 years the Scottish settlers and their descendents have farmed in eastern Canada. The area around Vankleek Hill is surrounded by farms owned by these Scots. The streets and surrounding villages bear their names and their dying language (Gaelic). They did indeed find what they were looking for in Canada, and rather than let a history of pain and dispossession consume them with anger, they have created an atmosphere full of care and respect – a better life for anyone who would live among them.
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More information on Vankleek Hill, Ontario, Canada
More information on the Scottish Highland Clearances
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